I've found a cure for depression, and if you don't believe me, give it a try. Anyone can do this. The majority of those reading this will attest to the therapeutic properties of nature, and there's a whole field of horticultural therapy devoted to bringing happiness and rehabilitation through gardening. While we can't all be horticultural therapists, the joy of nature can be prescribed by anyone. Here's what you do: Clip flowers or leaves from the garden, seal them in bags and deliver them in person to the ones you love.
A note: If your loved one is suffering from severe dementia, stick to herbs and edible plants and consult with the staff first to stay on the safe side.
Have you ever spent much time in a nursing home? They're depressing. Even the nicest facilities with the friendliest staff have an air of hopelessness to them, as if the smell of urine has only been masked with room deodorizer and bleach. Many of the residents will never leave their cramped and shared rooms until they leave this world for the next. Some, like my fifty year old mother, are confined to their beds by illness and can't even step outside to enjoy a breath of fresh air! Those suffering from delirium or dementia have little to connect them to the world that they used to love, and treasured memories quickly become lost in the monotony of long corridors and bland, overcooked food. The friends and family so dear to these patients rarely visit, and when they do show up, they stand in awkward silence trying desperately to avoid the unsettling sights and smells that kept them away in the first place.
|One of my mother's bottlebrush trees. This particular tree has blooms that are twice as big as the usual ones.|
When my mom checked in to yet another nursing facility, I first visited her old garden and carefully snipped off the flowers and stems of the plants so dear to her. First I clipped the stems of herbs like rosemary, oregano, tarragon and thyme so that she could hold them to her nose, close her eyes, and inhale the fragrant memories of cooking and sitting on her patio. I then looked for anything in bloom: a delicate African iris flower, the big bright red flowers of a bottlebrush tree, and some vivid purple Pericallis flowers. While looking around, I found surprises like a pineapple guava bloom that I wouldn't have noticed otherwise. The most treasured fragrances that I saved were of the honey scented Alyssum 'Sweet Snow' and her beloved confederate jasmine.
|An African 'iris' in the shade that rarely blooms thanks to the low light.|
|The first ever bloom on my mom's feijoa, aka pineapple guava!|
I put each 'specimen' in a ziplock bag along with little bits of moistened paper towels to keep them fresh, and gently set them in a grocery bag. While I was out clipping flowers, my wife lovingly packed and organized my mom's makeup and cosmetic supplies, as well as her favorite foods. When we saw my mother, I let her take each bag out one by one as if it were a stocking filled with goodies. She felt the soft stamens of the bottlebrush, held the fragrant herbs and flowers to her nose and marveled at the little pineapple guava blossom that waited three years in the garden to bloom, as if it was preparing for her hour of need.
After we left for the night, my mother was in a lot of pain. She told me that the nurses probably thought she was a druggie, because she held the bags of herbs to her nose as if they were oxygen, focusing on the smell while she convulsed and cried. In the days that followed, those garden samples brightened the nurses days too, and they got to enjoy aromas that reawakened their own cheerful memories.