Horticultural Therapy Week

What is Horticultural Therapy?

Horticultural Therapy (HT) is a formal practice that uses plants, horticultural activities and the garden landscape to promote well-being for its participants. HT is goal orientated with defined outcomes and assessment procedures. HT sessions are administered by professionally trained horticultural therapists.

Therapeutic Horticulture (TH) is the purposeful use of plants and plant-related activities to promote health and wellness for an individual or group. Goals and defined outcomes for individual participants are not necessarily considered nor clinically documented.

Source: Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association (CHTA) 2023

Between March 19 to 25, 2023, my professional registering body, the CHTA, is celebrating Horticultural Therapy Week in Canada. In honour of the work I’m doing in the field of Horticultural Therapy at Homewood Ravensview, I would like to share with you an activity I’ve facilitated for clients. We call it Nature Bowl.

The significance of the Nature Bowl is that it is a collection of items inspired by nature, that a client can reach out, pick up, and hold in their hands during a moment of overwhelming emotion and/or dissociation. The items in the bowl help to ground the person in their body, and in the present moment through activation of their sense of touch. All of the items are locally “found”, and some come directly from the Ravensview property like the Douglas-fir bark of the tree that makes up the bowl, the conifer cones, the moss balls, and the dot-painted rocks. Clients collect the items, paint the rocks, form the moss balls, and assemble the bowls. Therapeutic outcomes include cognitive, physical, social, emotional, and creative/spirtual. Currently, we have a bowl placed in the centre of the table in each of our meeting rooms where clients engage in group therapy.

What’s your favourite strategy to connect with a plant(s) and/or nature for therapeutic benefits?

The Power of Words

Rainbow Fish by Cliff Thorbes

Many across Canada recognize June as Pride Month. I’m proud that in the MHFA Standard training I provide, we explore guidelines for cross-cultural competence, and communicating with the 2SLGBTQ+ community.

I’m currently doing some professional development, and was introduced to the Q Glossary, a resource that explains Queer terminology. Words can empower, acknowledge, identify, validate, promote understanding, celebrate, provide reassurance, heal, and they can be used as weapons to inflict pain, destroy, harm, divide, label, perpetuate stereotypes, predjudice and stigma.
I share this resource with you, in the hope that it can help increase your awareness too behind the power of words. Thank you QMUNITY for creating it.

If you’re interested in me providing a private MHFA Standard for your organization, please email me at cliffthorbes@shaw.ca

It’s All About the Questions

Reflective processing is about diversity of thinking and engaging your mind deliberately in order to grow and improve. It’s at the core of creativity, empathy, analysis, open-mindedness, problem solving, and goal setting. Reflective thinking is a skill used throughout one’s career, and if nurtured, and sharpened through practice, can lead to improved employability and ongoing career growth.

Most of the time, I operate on auto-pilot; following a set pattern of daily routines. From a professional perspective, reflective thinking is a purposeful way of thinking (versus daydreaming) about experiences in order to learn from them. It involves reflecting upon emotions, thoughts, and behavior at a specific moment in time, and asking questions like:

  • What happened?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What was my role in what happened?
  • Why did I do or not do something?
  • How did I feel as a result of my actions or the actions of someone else?
  • What did I learn from this experience?
  • What will I do differently next time?

There are numerous models for reflective practice. Each with their own perspectives, strengths, weaknesses and suitability for a specific context.

Donald Schon’s Reflective Model (two points of action – reflection in action and reflection after action), is best suited to my professional role as a human services professional. I have tailored this model to meet my needs by including a third point of action – reflection before action. I believe reflective thinking completed before taking action, is a valuable learning experience in itself. For example, a best practice I follow is to spend time reflecting upon potential challenges I may encounter before providing services as a Horticultural Therapist. Considering required safety precautions before working with plant material, using tools, choosing a specific location for a guided walk, and analyzing information collected from a client’s assessments before formulating goals with them, prepares me to provide the most appropriate, safe, and client-centred services.

Gary Rolfe’s model of reflection, uses the stem questions What, So What, and Now What. This model is very simple for me to understand and apply. An example of how I apply this model is to reading a book. As I’m reading, I highlight quotes and sections of information that captivate my attention and curiosity (the what). After I’ve finished reading the book, I go back and reflect upon the material I have highlighted in order to gain a deeper understanding of its significance to me (the so what). Reflecting upon its significance a second time, plants the seeds for further exploration how I can apply it to some aspect of my life going forward (the now what).

I aspire to be a critically reflective educator. Stephen Brookfield’s four lenses Model of Reflection inspires me to grow towards that. Brookfield’s model is based upon four lens the educator must look through.

  • the autobiographical lens – I reflect upon my previous experiences as a learner, including what has and hasn’t worked for me in the past.
  • the students’ eyes lens – I use check-out questions and feedback surveys to help me understand how participants experience the courses and trainings I provide. From time to time, it’s important for me to be a student as well, so I can experience learning from the student’s perspective.
  • the peer experience lens – I welcome feedback from my peers. Constructive feedback inspires me to hone my facilitation skills and pursue ongoing professional development.
  • the theoretical literature lens – When I reflect upon pedagogic research and the sum information gained from the first three lens, I’m able to identify strategies that help me improve the content for my courses, and achieve my goal to be a reflective educator.

In my continuing education courses for Horticultural Therapy, I share with participants a model I use for resolving ethical dilemmas. It’s inspired by Graham Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle model which includes six stages of reflection including:

  1. Description of the experience
  2. Feelings and thoughts about the experience
  3. Evaluation of the experience, both good and bad
  4. Analysis to make sense of the situation
  5. Conclusion about what was learned and what could have been done differently
  6. Action plan for how to deal with similar situations in the future, or general changes that can be implemented

The model I use to help me resolve ethical dilemmas includes these seven stages:

  1. Recognize that an ethical dilemma exists.
  2. Identify all of the parties involved, the facts, relevant ethical issues, and the corresponding pertinent ethical principles. (In the context of my work as a Horticultural Therapist, I use the Horticultural Therapy Practitioner Code of Ethics in tandem with my model.)
  3. Examine the risks and benefits of each alternative action that can be taken.
  4. Choose an action based upon the outcome of an examination of the benefits and risks of each potential action.
  5. Take action and be willing to correct for any negative consequences that might occur as a result of the action(s) taken.
  6. Evaluate the results.
  7. Learn from the situation.

I’m preparing to launch a new continuing education course called Reflective Practice for Reflective Practitioners. It’s a course to help participants develop reflective thinking skills. Throughout the course we practice applying reflective processing through a variety of instruments like ethical dilemma resolution, metaphors, creative writing, photography, film, and personal development. Many of the activities and assignments have a horticultural and/or nature-based theme to them.

To register for this course, or any of my other trainings, you can contact me at cliffthorbes@shaw.ca.

©Cliff Thorbes 2022

autumn 2021

There’s a Japanese maple outside my front door that’s captivating my attention these days.

The color of the leaves is such a lovely copper-bronze.

I know the leaves won’t be here for much longer so I’m making sure to appreciate them while they are. They’re spent from spring and summer.

I expect the windstorm tonight will blow a good many of them to the deck below.

I’m looking forward to the show the moss and lichen that live on the same tree, will put on next.

©Cliff Thorbes 2022

Nature Play

Photograpy by James Curtis

NATURE PLAY SWIM 33 of summer 2021 (Beaver Lake, Victoria BC)

Play is the business of childhood and playing outdoors in Nature brings out the child in me.
I believe it’s important to remain in touch with our inner-child throughout our lifetime.
It keeps us feeling young and provides us with precious moments of carefree abandon.
Nature Play occurs primarily outside in the natural environment and involves play with natural elements and features like water, rocks, sticks, pine cones, leaves, and shells.
Nature Play is known to promote physical, cognitive, social, and emotional health outcomes.
One of my favorite ways to experience Nature Play is swimming in the ocean or a lake.
What are your favorite ways to Nature Play?

What’s Behind a Name

Cliff’s Garden Summer 2021

As I work towards launching my second educational course this April, Reflective Practice for Reflective Practitioners, I’ve been busy honing my own reflective thinking skills. The course will feature guest presenters and be filled with activities and assignments that provide opportunities for students to develop their own reflective thinking skills and facilitate them in others.

One activity that didn’t make it into the course line-up this time around, is the reflective writing activity, What’s Behind A Name. Like any good HT/TH professional, I would never try out an activity on anyone other than myself first. Here’s what my reflective thinking led me to discover is behind my own name.

Growing up, I cringed upon hearing it spoken. Even the short form of Clifford, Cliff, seemed to garner just as much teasing with “cliff-hanger”, or the idiom “drop over sometime”.

I longed for a simple and popular name like Christopher. It didn’t seem to draw any negative attention, and there were many successful and famous people with that name like Christopher Marlowe (poet), Christopher Isherwood (author), Christopher Reeves (actor – Superman), and Christopher Robin (character from Winnie-the-Pooh).

It wasn’t until much later in my adult life that I began to think more fondly of my name.

Clifford is an English originated name and an example of a topographic name – a name derived from a specific location, place of origin, or topographic features. My name is a combination of cliff (a steep rock face, typically at the edge of the sea) and ford (a shallow place in a river or stream allowing one to walk or drive across). That makes me a cliff-side ford.

Actually, my name is very fitting for where I live now – at the bottom of a series of cliffs in West Vancouver BC, by the ocean.

What about you? What’s behind your name?

©Cliff Thorbes 2022

Horticultural Therapy Week

We’re not out of the woods yet with the pandemic. People are experiencing more worry, stress, anxiety, and loneliness than before. To help alleviate the distress caused by the pandemic, I created this series about the many ways to connect mindfully with Nature and as a result, feel better for it.

Celebrate Horticultual Therapy Week March 14 – 21 with me and take time to really notice the Nature around you.

15 Days of Nature Connection

©Cliff Thorbes 2022

My First Online Conference

The 2020 Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association (CHTA) Annual Conference and Annual General Meeting held in September was a ground breaking experience for me. I had never attended an online conference of any sort before, let alone volunteered to help stage one. When I originally offered to help out, I didn’t know what to expect. It turned out to be an incredibly positive professional development experience. Volunteering with the Conference Committee was made easier because of the competent team of volunteers assembled. Solid leadership and good communication were the seeds for productive collaboration. The result was we worked together well from the outset and when challenges arose (before and during the conference), someone was always there to help out. 

Early in our planning, I realized a key way I could help out was through developing content for the conference. I instinctively went to my contacts, and I came up with a list of four possible speakers, each with something very different to offer.

First on my list was my colleague and good friend John Dube RCC. I had previously completed trainings facilitated by him and found him to be an engaging speaker. When he proposed the topic of healing trauma through nature for the conference, I knew it would be of interest to our community. I share in John’s belief that talk-therapy is not enough on its own to heal symptoms of trauma. John describes how experiencing trauma affects the whole person, with symptoms manifesting physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and even spiritually. Facilitating a connection with nature has the ability to reach all these domains, engaging someone totally, and helping them move into the present moment. Earth is sacred and using the earth to heal makes the healing process sacred as well.

My favorite part of John’s presentation at the conference was when John explained to us how he uses a nature bowl to help calm and ground his client at the beginning of a session. A nature bowl consists of items from nature like rocks, seashells, tree cones and bark, feathers, dried herbs, sweet grass, etc. An assortment of items in the bowl invites the client to pick up and connect with an item from nature however they choose; helping to initiate a process of connection and overcome disconnection.   

For two of the conference presenters, I sourced and reached out to them through Instagram, Dawnn McWatters and Anna Baker Cresswell.

Dawnn McWatters is a licensed psychologist in Portland, Oregon. She is the creator of The SAVOR Project, an educational organization that promotes mindful eating, food literacy, and therapeutic horticulture. I follow both Dawnn’s blog and her Instragram posts regularly (@thesavorproject). She was our first presenter on the first day of the conference. Both her calm voice and inviting energy, immediately had a stress reducing effect on me while I moderated for her in the background.

My favorite part of Dawnn’s presentation was the mindful eating activity. It provided an opportunity to experience eating slowed down into the moment, and through all the senses. It was an excellent activity to demonstrate the concept of “beginner’s mind”. I left her presentation reflecting upon what my personal food story was, an increased respect for the complexity of our food systems, and deeper awareness of the current inequality of access to food.

I also reached out to HighGround, a UK based organization that offers horticultural therapy as a rehab intervention to injured serving personnel. Through my Instagram connection Andy Wright (the Therapeutic Gardens Manager at Stanford Hall), I was introduced to HighGround’s Founder and Executive Director, Anna Baker Cresswall. On the third day of the conference, Anna presented on HighGround’s journey from inception to 2020, as well as what their plans for the future are. Prior to the conference, Anna and I exchanged resources. A favorite resource she shared with me is Jane’s Monthly Journal, a monthly online journal created by Jane Taylor, HighGround’s Horticultural Therapist. Anna and I continue to connect post conference.

I also approached my neighbour Lloyd Burritt to present the story of his garden at our conference. Lloyd is an important elder in my life and continues to mentor me in how to live a simple life with a mindful connection to nature, serving as the foundation for promoting health and well-being. I’m very proud of our collaboration together to create Blackberry to Acer Grove (The Evolution of a Garden).

Creating this video, I discovered how much I loved facilitating the process for someone to share their connection to nature story, and then using a combination of still photography, interviewing, storytelling, quotes, and video to capture it.

Actually, there was a fifth conference presentation I was involved in; my own. I worked very hard to create it too but that’s another story for another article, and maybe even the foundation for a future CHTA education webinar or workshop.  

Autumn: A Season of Transitions

We’re into the last weeks of summer and I’m noticing transitions in nature. Autumn is just around the corner. Leaves are changing colors and dropping to the ground. Look closely and you will see some spectacular patterns.

Autumn officially begins in the Norther Hemisphere on Tuesday, September 22. Until then, I plan to savour every last drop of summer.

Thursday September 17 – Saturday September 19, is the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association Annual Conference & AGM. This is the first year it will be presented online.

Our theme this year is “Seeds of Change – Cultivating Resilience in Ourselves and Others”.

I’m a conference volunteer, presenter, and sponsor. You don’t need to be a Horticultural Therapist to attend, just someone who is interested in the therapeutic potential between plants and people.

There’s still lots of time to register, and all sessions will be recorded and made available to anyone who registers (downloadable for 30 days). You can find more information about the conference and how to register here.

During August, and this first week of September, I have been busy harvesting in my garden. It has been a good growing season with lots of leafy greens, beans, berries, lavender and herbs already consumed, dried, and stored away for the rest of the year.   Harvested herbs drying (lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano)

In August, my good friend Michael Kerr and I made a batch of Apricot Amaretto Jam. What a great horticultural therapy activity with social, cognitive, and creative/spiritual benefits experienced.   The jam will make a great topping to go with toast and the pumpkin, banana, and blueberry pancakes I plan to make during the fall. Michael has generously given me permission to share his recipe with you.


Acknowledge and thank Mother Nature for the many gifts she bestows upon us each and every day.

Take some, waste none.

Create something special from the fruits of labor, and share it with others


Pie made with harvested blackberries, blueberries and Salal berries

Apricot Amaretto Jam

 8 cups chopped apricots (about 25 apricots or 4 ½ pounds)

5 cups sugar (you can use less depending on desired sweetness)

2 TBSP Lemon Juice (juice of about 1 lemon)

½ TSP Butter

3 TBSP Amaretto  

Lightly purée apricots first in a food processor to speed up cooking time.

Combine all ingredients except amaretto into a large saucepan and cook over medium heat until sugar melts.

Raise temperature to medium high and bring to a boil.Add butter and skim off any foam that forms.

Cook at brisk (but not at a riotous boil) for 20 more minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking and burning.

Remove from heat and stir in amaretto.

Fill sterile jars and then process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Recipe makes 7 – 8 250ml jars

Horticultural Therapy Activity: Walking Outdoors

Duration: 30 minutes, two – three times/week (daily & longer duration if you can, it’s up to you)

Location: an outdoor space like the forest, seawall, or park with a walking trail

Therapeutic Benefits: physical, emotional (plus potential for cognitive, social, spiritual/creative as well)

Instructions: Pick a place to walk that is ideally quiet — so it’s easier to pick up the sounds of nature around you.

Begin your walk with some gentle stretching to become aware of your body. Then stand still for a few moments. Intend to leave behind the hustle and bustle of your day. Look at the entrance/beginning of the path/trail you are about to walk. Transition your mind to the present moment by witnessing a few relaxing breaths.

Begin walking. When walking out in nature, slow down. Notice what’s around you. Devote yourself to opening up your senses as you walk; look, listen, smell, touch and taste when it’s safe to.

Allow yourself to be naturally curious about what’s around you, and permit your mind to wander into creative thinking. Experience the restorative potential of simply noticing nature.

When you have completed your walk, take a few moments to reflect upon the experience. Consider if you feel any different? Do you feel more relaxed, restored and focused?

Thank Mother Nature for providing the experience.

As I prepare to say goodbye to summer 2020, I’m fondly recalling the many outdoor activities I was able to safely share in the company of others these past few months.

It’s a reminder to me of our innate resilience and our ability to adapt under challenging times.

There are transitions occurring within and around us all the time. Going for a walk outdoors is an all-season activity. To overcome poor weather conditions, make sensible clothing choices. Go outside and experience the therapeutic benefits of connecting with nature at all times of the year.

If you are having problems remaining motivated to take a daily walk, you’re not alone. It’s not uncommon to discover your motivation for change isn’t enough to keep you on track. It can really help to have someone help you with staying on track, like a close friend, or family member, or a coach. That’s where I can help. Like a personal trainer at a gym, my role is to help you stay on track. We do this by tailoring a plan that’s customized to you, addressing one by one, the obstacles that are standing in the way of change.

Email/call me and let’s have a chat how I can help.

Enjoy, and allow yourself to fully experience, autumn.