“My Little Green Friends” Horticultural Therapy Program at Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota
The “My Little Green Friends” program is in its 27th year of partnering with Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. The program serves hospital patients–generally between the ages of 3 and 20–plus parents, siblings and visiting friends.
Horticultural projects are usually conducted with children on a one-to-one basis in the patient’s room or playroom. There are approximately 35 projects in all, each documented with an activity plan that includes the project purpose, materials needed, and activity procedure, thus assuring consistency among different Master Gardener volunteers, and from year-to-year. A project typically takes 10-15 minutes to complete. Separate projects are designed for children who cannot be exposed to soil.
Project examples and learning outcomes include:
- Houseplant Zoo Various plants with names that suggest an animal (for example, Elephant Bush, Portulacaria afra) are planted and the child chooses a small plastic animal as “protector;” learning about general care of indoor plants.
- Bulb Garden Daffodil bulbs are planted on a bed of pebbles, learning how bulbs grow and the role of soil in plant growth.
- Autumn Leaves Making a collage of colorful autumn leaves, learning where leaf color comes from.
Each Master Gardener volunteer must complete the hospital’s volunteer training program on patient interaction, safety and confidentiality. One or two Master Gardeners at a time conduct the projects, twice a week, year round, including holidays.
The goals of the program are twofold: First, provide an enjoyable activity that brightens the atmosphere of what can be a tedious, fearful and painful experience, while giving children a sense of accomplishment. Second, introduce children to plants and plant care in a fun way, laying the foundation for a long-term appreciation for and enjoyment of horticulture.
The project has shown to have a significant impact on patients’ in-hospital emotional well–being. A more concrete measure of the project’s impact is that the hospital has built a rooftop garden for patient relaxation and therapy. Funding is underway for the second phase of the project, including an on-site greenhouse to provide plants for the horticultural therapy program.
Written by: Tom Guettler, Ramsey County Master Gardener Program, University of Minnesota Extension