For nine years, lecturer Leah Diehl of the Department of Environmental Horticulture has been one of UF/IFAS’s foremost champions of plants as medicine. As a tenant in the medical center, in a corner known as Wilmot Botanical Gardens, she has established a greenhouse as a center for healing.
Diehl and department chair Dean Kopsell see the next one to two years as a key moment to deliver the benefits of horticultural therapy to a wider populace. Their vision is to make the greenhouse a place to address widespread anxiety and isolation that preceded the pandemic but has been exacerbated by it. They see the greenhouse and its classroom as potential magnets to recruit future green industry professionals. They also want it to serve, as it has in the recent past, as a place to prepare developmentally disabled people for jobs.
Kopsell has committed to pursuing this vision as he embarks this month on an 18-month leadership program that requires a capstone project. He has chosen the establishment of a horticultural therapy minor as that project. With the three courses Diehl already teaches as its backbone, the idea is this minor will attract students from across the entire university and could mean an expanded pipeline of professional talent for the green industry.
Kopsell and Diehl want students coming to the Wilmot Gardens greenhouse from all 16 UF colleges but also from UF’s Counseling and Wellness Center (CWC). Kopsell has already initiated talks with the center director about establishing a process for referring students to the greenhouse.
In fact, Diehl, a certified horticultural therapist, opened up two group therapy sections for students this fall. Those sections quickly filled with students referred by CWC counselors or who self-referred, and there is a waiting list for the spring.
Not only will the students receive therapy, but they have agreed to participate in the research study as Diehl and other faculty continue to develop our understanding of how working with our hands in a greenhouse can help our heads.
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