Gardening with Gwenn Fried
It may be hard to imagine gardening indoors, but when Gwenn Fried visits Project FIND’s senior centers, she comes with a large cart carrying pots, plants, planting soil, scoops and other gardening paraphernelia. The participants sit around a big table and work, scooping soil and transplanting small plants into bigger pots, or working with herbs or related art projects. The hands-on portion of the class is only one part of its therapeutic mission. Gwenn combines informal discussions of horticulture with anecdotes and interesting tidbits. Students learn the properties of plants or the role of a plant in mythology, for example. Everyone is intellectually engaged, asking questions and expanding their knowledge. Gardening is part of Project FIND’s healthy aging program. The classes encourage seniors to work with their hands; this exercises their fine motor skills and provides tactile stimulation. All the gardening activities foster confidence and create a sense of community among the seniors who participate.
For Gwenn Fried, the sign of a successful gardening class is when the people who participate in it talk to each other, interact, and form bonds. Gwenn has studied horticulture and comes to her work with a deep understanding of plants -- their history and cultural importance as well as their botanical characteristics. What she does with that knowledge is a form of therapy. She is not only a horticulturalist; she is a horticultural therapist.
Gwenn got her training at the Bronx Botanical Garden in the early 1990’s and received her Certificate in Horticultural Therapy there. She started at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at NYU Medical Center as an intern, and has been working there ever since. In the institute’s unusual Enid A. Haupt Glass Garden, patients at the Medical Center do horticultural therapy as part of their rehabilitation program. Gwenn serves as Curator of the outdoor garden and also develops special programs for school and community groups.