A love of gardening was instilled in Janice Hoetker Doherty at a young age by her parents. She was taught how to plant vegetables in a straight row by her father and how to grow flowers from seed by her mother. Her recently published book, “A Calendar Year of Horticulture Therapy: How tending your garden can tend to your soul,” was written by Doherty in honor of her parents.
Doherty, of the Eastgate area, is a retired microbiologist who worked part-time at Christ Hospital for 25 years.
“I calmed myself down when I came home from work by working in the garden, I would go to the garden and pull weeds and my headaches would disappear,” she said.
"I learned about horticulture therapy during the flower show when I worked in the Garden of Hope," said Doherty. "I was assigned to help plant and prepare the garden for the show. The garden was designed for the blind, for children, for people with arthritis and disabilities and offered raised beds. It was for people who loved to garden and had reasons why they couldn't garden the normal way."
Doherty said she had used gardening as therapy for herself for years not realizing that it could become therapeutic for others.
"As a tour guide for the garden I explained to visitors what the Garden of Hope was used for," she said. "I got to explain what a neat garden it was and how gardening can be a benefit to people. As I was explaining the garden to the lady who was to be my replacement tour guide, I found out that she was a horticulture therapist from out west. She said that with my knowledge and understanding of gardening I should consider becoming a horticulture therapist. That was 15 to 16 years ago and horticulture therapy was not known in Cincinnati at that time."
Doherty said she was working three days a week at Christ Hospital and was prompted to devote the other two days to starting a new business as a horticulture therapist. She retired from Christ Hospital in 1996 and for the next nine years devoted herself to her new venture.
"I started out by sending out 24 brochures and I had 19 responses," said Doherty. "I began my business, 'Growing Healthy Inc.' with 19 clients. I realized there was a need for this although it was not a common practice."
For 10 years she served the same 19 clients who were mostly activity directors in a number of places around Cincinnati. She geared her business to geriatric patients mostly which included many Alzheimer's patients.
"After 9/11, I followed up with patriotic sessions as therapy for myself, but discovered that my patients benefited from the theme," said Doherty.
She said that during one of the sessions, patients created a flag on foamboard using rose and carnation flower petals glued in a line representing the stripes on the flag. One lady complained that she couldn't do it because she had macular degeneration and couldn't see to place the petals in a straight line. Doherty assured her that she would help her and when the flag was complete, the lady said it was the best smelling flag she had ever seen. The patient began to sing "God Bless America" and all the other people around the table joined in.
Doherty explained how horticulture therapy enables patients to develop small motor skills by using hammers to create petal paintings and spoons to create dish gardens.
"Patients use their sense of sight and smell - they interact socially with one another and help each other with the projects," Doherty said. "It is good for the hand to eye coordination and improves their small motor skills."
Doherty said that family members realized the benefits and wanted their loved ones to spend more time in the therapy. The activity directors asked her to write a book explaining the process so they could put her techniques to use on a regular basis.
Once she decided to write the book, she sold her business to focus on writing. It took her two years to write the book and send the completed book to Lilyflower Publishing in October 2008.
The book is comprised of monthly topics and includes 70 to 75 step-by-step projects utilizing seasonal and holiday plant material. She also included comments from some of the clients who took part in the projects over the years.
"Each project can be finished in one session. They are mostly one hour programs which include background about the plant material being used," said Doherty. "There are step by step photos included and I've added some interesting folklore information."
Doherty says that the book can be used by activity directors, home schoolers and garden clubs. The book is also geared for low functioning groups as well.
Doherty says she is amazed at how things in her life have come full circle.
"Everything happens for a reason, there are no coincidences," said Doherty. "I was recently asked to come to Clermont UC as a guest lecturer for a horticulture therapy session and discovered that the chapter I would be teaching on was written by the lady who initially taught me about horticulture therapy."
Doherty was asked to be one of the expert lecturers during the 20th Annual Cincinnati Flower Show this year.
"I got to share information from my book which began at the show 18 years before," said Doherty. "I am just so excited to work in this field. It is wonderful when what you are doing makes a difference to somebody. There were times when I could tell that I changed somebody's outlook and other times I wondered who benefited the most from the therapy. It was the most rewarding job I have ever had, ever."
Doherty says she wants to get the information about the benefits of horticulture therapy out to people and now spends her time marketing her book, lecturing to share the information and doing presentations to garden clubs and the master gardeners of OSU Extension. She has also done radio spots on 55KRC to get the word out.
"When you do what you love to do and what you are passionate about, it changes you," said Doherty. "It has made me a more compassionate person and I see things differently than I did before."
Doherty has been asked by her publisher to write a series of four books of a seasonal type.
Doherty is from the Eastgate area. She and her husband have four grown children and six grandchildren.
Her book, "A Calendar Year of Horticulture Therapy," is published by Lilyflower Publishing and can be purchased through Amazon.com or lilyflowerpublishing.com. It is a print on demand book call (866) 308-6235 for more information.