Horticultural Therapy Program Cultivates A Creative Way to Help Residents Thrive

Seeing new life sprout provides a sense of rebirth and renewal. Fortunately, residents don’t need to have a green thumb to appreciate the joys of having an on-site rooftop greenhouse in the midst of downtown Brooklyn. At the Watermark Brooklyn Heights, Horticultural Therapy is a signature program that encourages residents to get their hands dirty by exploring the joys of gardening.

Horticultural therapy is a practice facilitated by a trained therapist who engages residents in gardening and other plant-based activities to improve mental and physical health. Embracing the idea that nature is healing, this innovative therapy can help reduce stress and anxiety, create a sense of community, enhance quality of life, and more.

Led by our Memory Care director Amanda Tabak-Otero and our team of nayas, the program immerses residents in the care of the greenhouse, growing plants from seeds, caring for the garden beds, and harvesting the herbs and vegetables when they’re ready. Tabak-Otero, who has studied horticultural therapy, aromatherapy, and holistic medicine, shares her knowledge with residents as well as the benefits that come with interacting with nature.

For the greenhouse and gardens, we’ve partnered with New York Native Gardens, who supplies the herbs and plants. They specialize in native plants with the goals of increasing biodiversity and sustainability by transforming green spaces.

Once the fresh ingredients are harvested, residents play a role in deciding what they’d like to cook with them. “We attempt to find dishes they loved to cook before, so that it creates those memories again through the scents and events of cooking,” says executive director Rocco Bertini. “We also dry herbs to use later in items like oil for aromatherapy, infused olive oils, and teas.”

Available to all residents, the program often takes place daily or every other day, depending on the status of the garden and the care it requires. Giving participants a chance to get outdoors and enjoy the benefits of a natural environment is healing and helps alleviate anxiety. It also provides a sense of purpose.

The greenhouse and rooftop garden are also used for other activities, such as crafts, music, and meditation. It is a relaxing space that offers stunning views of the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, and Manhattan skyline. The greenhouse plants also serve as still-life subjects for our art and photography classes. A cookbook is also in the works with recipes that rely on ingredients grown and harvested as part of the program. It’s yet another way residents are cultivating rich and fulfilling lives at The Watermark Brooklyn Heights.

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