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OnGrowing Mindfulness at The Kensington White Plains: Introducing Our Horticultural Therapy Program

By: Fred Ellman, Horticultural Therapy Guy, Gardener, Meditation Teacher & Kensington Family Member 

What a wonderful thing it is to put your hands in the soil, breathe in its lush smell, and then plant a seed to start a germination journey. 

I’m Fred Ellman, The Kensington White Plains’ Horticultural Therapy guy, gardener, meditation teacher, planting person, it’s soil not dirt reminder:), I motivate through humor and spreading joy by putting our hands in soil, (no gloves allowed)! I call my program, “OnGrowing Mindfulness”. 

There are proven benefits* to Cognitive, Physical, Psychological, and Social abilities for any senior participating in a Horticultural Therapy program.  Along with these critical touchpoints, I capitalize on the joy of connecting with a living entity, the joy of watching a seed germinate, and the joy of assisting a living plant grow and blossom before us.   

Over the past two years, corresponding closely to the timing of the pandemic, I have been able to bring my teachings in Horticultural Therapy and Meditation to the Kensington’s Assisted Living community and Memory Care community.  I have worked both over zoom and in-person.  I use plants, planting, scientific botanical presentations, related videos, poetry, artworks and singing, that interweave with mindfulness and compassion meditations. 

This is a new career for me. Previously, I have worked as a practicing architect and I have been a toy and game inventor in a long running family business.  I have also dealt with a lifelong dance with anxiety.  It is for the people with whom I connect and myself that I am now so passionate about bringing horticultural therapy and mindfulness meditation to the senior community.  

I was trained at the Horticultural Therapy program at the magnificent New York Botanic Gardens, (ask me about it!).  I have had the opportunity to get to know their team of incredible teachers and scientists. In addition, I completed a two-year program in Mindfulness and Compassion training at the Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Sciences in Manhattan.  Again, I was immersed in a rich learning environment comprised of dedicated, brilliant teachers. 

This simultaneous study allows mindfulness and compassion exercises to dovetail with Horticultural Therapy activities, to create a powerful resource for seniors. 

There are amazing moments of joy for us to experience, both for the residents and staff on the Connections floor and the Haven Floor.  It is the thrill of my life to sit quietly and meditate with a room full of residents in memory care, who have just finished watering or tending to a Coleus plant, and then have them ask for even more meditation!  What can possibly be more rewarding?  

And, lastly, I am a member and alumni of the Kensington family.  My parents were residents at The Kensington White Plains for three years.  I became familiar with the special care and compassion that is steeped in everything they do there.  People ask me if it’s sad to come back to a place where my parents lived.  On the contrary, my mother knew I was training for what I do now, and I know she’d be ecstatic to know where this journey has taken me.   

Fred can be reached at fred@ongrowingmindfulness.com. 

*Horticultural therapy for general health in the older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2022 Feb 10;17(2):e0263598. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0263598. PMID: 35143551; PMCID: PMC8830630. 

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