Mayama and Becky watering the newly planted garden at our 32nd Ave home.

At Living Well Disability Services we are committed to providing the very best care for the people we serve. That means weaving innovative wellness programs into the daily routines of the people who live in our homes and use our services. Wellness therapies include pet, art, and music therapy, as well as fitness routines, incorporating healthy menus, and much more. Personalized wellness activities generate positive health results including reductions in use of medications, reduced falls, improvements in mobility, increased social connections, and lower healthcare costs—which means investing in wellness is worth every penny. We believe it’s a win-win when you take the time to find ways to boost health outcomes in ways that are interesting, fun and outside the standard of care model.

One of the more popular wellness activities here at Living Well is building annual flower gardens. Last week Jean Larson and Sarah Palm with the University of Minnesota, Landscape Arboretum and Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing, stopped by the Northland Office with 72 flats of flowers and veggies, enough for each home to have two flats. The weather was perfect, and with just days until Mother’s Day it felt like the perfect time to talk flowers. Living Well has partnered with the Landscape Arboretum since 1992, and this gardening project is a hit with many who live in the homes. Mother’s Day weekend is the perfect time for delivery as it invites interested families to come to the houses and help with planting. Gardening is a great activity to do as a team and the people served and staff get to be out in the fresh air, getting their hands dirty and learning more about plants and how to make things thrive in a garden.

Volunteer, Mike Randall, delivering flowers.

Once the plants were delivered, they were distributed by Living Well volunteers and Larson uploaded a video on proper planting techniques, and the best ways to keep the flowers and plants healthy. Prior to Covid they would have a class at one of the houses, but in the spirit of innovation they found a way to connect with the audience in a new way. This year’s video showcases Jean talking about the proper care of the flowers, which included:

Sun plants—Sweet Banana Peppers, Super Sweet Cherry Tomato, Better Boy Tomato, Italian Parsley, Basil, Zinnia Mix (Profusion, State Fair, and Fire), Petunias, Torenia, Marigold and Dwarf Snap Dragons.

Shade Plants—Coleus (2 kinds), Begonia and Impatiens.

You can watch her video to learn more. We love how she explains the best way to make the perfect flowerpot with a thriller, some filler and a spiller. Don’t know what that means? Then for sure watch, we cannot think of a more fun way to build the perfect pot!

Larson says, “The act of gardening can help provide so much, including satisfaction, pride, physical activity, fresh air, range of motion and hand eye coordination.” Physically it helps add cardio exercise. Cognitively it allows people to learn how to measure out an area in a garden and adds various levels of stimulation. Psychology it provides great satisfaction and pride to watch the fruits of one’s labor bloom before their eyers. And socially it gets people engaged and offers a mechanism to get people deeply connected with families and guardians.

Larson has been with the University since 1992 when she started Nature Based Therapeutics, which is the biggest part of what she does with Living Well. When it comes to the services we utilize most, there are three main areas of focus:

Garden Beds: One of the original founders, Karen Pate, was a big part of the plan to beautify the homes with flowers and plants. She was a pivotal part of the partnership and understood the importance incorporating flowers into the homes.

Nutrition: Eventually they added the nutrition aspect, highlighting the importance of healthy food, and how growing your own food can become an activity that brings joy to eating and trying new foods. They even have a Culture and Cuisine a program where we make food from locally grown products. Back in February they talked about cocoa as topic beyond a just a plant. They encourage consciousness with food, and independence in the kitchen.

Animal Intervention Program: Dodge Nature Center has a program where instead of dogs they have several animals available for interactions every week starting each May. Living Well houses sign up and attend two sessions a week. They learn about the beekeeping, predator raptors, hawks, and owls.

Jean, Cheri and Sarah helping sort deliveries at Northland. (Cheri is with Living Well, Jean and Sarah are with the University of Minnesota)

If you are unfamiliar with Nature Based Therapeutics, Larson says a key component is that nature teaches us balance. They believe that things work better with nature in our lives, including interactions with animals, which can bring a calming effect on humans. Anyone with a cat or dog can attest to the joy of having and animal, as can anyone who enjoys a nice hike on a beautiful day watching the squirrels frolic in the trees and the birdsong that accompanies spring. Our partnership with Larson and the use of Nature Based Therapeutics is a big part of what keeps Living Well connected to the outdoors, and we are grateful for her professionalism and ability to make nature even more exciting. Larson’s team also understands that nature provides meaning, and that being with animals, flowers, and fresh air nurtures us, connecting us to our communities. Activities in nature support the whole person improving and promoting health on a physical, psychological, social, cognitive, and spiritual level. To read more about the program visit the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Nature-Based Therapeutics site.

Larson sources donations for the flowers every year. A big thank you to Larson, and the University of Minnesota, Landscape Arboretum, for creating programs that feed the soul.