Occupational Therapy ~

L to R: Isaac Hutchinson, Michelle Desjardins, Kathy Perry, Donna Marble and Mark Bullard


An Interview with Kathy Perry, Occupational Therapist
(in process of becoming a certified horticultural therapist)

Kathy Perry is an Occupational Therapist at the Monarch School of New England. She helps students with significant disabilities get comfortable doing everyday activities such as gardening.

Kathy is in the process of becoming a registered horticultural therapist. Last year, she spent a week at the New York Botanic Garden, learning from one of the best in the country: Mathew Wichrowski, MSW, himself a registered horticultural therapist.

Horticultural therapy has been around for at least 40 years. It’s a way for people to experience the healing effects of working in gardens and green spaces.

“I personally get a lot of therapeutic benefit from working in the garden,” says Kathy. “Horticultural therapy is also great for our students as many of them are ‘hands-on’ learners so garden activities are a perfect way for them to learn about plants and nature.”

Horticultural therapy offers a way to combine all the therapies a student receives at the school including physical therapy, speech and language, and of course, occupational therapy. It is also tied into the school’s curriculum so students learn more about where their food comes from. So for example, students harvest the beans and scallions, and in class, learn how to make refried beans. Which carries over into a discussion about Spain and Mexico. As Kathy says, “it’s all tied in together.”

When Kathy receives her graduate certification in horticultural therapy, the Monarch School of New England will be the first school in New Hampshire to have such a program.

Not satisfied to ‘just’ have her certification, Kathy’s goal is to build an ‘enabling garden,’ one that is open and accessible to everyone, regardless of a person’s disability. It will be a calming environment and a model for horticultural therapy. There are currently two enabling gardens in New England, one at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts, and the other at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay, Maine.

“I love working with our students in our greenhouse teaching them about plants,” says Kathy. “To have the chance to work with them in a new, enabling garden would be so great for them and our school. It might take awhile to get the funds to make it happen but it’s only a matter of time. It will also be a great way for the Rochester community around to become more involved with our school.”