Plants help Atlanta seniors grow something good

If being outdoors makes you feel better, there may be a good reason for that. Research shows something as simple as viewing nature scenes can help calm us, lower anger levels, and even lessen pain.

At AG Rhodes Health and Rehab Center off Clifton Road in Atlanta, the hospital is trying to help its senior residents reconnect with plants and gardens.

"We have an inate kinship to plants," registered horticulture therapist Kirk Hines says. "We're hardwired in our brains to respond to the color green."

During one of his horticulture therapy sessions, Hines supervises a dozen seniors who are repotting orchids.

"We respond in a very positive way when we're working and interacting and surrounded by plants," Hines says. "It's part of being a human on earth. That response allows us to relax, recover from stress, decrease anxiety, decrease depression."

Hines has been teach horticulture to seniors here for five years now, and 74-year old Sylvia Allen loves being around plants.

"I just love to see the different kinds, and learning about the different kinds," Allen says. "I never was a green thumb. But since Kirk has been here, I've been with him every step of the way. Because I love it."

Hines says he enjoys watching his classmembers get their hands dirty.

"(I like) seeing them be able to enjoy themselves, stay productive, stay engaged," he says. "Working in horticulture helps to decrease isolation, loneliness, and boredom. It really gives a sense of purpose to do something that is creative and really hands on."

This class takes 94-year old Bunny Meyer back to her roots.

"I've been doing it since I was 4 years old," Meyer explains. "My father owned a lot of land adjacent to our home and I used to wander in the fields and bring home wild plants."

The growing program has been so successful, Hines has built a greenhouse for the center, which is open to both patients and staff.

"We grow everything from herbs, flowers, vegetables, bonsai, orchids," he says.

"It's just stimulating, and it's fun," Bunny Meyer says. "And it's productive, in that we're working with our hands and making something with the plants."

When the class is over, Hines invites the class members to take their repotted orchards back up to their rooms. The plants are theirs now, he says, decorations and companions they can nurture and grow.