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The Power of Flowers

Longest running volunteer group at Mott continues a legacy of healing through flowers

flower therapyIf you’ve ever had a loved one in the hospital, the thought of sending flowers may have crossed your mind.

One group of volunteers at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital understands the power of flowers particularly well, and takes the sentiment to a whole new dimension with their flower therapy program.

Every other week, from September through May, a group of dedicated volunteers known fondly as the Flower Ladies fills the hospital’s Family Center with the delightful sights and smells of fresh flowers.

What the Flower Ladies know, that many families are surprised to learn, is that flowers can be a lot more than decoration for a hospital room shelf.

A beautiful relationship blooms

Flower therapy made its first appearance at Mott in the early 1980’s, thanks to the Ann Arbor Branch of the Woman’s National Farm & Garden Association.

“We didn’t invent horticultural therapy, but we’ve certainly played an important role in its history.” said Tish Neidhardt, historian for the Ann Arbor branch.

In the 1950’s, Alice Burlingame, a University of Michigan psychiatric social work graduate first introduced the concept of horticultural therapy to hospitals. The Ann Arbor group begin visiting a hospital in Ypsilanti in the 60’s, before ultimately bringing their craft to Mott in 1981.

Since then, they’ve not missed a single year. The Flower Ladies have been a welcome and steady presence in the hospital for more than 30 years. Not surprisingly, they are Mott’s longest serving volunteer group.

A sensory experience

If you’ve ever walked into your favorite florist and marveled at the sights and smells – you’ve got a pretty good idea of the magic the Flower Ladies work every time they come to the hospital.

Twice a month – on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays – volunteers collect donations of fresh flowers from local florists and bring them to the hospital. They also bring clean cans covered in colored foil to use as vases. Patients can decorate the vases with different colored ribbons.

“We try to select colors based on the season or holiday,” says Denise Toomasian, Chair of the Association’s Horticultural Therapy Committee. “We also set out all the flowers sorted by color, height or texture. When the visitors come into the room, they are welcomed by the smell of the flowers and the lovely sight of so many blossoms.”

Patients and visitors can select their own flowers and create their own bouquet. Denise and her team of volunteers are there to help however they are needed.

“Some children will just point at the flowers they like, and we’ll put the arrangement together for them. Other children will do everything themselves,” says Toomasian.

The impact of the sensory experience the Flower Ladies create is real. Research has suggested that floral scents reduce anxiety, and the act of creating your own bouquet brings with it a much needed distraction in many cases.

“We get many parents who are waiting for their children who are having surgery. The flower arranging gives them something to focus on and allows them to make a bouquet for their child.”

Making a difference

Having a family member in the hospital can feel very isolating, even with all the doctors and nurses around. Time and time again, staff have seen the benefits of families supporting one another and sharing experiences with one another, but helping families connect with one another during such stressful times is easier said than done.

“During Flower Lady time, we see many families making connections,” says Sarah Mellifont, RN, BSN, Nurse Educator for the Family Center. “Gathering around a table, working on a fun project – it’s a nice informal way for them to meet. Flower therapy really lifts the moods of everyone involved.”

When the weekly sessions wrap up, the Flower Ladies put together the extra supplies into bouquets they deliver throughout the hospital. Those extra bouquets help to brighten the days of many in the hospital.

“Over the years, I’ve seen working with the freshly cut flowers turn peoples’ days around. They may walk in frowning or sad, but after spending time relaxing and focused on creating a fresh flower bouquet, they leave with a big smile,” says Toomasian. “It’s also valuable to the volunteers. It gives me a sense of purpose to know that I’m helping to brighten the day of a family in the hospital”

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mott blog - logo thumbUniversity of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.