Meet the Team
Abby Jaroslow is a horticultural therapist leading MossRehab’s horticultural therapy program at The Alice and Herbert Sachs Therapeutic Conservatory.
What interested you in becoming a horticultural therapist?
I started my career in preservation architecture. I worked on historic buildings and public parks in New York and New Jersey. When my daughter developed complicated healthcare issues, we spent time at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center that had a therapeutic greenhouse called the Glass Garden. We visited the garden frequently, and I learned about the horticultural therapy program. When considering a career change almost 20 years later, I realized that horticultural therapy would combine my emerging interest in healthcare and my passion for working with plants and environmental design.
What are your educational background and work experiences?
I earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental design with an emphasis on architecture from The University of California, Berkeley. Moving to New York, I attended Columbia University’s School of Architecture and Design, earning a master’s degree in historic preservation. My first job was for The Central Park Conservancy, studying the perimeter wall of the park and writing a historic structures report that included a restoration plan for the park perimeter. I loved working in Central Park and was fortunate to work on other landscape restorations. When I changed my career direction, I completed horticultural therapy courses at Rutgers University and earned a certificate in ornamental horticulture. I also am a registered horticultural therapist and a certified horticulturist. After completing an internship at the Glass Garden at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation, I began working professionally as a horticultural therapist at Cathedral Village in Philadelphia while freelancing at nursing or elder care residential homes. I’ve been at MossRehab since The Alice and Herbert Sachs Therapeutic Conservatory opened in March of 2014.
What is your role at MossRehab?
I lead the MossRehab horticultural program and manage the conservatory. The program is integrated with clinical rehabilitation therapies, as well as recreational therapy. Patients can visit the conservatory for respite from the medical floor, or for a therapy session. Horticulture therapy is practiced mainly in groups, using nature and plant-based activities to address some of a patient’s rehab goals in the physical, cognitive, or emotional realm. Since the pandemic, I conduct all horticultural therapy sessions individually.
Can you describe The Alice and Herbert Sachs Therapeutic Conservatory?
The conservatory is named after the donors, Alice and Herbert Sachs, who wanted to create a space for horticultural therapy. It is located at MossRehab Elkins Park. The conservatory features a fully automatic, state-of-the-art greenhouse and another utilitarian room with storage and an office. The design concept was to divide the open space into three elements: Show, Grow and Work. The “Show” room is filled with natural light, a live plant wall, and a calming water feature. It’s an elegant space and exhibition area where we showcase large tropical plants and special specimens. This greenhouse area is full of texture, color, and sound (besides the sound of water, we can play music streamed through speakers on the wall). It’s a place where patients, families, and staff go to relax and visit. The “Grow” room is structured like a working greenhouse with access to water, a sink, a big worktable in the middle of the room, and three levels of shelving around the perimeter. I conduct therapy sessions in this area. Transplanting houseplants, arranging flowers, creating pressed flower art, making dye from flowers as well as aromatherapy and potpourri with dried herbs are a few of the patient activities. Individuals are encouraged to take their work back to their rooms and homes when leaving MossRehab. My office is in the “Work” room that contains supply cabinets, another worktable, and the equipment that operates the automatic conservatory. Behind the greenhouse is a small courtyard with raised beds, container gardens, and hanging baskets. It has a large arbor, picnic tables and chairs with umbrellas for shade and trellises with climbing plants.
Who are your patients?
I work with individuals from all our rehabilitation units, including the spinal cord, stroke, brain injury, and comprehensive rehab units. Before the pandemic, I led ten groups a week, including one for outpatients. Sometimes I conducted sessions for staff or community groups. Every afternoon, I ran an open horticultural therapy session with colleagues from the recreational therapy team. This session was open to any inpatient individual and had a recreational goal, providing relaxation and socialization for our patients at the end of their busy day of therapy. I hope to resume these group activities.
What are the benefits of horticultural therapy?
Horticultural therapy connects people with nature while working on fine motor skills, concentration, attention, and socialization. For example, horticultural activities stimulate patients because they must pay attention to tasks. And it helps with socialization as group participants talk among themselves. Being in a plant-filled environment also has a physiological effect on patients. I had a patient with minor respiratory issues who relaxed and breathed easier when working with plants. Allowing patients to leave their hospital rooms and visit the conservatory also help to avoid the depression and sadness that can stem from sitting in one room for long periods.
Can you describe a working session with patients?
My go-to activity is transplanting tabletop plants so patients can feel the dirt and touch plant material. One of my favorite activities is letting patients mix the soil with their gloved hands rather than with a trowel. It has a nice feeling while being meditative. Somebody with limited hand movement can start to move their fingers a little bit. Flower arrangement is a favorite among the patients and meets cognitive goals as individuals must listen and follow instructions.
Regardless of previous experience with plants or nature, any patient can benefit from horticultural therapy. Any plant-related activity can address a rehabilitation goal, whether it’s practicing standing endurance, dynamic balance, strengthening, or following sequential instructions. And everyone benefits from a change of scenery away from the gym on the unit. Patients who were gardeners before the injury or illness that brought them to MossRehab are perfect candidates for horticultural therapy. I take these individuals outside to the garden and show them the raised beds where they can work from a seated or standing level. I introduce different tools to support any weakness in their upper or lower body. Acquainting patients with adaptive methods encourages them to continue gardening.
Scientific research is beginning to prove that plants have a positive physical and cognitive effect on human beings. One of my goals is to show people that connecting with nature in some way, such as visiting a local park for a walk or keeping houseplants in the home, can provide a meaningful and restorative leisure experience.
What inspires you on the job?
The patients and how they are proud and excited when finishing a project. It's almost magical to see their faces light up when entering the conservatory or seeing their completed project. I have incredible respect for the therapists with whom I work. They are knowledgeable, well-trained in their profession, and very kind. It’s a respectful and collaborative work environment.
I’m also touched by the exchanges I witness between families and patients when they visit the showroom early in the evening when it’s quiet and intimate. They communicate differently in this space than they would in the hospital room.
What are your interests outside of work?
I'm very passionate about art. I have volunteered on an exhibit committee for a local art organization in my community. I’m also involved with promoting the field of horticultural therapy in healthcare and other settings where the practice can make an impact. I served as president of the Mid-Atlantic Horticultural Therapy Network (MAHTN) for four years and was on the board for 10. For leisure, I like to be outdoors, hiking, biking, or kayaking. I live near the Delaware River, so I am on the river or visit green spaces throughout the region.
What is the last book that you read?
On my nightstand is Oliver Sacks’ biography. I enjoy looking at horticulture and art books for inspiration.
What's something people don't know about you?
Horticultural therapy is a second career for me. Earlier, I had a diverse series of work experiences. I worked on an archaeology dig at the South Street Seaport in New York, examining the foundations of a block of Old Dutch houses. During that project, we found and excavated an 18thcentury merchant ship that was buried as a landfill.
What is your life motto?
Always have a positive attitude. If you work on being positive, it becomes an automatic attitude. There is a quote from Albert Einstein that I like that says, “Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better.” That’s how I feel about nature.
Learn more about MossRehab's Alice and Herbert Sachs Therapeutic Conservatory and horticultural therapy program.
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