John Milton, who believed that everything has a spirit, describes Satan in Paradise Lost as someone who can’t see the virtues of “that life-giving Plant,” but can only use it as a perch for his convenience. Under the devil’s sway, Eve views the garden in the same way and begins to exploit it, dooming herself in the process.
In Taiwan, breakneck industrialization has created a society with that same blinkered understanding of plant life. “Take average college students, for example. They do not know how to make a flower grow, and they do not know what a healthy vegetable looks like,” Huang said.
Over the past five years, Huang has been visiting more and more nursing homes, as demand creeps up on an aging society.
She brings plants to seniors with Alzheimer’s disease, who might remember neither their families nor Taiwan’s bygone agrarian lifestyle. Bringing them closer to nature can also bring them closer to their family, said Huang.
One elderly woman told a therapist that she wished her son would visit her. The son said he did not visit because he didn’t know what to say to his mother, whose long-term memory had faded.
“So we taught her about parts of the plant and told different stories about it. She could remember that. Then we had her tell her son, ‘This is what I planted,’” she said.
In the end, the son increased the frequency of his visits. He spent his time asking questions: “What is this plant?” and “How did you plant it?”
“She also tried out more and more new plants, and it was something that calmed her,” Huang said.
“That’s all horticultural therapy is — a dialogue between human life and plant life. Once people learn that, they might open a door to other conversations.”