vetteran

Dessie Robinson, a United States veteran and regular attendee of horticulture therapy, transfers young rabbit ear seedlings into pots. Robinson has attended the program for two semesters after hearing about it from the social work department at the VA. 

Four days before Veteran’s Day, two women sat in the UF Wilmot Botanical Gardens planting rabbit ear plants and basil. They spoke to each other as they worked under the greenhouse fans, carefully placing the plants into pots full of damp soil. 

The women, almost two decades apart, were there for the same reason: women veteran horticulture therapy.

The plant therapy class is held every Thursday and was started Spring 2019 by Leah Diehl, director of therapeutic horticulture at Wilmot Botanical Gardens and a lecturer for the UF Environmental Horticulture Department at the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“My goal is to create a sense of community,” Diehl said. “This is a place just for them, I want them to know they belong here.”

Diehl said the program gives women a sense of purpose by teaching them about plants and gardening. The women extend the therapy to their homes, and the two grow together. 

The free class meets from 11 a.m. to noon every Thursday and is open to women who are veterans or suffer from the effects of war. Usually, two to five people participate. They have at least one regular attendee from each branch of the U.S. military. 

Dessie Robinson, a 70-year-old veteran who has attended the class since it began, said the program is a nice break from her daily life.

“This is me time,” Robinson said. “I meet other people and veterans who are so friendly and nice, and we don’t talk about war. This is a distraction from everyday life.”

Jamie Woodreus, a 22-year-old UF biochemistry senior, has volunteered for the program since the start of this semester.  

“I saw how the veterans were affected by this and how it changed their mood,” Woodreus said. “It’s kind of an escape from reality for them.”

Woodreus encourages other students interested in helping out veterans to volunteer as well. She said she has been able to form strong connections with the women.

“I love interacting with the people here and learning their stories,” she said.