McClendon Center horticulture therapist Kaifa-Anderson Hall

Meet Kaifa Anderson-Hall 👋

Kaifa Anderson-Hall, founder and CEO of Plants and Blooms ReImagined, is a long-standing Washington, DC social service, non-profit and horticulture professional, with more than forty years combined experience advancing the well-being of individuals and communities in the DC metropolitan area.

Keep reading to learn more about Kaifa and horticulture therapy at the McClendon Center.

Here’s what Kaifa shared with us:

Can you tell me about your journey to becoming a horticulture therapist?
I always employed indoor plants, gardens in relation to my intervention strategies with those I served particularly as a school social worker. Inherently, I recognized the calming impact of a “green”, plant-centric environment; as well as the transformational nature of a garden re: positive behavior modification – experienced many times over in school gardens of every kind, at the Washington Youth Garden, within the urban garden community. It was however my time volunteering at Melwood, the largest service provider in the DMV for differently abled adults (following my transition from the Washington Youth Garden), that I got to be a part of the intentionally designed application of therapeutic horticulture for the express purpose of empowering and enhancing wellness. Strongly influenced by the Director of Horticultural Therapy and working alongside those with various developmental delays and physical impairments in greenhouses, gardens, fully engaged and empowered, reinforcing again what I inherently understood, I knew this was to be my next career path.

What does a typical horticulture therapy session at McClendon Center look like?
A combination of clients’ direct engagement with recurring plants (a chosen six), with new plant introductions; shared observations; recurring plant experiences – watering, pruning (removal of fading, browning leaves); newly learned, guided plant experiences – propagating, potting; reiteration of plant benefits; sharing personal experience. Creating various opportunities to foster some degree of connection for all clients. Sessions always include reinforcing an understanding of mirrored plant and people’s needs and/or circumstances – i.e., the importance of being rooted; when there’s the need for reestablishing roots; caring practices to thrive; even though you can have three of the same plant, they can still grow differently; the same for people.

Funders often want hard numbers, but sometimes the magic happens in unquantifiable ways, can you share a story that captures what you think is the most impactful part of horticulture therapy?
There are many, but one that is specific to McClendon is one where having facilitated just the first one day/week session (seeing two groups), introducing six plants (a spider plant, pothos, bird’s nest fern, prayer plant, jade and snake plant), the following week Ms. Aisha approached me with a client’s drawing of a snake plant that the client drew in art class (unsolicited).  This client had yet to participate in the horticultural therapy group, but apparently was paying attention from afar.  Not only did he present the picture to Ms. Aisha, according to her, he was the most animated (in a positive way) and most appropriate in sharing that she could recall his being in quite some time.  When I approached him and asked if he were the one who drew the picture of the snake plant, he said he was.  I thanked him, saying it was an amazing drawing, he replied that it was his pleasure.  He has now been in several sessions, and he can come into a session often visibly or outwardly stating that he is having a challenging time, but he always connects with the experience, seemingly always recharged to some degree.  And more recently there was a group art project that created an amazing horticulture therapy poster, presented to me by one client with great pride and excitement on behalf of the group!  It speaks volumes! 

What do you say to those who are convinced that they don’t have a green thumb?
I never dismiss what one claims his/her experience to be.  At the same time I gently share the invaluable mutualistic relationship that exists between plants and people as a way of encouraging to give plant caretaking one additional try, with certain plant suggestions and care practices.

Is there a plant that holds a special place in your heart? (If you’re comfortable sharing the story behind it that would be lovely!)
The dieffenbachia or dumb cane. It was the first indoor plant I ever received when I was in the 3rd grade as part of a garden science program called the Washington Youth Garden which began celebrating it’s 50th anniversary last year (continuing into this year). I was transformed by taking care of the plant and it seeded what is my absolute love for indoor plants around which so much of my personal and professional worlds revolve. One leg of the professional journey included the full circle experience of serving as the Program Director of the Washington Youth Garden for six years that still conducting the garden science program which still provided those in the 3rd and 4th grades indoor plants at the conclusion of the program.

Rooted in this experience, Kaifa embarked upon a horticultural therapy career in 2014 with an ever-heightened awareness of and love for the therapeutic application of nature-based connections in fostering personal empowerment (restoring and cultivating abilities and skills, self-esteem) and enhanced well-being (physical, psychological, social, and spiritual). Two years into her practice, it was Kaifa’s recognition of the need for more accessible nature- based connections particularly for vulnerable and under resourced communities most challenged in intentionally accessing gardens and outdoor natural spaces and the significant benefits derived from them. Facilitating nature-based connections where many of these communities were served and/or resided, in the most accessible way possible, would be realized through the utilization of indoor plants and flowers. Sustainability was a high priority as well. Understanding that there was an opportunity and need to tap into the DC metro area’s high volume of underutilized (“one and done”) post-event flowers and the often time displaced (“orphaned”) indoor plants resulting from homeowner and workplace relocations, Kaifa established a robust process of recovery and repurposing (“reimagining”), thus the birth of Plants and Blooms ReImagined. It has become the primary means of cultivating a valuable source of indoor plants and flowers for her therapeutic work, while simultaneously advancing the application of socially conscious and environmentally friendly end-of-use practices. In particular, more than one hundred indoor plants have been incorporated programmatically and/or donated to social service providers with the goal of “greening” spaces to create nurturing, restorative environments for providers and those they serve.

Kaifa’s horticultural therapy work engages older adults, differently abled adults, youth, unhoused women and those experiencing mental health challenges. Additionally, she facilitates wellness workshops, horticultural therapy in-service trainings, is a symposia and conference presenter, and serve on several advisory councils and task forces. As she is strongly committed to advancing the profession of horticultural therapy and specifically the representation and leadership of practitioners of color, Kaifa serves an important role on the American Horticultural Therapy Association’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task force.

Kaifa and the work of Plants and Blooms ReImagined have been featured in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Rewire . She is also one of the featured women of color in Bloom Imprint’s publication Black Flora newly released March of this year.

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