Every gardener knows that working with sun, seeds, water and soil can bring produce more than just flowers and fresh vegetables. Gardening can ease the mind and provide perspective on our otherwise frantic lives.
Hailey resident Dr. Charles Majuri believes the psychological and emotional benefits of gardening can begin in early childhood. As a child psychologist and writer, he has spent nearly four decades incorporating the gifts of gardening into his clinical practice.
Dr. Majuri is nationally certified and widely recognized in the specialized field of horticulture therapy, a nature-based therapeutic model. He holds a lifetime credential for college counseling in California and is certified in clinical hypnosis.
Majuri has written numerous scholarly articles and is the author of “Growing up Green: A simple gardening book for children and adults.” He spent 23 years in Oregon, where he designed and put into service several horticultural therapy programs, including one at Trillium Family Services at the Parry Center campus in Portland.
The lush Parry Center garden and therapy program recently celebrated its 14th year in operation, providing healing therapy for many children and families. It is seen as one of the agency’s premier clinical treatment programs. The garden program received national recognition from the American Horticulture Therapy Association.
Majuri, 70, recently moved to Hailey after three years as a member of general counseling staff at Gavilan Community College in Gilroy, Calif. He began his career in 1970, working with severely emotionally disturbed children in San Diego.
“These kids were victims of abuse. Some had brain damage or suffered from neglect—you name it,” Majuri said. “These were hostile, acting-out kids that could care less about telling me about their feelings. They needed something other than to sit in an office and be asked to talk. There was a lot of restraining going on and many of the kids were overly medicated. I didn’t like any of that.”
Majuri began to reflect on some of the more beneficial times in his own childhood. He grew up in Laguna Beach, Calif. His mother was from Naples, Italy. His grandfather, a Sicilian named Enrico Gianetti, had a garden.
“My grandfather brought me to his garden every day to sit with him,” Majuri said. “He also raised pigs and chickens. He taught me about the spiritual aspects of gardening, and about when the vegetables would be ripe. He had a grape arbor and made wine. We would go into the woods to find mushrooms. He lived to be 103.”
Majuri earned a master’s degree in counseling from the University of San Diego, a bachelor’s degree in psychology and zoology from San Diego State University and an associates’ degree in wildlife conservation from the School of Conservation and Wildlife in Washington, D.C. While completing his doctorate, he had the good fortune to be trained by Virginia Satir, one of the founding pioneers in the discipline of family therapy.
During the early and challenging phase of his career, Majuri took stock in his memories of time spent with his grandfather in the garden. His interest would lead him to bring patients to the garden. In 1973, this adjunct therapy was formalized as horticulture therapy, something Majuri says has been around a long time.
“Horticulture therapy goes back at least 1,000 years to the Persian Empire. People with mental problems would be put out to garden and it was discovered that it helped their dispositions,” Majuri said.
Majuri said mental asylums in the U.S. during the 1700s were equipped with gardens. After World War II, the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kan., included gardening in the treatment regimen for “shell-shocked” veterans.
“Karl Menninger (the famous American psychiatrist and author) was a depressive,” said Majuri, who works primarily with children ages 5-12, including many who have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
“ADHD is an overused diagnosis and an overmedicated condition, along with bipolar disorder,” Majuri said. “At certain times, medications are useful, but Ritalin and Adderall are overused.”
Majuri said gardening-as-therapy succeeds by putting the patient in the care-giving role, which builds confidence and self-esteem. Gardening provides simple reasons to look forward with purpose, he said.
On of Majuri’s first patients in San Diego many years ago was a child who had been rendered mute from abuse. Instead of quizzing him in the office, Majuri invited him to work with him in the garden.
“After about a month, he started talking,” Majuri said.
Behind Majuri’s modest house in Old Hailey are a few small plots of onions, radishes, lettuce, squash and chili peppers. In addition to conventional talk therapy, cognitive therapy and other modalities, Majuri invites his patients to prepare soil, plant seeds and tend to their creations. He will also visit the home gardens of patients.
“You are doing a creative activity with them,” Majuri said. “They choose what they want to do, if anything. It reduces their stress and gives them an amazing sense of control that would have been taken away from abused children. It engages their senses and kind of wakes them up.”
Majuri said many lessons in school could also be learned in the garden, including mathematics, biology and chemistry. He said one of his young patients wanted to plant pumpkins in December.
The boy’s pumpkin sprouted but did not survive.
“Even if something dies, there is a lesson there also,” Majuri said. “He learned something about the natural timing of things.”
Majuri has traveled extensively, is a student of comparative religion and a chef. In 2013, he completed the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage trek, walking from Pamplona to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. In addition to his private practice, he is working in the Blaine County school system.
“I hope to be working quite a bit with the Syringa Mountain School. They have a great garden,” he said.