Bonnie Newman, Garden Therapy, Boca Raton Garden Club

Boca resident Bonnie Newman has a green thumb and a heart of gold. The Boca Raton Garden Club member chairs the organization’s Garden Therapy program, a course for patients suffering from the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The program, a series of classes offered exclusively through Florida Atlantic University’s Louis and Anne Green Memory and Wellness Center, is for participants with mild to moderate memory-loss symptoms.

Once a month, from November until April, Newman patiently encourages a small class of men and women to exercise their minds by creating beautiful floral arrangements over the course of an hour. The serene and confident leader, with the help of 21 other committee members, strives to teach and challenge her students.

“We encourage them and guide them through the steps, making it not so intimidating,” Newman says. “We like to stimulate memories...There is always something I try to trigger. We talk about things like the holidays, family and friends. It’s really a communication that’s done through flowers.”

Newman first experiments with the creative arrangements at home, personally selecting the vibrant flowers, lush greens and vases used in each class. She often incorporates pretty stones, ribbon, sand and other materials.

“Flowers make people happy, not just because of the colors,” Newman says. “It’s the touching, the texture...The [participants] are so proud, and they get a lot of feedback from their caregivers because they bring the [bouquets] home. It’s something they accomplish.”

Newman was first exposed to the effects of Alzheimer’s while caring for her late aunt. After her passing, Newman pledged to assist others and help raise awareness about the disease. Before moving to South Florida, she developed a garden therapy program for her hometown Cornwall Garden Club in New York. Newman was quickly nominated to lead the program here in Boca Raton.

“Most of the people are elderly, and that’s what you think of with Alzheimer’s,” Newman says. “But I have had people age 49 in my group; I’ve had several that are younger...These are people from all walks of life who get this disease—doctors, accountants, lawyers, teachers, garden club members...all different people, at all different ages...”

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