2014-08-22 / In the News

Horticulture component is key

Morrison Center’s Seedling Program teaches vocational and life skills
By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer


For 27 years, the Morrison Center, which offers day programs with adults with disabilities, has operated Seedlings horticulture therapy program that grows a wide variety of plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables in two greenhouses and an outdoor garden space. (Michael Kelley photo) For 27 years, the Morrison Center, which offers day programs with adults with disabilities, has operated Seedlings horticulture therapy program that grows a wide variety of plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables in two greenhouses and an outdoor garden space. (Michael Kelley photo) If it can grow in a greenhouse, chances are it is growing at the Morrison Center on Chamberlain Road.

For 27 years, the center, which serves adults with disabilities, has operated the Seedling Program, a chance for the center’s clients to try their hand at horticulture.

“It is sort of a unique day program that serves adults with multiple disabilities,” said Kevin Kearn, director of the Seedlings Program.

The Seedling Program is but one of the adult programs offered at the Morrison Center, which started more than 60 years ago as the Cerebral Palsy Center.

A decade ago it was renamed the Morrison Center in memory of Betty Morrison, the center’s longtime executive director. Several years ago, the center underwent a multi-million dollar capital campaign, constructed a new facility and moved from Martin’s Point in Portland to its current location.


The greenhouses at the Morrison Center, a major focal point on the side of the building, provides learning opportunities for members of the Seedlings Program, as well as food for the culinary arts program and a peaceful setting for the center’s school-aged children to enjoy. (Michael Kelley photo) The greenhouses at the Morrison Center, a major focal point on the side of the building, provides learning opportunities for members of the Seedlings Program, as well as food for the culinary arts program and a peaceful setting for the center’s school-aged children to enjoy. (Michael Kelley photo) Kearns said the program is modeled after Melwood, an adult special services center in Maryland that started the first horticulture therapy program in the country.

The Morrison Center’s horticulture program, Kearns said, is “used as a training tool, both in terms of vocational skills and life skills. The social aspect of the program is a great component.”

The greenhouses offer a wide variety of plants, including poinsettia, spring annuals, hanging baskets, geraniums, orchids and other houseplants, as well as fruit such as bananas, pineapples, papayas and coffee and tea. Much of the flowers are sold to the community during the year and at special events. Many of the greenhouse plants are also sold to nursing homes, as well as local schools and businesses.

“There are a lot of benefits to horticulture, because there is a beginning and an end,” said Kearns, who has a background in the discipline.

“Plants have a track record of being very calming and relaxing,” he added.

The program has 20 participants, many of whom get paid based on consignment sales. Each plant is outfitted with a bar code that correlates to an individual. This, Kearns said, “provides a rudimentary paycheck, which is a good tool for motivation.”

The greenhouses are shared with Morrison Center’s school program, which educates special needs students in preschool through grade 12. The greenhouses, Kearns said, have an “immediate calming affect” on the students and can quickly turn a bad day into a good one. The Seedling Program also operates an outdoor garden space that grows fruits and vegetables for the Morrison Center’s culinary arts program.

Last year the Seedling Program caught the attention of Mary Quinn Doyle, an author who has written a book on unique farms in Maine. The book, “Unique Maine Farms,” is expected to be printed in early September, just in time to be featured at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, the third weekend of September.

Doyle, who owned a greenhouse center for close to 10 years, became aware of the Seedling Program after seeing it featured on the local news in December 2013. She became intrigued and decided to check the program out for herself shortly after the news story.

“I was surprised such an impressive operation existed,” Doyle said. “I was totally blown away. Having had a greenhouse business, I was familiar with greenhouses, but I was very impressed with how the individuals participating in the program were really motivated.”

Doyle said it quickly became apparent the Seedling Program was much more than a couple of greenhouses. She said several of the program’s participants told her lifelong friendships were created as a result.

“It was a really heartwarming experience for me,” she said. “One of the highlights on writing my book was going (to the Morrison Center). It’s such a positive, positive place.”

Morrison Center’s Seedling Program will be among more than 175 farms and gardens that will be featured in the book.

Morrison Center, she said, fits in nicely in a section of her book that features farms benefitting homeless individuals or individuals who are blind.

“The premise of the book is farming and gardening can conceivably be enjoyed by everybody,” Doyle said.

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