Grounded in the Professional Practice of Horticultural Therapy

Garden Therapy and Therapeutic Gardening are interchangeable terms for the purposeful use of plants and gardens to improve health and wellbeing. The use of plants as a therapeutic modality is grounded in the professional practice of horticultural therapy. The American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) defines the professional standards and training credentials for the practice.

Trained horticultural therapists work by setting specific treatment goals to improve the physical, mental or cognitive health for different groups of people recovering from illness or injury, or living with long-term physical disability or mental health disorders.

A helpful example of how HT can support individual therapy goals:
A common patient-centered goal in a rehabilitation setting is to improve fine motor skills of the hands by scooping soil for potting up plants or by grasping flower stems to create a floral arrangement. These functional skills will transfer to other critical life care skills, such as dressing, feeding, and grooming to promote independence.

Gardening for Better Health

Therapeutic Horticulture or Garden Therapy also uses horticultural activities guided by a professional horticultural therapist or other skilled professional to support general wellness goals to improve quality of life.

A helpful example of how Garden Therapy can support wellness goals:
An example of therapeutic horticulture for residents of an assisted living community is their participation in a weekly garden club program with the goals of reducing isolation, building community, providing moderate exercise, and increasing access to healthy food.

Who Does Garden Therapy Help?

Garden therapy programs are found in rehabilitation hospitals and outpatient clinics, mental health treatment centers, assisted living communities, botanical gardens, and specialized schools for students with differing abilities.

Other settings include vocational training programs often found in prisons, and day programs serving adults with intellectual disabilities.

Populations of individuals that benefit from garden therapy include brain injury and spinal cord injury patients, those recovering from stroke, the homeless, veterans, the incarcerated, children and adults with mental health, emotional and behavioral disorders, intellectual disabilities, individuals on the autism spectrum, and those suffering from dementia, among others.

How Does Garden Therapy Help?

Gardening helps us to refocus our minds and bodies on purposeful tasks that promote calmness and self-satisfaction, stimulate the senses, and improve our mood. This human connection to the natural world has been studied for centuries and the documented benefits to health and wellness are many. Research studies have concluded that gardening can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, decrease feelings of fear, anger and sadness, and improve self-confidence.

People living with chronic illness and disability or those incarcerated often battle depression and isolation and have limited opportunities to connect with nature. Gardens are inviting spaces that can rebuild social connections, connect us to fresh, healthy food, and gently teach us about caring for plants, ourselves and the earth.

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