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Horticulture Therapy

Updated on June 18, 2013

What is Horticultural Therapy?

Horticulture therapy, or horticultural therapy, is the use of gardening to help people reduce stress, learn a vocation, gain or regain fine motor skills, and to enjoy social interaction with others. This type of therapy is used in a variety of settings, from a private garden in a school setting for autistic children, to nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and in prisons.

According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, "HT helps improve memory, cognitive abilities, task initiation, language skills, and socialization. In physical rehabilitation, HT can help strengthen muscles and improve coordination, balance, and endurance. In vocational HT settings, people learn to work independently, problem solve, and follow directions."

How Horticultural Therapy Helps

Horticultural therapy can help people with a variety of illnesses and disabilities. During and after World War II, it was used to help soldiers recover from the trauma of war. Helping to nurture and grow living things can be therapeutic to individuals exposed to such destruction. HT is also helpful for individuals who have suffered a stroke or have lost manual dexterity. Performing tasks, such as re-potting plants, planting seeds and tending plants all require a coordinated use of the arms, hands and fingers.

Horticultural therapy can also be used to teach the disabled and the incarcerated new vocational skills. These new skills can then be used to start businesses that are self sustaining, such as hydroponic vegetable businesses, growing and selling fruit or plant nurseries.

Planning a Garden for Horticultural Therapy

A garden that will be used in a public or semi-private setting requires advance planning. Public gardens require that they be planned using the Americans with Disability Act regulations so that all public areas of the garden be accessible.

The types of plants and decorations used within the garden are also important. The use of colors, textures, scents and even the taste of some plants (herb gardens) are important, depending upon who the users of the garden will be.

Some gardens will be used as sensory gardens, enabling gardens or strolling gardens, which will depend upon the planners and the targeted users. The planning phase may take a few months, or a year or longer, depending upon the scope of the plan. Funding the garden may require planning for activities that can help generate income after the garden is completed.

Activities in a Horticultural Therapy Garden

A self-sustaining horticulture therapy garden can use a variety of activities to help fund the ongoing care of the garden. Activities can planned that will include members of the local community. The type of activities offered can range from teaching gardening and organic pest control methods for adults, to teaching children simple gardening activities, such as painting pots and planting flowers in pots for Mother's Day.

Some HT gardens also grow crops that can be sold in the marketplace. Hydroponics is a growing industry, and some disabled veterans groups are taking the opportunity to teach hydroponic gardening skills and growing produce, which is then sold in local markets.

Starting a Horticultural Therapy Garden

Many individuals are instrumental in bringing a horticultural therapy garden to the places where they work or in their communities. All it takes is a few interested individuals, or even a garden club, to reach out and propose the idea. To learn more about these gardens and how to plan one, view the suggested links below.


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