Although a new profession in today’s world, horticultural therapy or therapeutic gardening has its roots in the 19th century. One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Benjamin Rush, documented benefits that someone could get from working with plants in a garden setting. He was based in Philadelphia and offered his own patients gardening as therapy at his clinic. Nowadays horticultural therapy is advancing as a method to ease stress and relax the mind.
Benefits of Gardening Therapy[double_paragraph][block] [/block] [block]Research shows that gardening therapy has several benefits for people with physical, emotional and social issues. Plants do not discriminate or judge, therefore surrounding yourself with them is soothing. These therapeutic effects can help people of any age from children to seniors. Plants are not threatening, and can offer peace. Gardening for seniors has been recommended to increase dexterity and coordination in a non-stressful environment. Since plants respond to anyone that provides them care, hort therapy is ideal for many people suffering from a range of disabilities.[/block] [/double_paragraph]
Studies show that people who have successful results working with plants can see similar results in other situations. Working with plants can offer gentle confidence building skills and a sense of accomplishment. Specifically, horticultural therapy can assist in learning skills or regaining abilities lost through disease or injury. This type of therapy is helpful in rehabilitation of military veterans and stroke victims to improve skills in the following areas.[double_paragraph][block]
- Cognitive abilities
- Task initiation
- Language skills
- Strengthening muscles
- Problem solving
- Following directions
The American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) and the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) have worked together to produce the conceptual drawings of therapeutic gardens. A therapeutic garden is designed as a plant-centric environment for interactions and healing to take place. Depending on the need of the patient, interactions can be passive or active. Gardens are designed with the needs of the patient(s) in mind. It is also possible to create therapeutic gardens one just one function in the healing process such as restorative gardens, rehabilitation gardens, enabling gardens and general healing gardens.
Therapeutic gardens feature easy-to-access entryways and walkways that have enough room for wheelchairs to move freely, gently graded pathways for those who use a cane or walker for extra walking support, raised container beds or planting beds, and a sensory-stimulating section of plants that uses an array of colors, textures and aromas.
Landscaping for Therapeutic Gardening[paragraph_left][block] In order to create the most therapeutic space, landscape designers work hand-in-hand with therapists to build a garden with numerous functions. However, any garden can offer therapy as long as a trained horticultural therapist works with the patient on a planned program. [/block] [block] [/block][/paragraph_left]
Gardening for Seniors
Gardening as therapy is ideal as a practice for seniors as much of gardening does not require great strength or exertion. Seniors can work easily in a garden with raised beds, either sitting or standing and working with plants is a good way to improve motor skills after a stroke or other health incident. Working with plants is helpful in reducing depression, stress and anxiety by decreasing cortisol.[double_paragraph][block] [/block][block] The Therapeutic Landscape Network offers advice and design information on creating gardens for seniors as well as creating spaces for seniors to use and enjoy in an assisted living setting. Their blog has excellent up-to-date articles on how to design the gardening space for your needs. Other efforts include supporting further research efforts on gardening therapy.
For more in-depth information on the practice of horticultural therapy and how you can become a therapist, consult this paper from the AHTA. The National Institutes of Health (NCBI) support the use of therapeutic gardens for the elderly. In What Is the Evidence to Support the Use of Therapeutic Gardens for the Elderly? It is stated that preliminary studies report that the benefits of horticultural therapy include reduction of falls, lowering needed medication, lessening of stress, improvement in attention and reduction of pain, all highly beneficial.[/block] [/double_paragraph]
For a list of gardening therapy activities visit Garden Therapy Notes.