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Horticulture Therapy

 Constructed by Tia Deanne Jones

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So, what in the world is this horticulture therapy thing? I admit, when I first heard about the idea I was pretty skeptical. I mean; did this stuff really work? Well, I have become convinced that it does work. So to convince yourself, read on. The following is a summary of the information, so click on what you want to know, or just continue scrolling.


I. What is horticulture therapy

II. A brief history of horticulture therapy

III. Benefits of horticulture therapy

IV. Links to other horticulture therapy sites



What is horticulture therapy

The American Horticulture Therapy Association defines horticulture therapy as, "a process utilizing plants and horticultural activities to improve social, educational, psychological and physical adjustment of persons thus improving their body, mind and spirit." After researching a little myself, I understood why it does work. Without any scientific research or complicated experiments (and that is not to say there has not been any), I think anyone can understand it too. Just think about the way walking outside refreshes you, or how seeing nature bloom into spring lifts your spirits. It is easy to imagine that making things grow can be a boost in self-esteem and a jolt of independence. The great thing about horticulture therapy is that it is so accessible and beneficial to so many different types of people, whether disabled, elderly, young, poor or wealthy. Benefits are not only physical, but mental and social as well. I am convinced that horticulture therapy can improve many people's lives. Even if it is only to help relax and unwind, horticulture therapy can improve any person's life.

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A brief history of horticulture therapy

You might be surprised to learn that horticulture therapy has been around for quite some time. It has definitely become more popular recently and it is kind of "the hype" right now in horticulture and therapy fields. The idea started when poor people in the 1600's worked in gardens to pay for their hospitalization. Doctors noticed these patients recovered quicker and to a better health standard than the other patients did. After both World War I and II, servicemen worked in gardens to improve functioning of injured limbs and increase mental function, but also to learn new skills and to provide food. By 1955, the first undergraduate degree in horticulture therapy was given by Michigan State University and in 1971, Kansas State University offered the first graduate program. Now horticulture therapy is used in hospitals, nursing homes, institutions, rehabilitation facilities, schools, prisons, camps, day care centers, group homes, halfway houses, homeless shelters, community centers...I think you get the idea. These programs are popping up all over the place with successful results that are increasing popularity even more.

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Benefits of horticulture therapy

The benefits of horticulture therapy are what make it so different than other types of therapy. People of any age can do it, and activities can be varied according to abilities. Work areas can be at different levels to accommodate those who are in wheelchairs or unable to bend. Also, horticulture therapy can be done year round and is easily transferred over to use outside of the facility. (you can do it at home with out special nurses or expensive equipment.) Horticulture therapy improves the over all well being of not only patients, but caretakers and families of patients. Patients can actually have fun in therapy and have something to show for all their work. This therapy enhances physical, mental and social health.

Physical -increase muscular strength and body mechanics -stretch muscles and increase range of motion -improve fine motor skills -tone underused muscles -improve coordination and balance

Mental -increase autonomy and independence -outlet for stress, anger and emotional expression -increase self esteem -increases observation skills -provides choices and ability to use problem solving skills -increase attention span

Social -reversal of dependency -opportunity to interact with others -commitment to a living thing -cooperation and team working skills -dealing with success and failure -can learn and be inspired by other people with other people with similar disabilities

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Links to other horticulture therapy sites

The American Horticulture Therapy Association

  • A great place to start. Includes lists of books, journals, resources, places with horticulture therapy programs and even an outline for a horticulture therapy program.

Theory and why horticulture therapy works

Scientific research

Creating a horticulture therapy garden

  • The executive director states that, "After two years of work with the pilot program, we concluded that everyone loved the experience whether because they enjoyed being out in the fresh air, smelling the flowers, tasting the just picked fruits and berries, or because of the physical activity of gardening and the social interaction with their fellow gardeners and horticultural animators." Great for finding tools and equipment for horticulture therapy.
  • Speaking of tools, this site gives detailed instruction on how to adapt tools for horticulture therapy.
  • Discusses considerations for creating accessible gardens, accessible garden containers and what plants to use in them.

Where and what horticulture therapy programs are offered

  • United States botanic gardens and arboreta offering information or training in horticulture therapy.
  • The Holden Arboretum Horticulture Therapy Program is a good example of programs being utilized.
  • The Chicago Botanic Garden's internationally acclaimed horticulture therapy department lists answers to frequently asked questions and training workshops.
  • This nonprofit horticulture therapy center in Frederick, PA describes their community garden (i.e. wheelchair accessible, please touch garden for the visually impaired) and also gives their answer to how horticulture therapy works and who can benefit.

Horticulture therapy book and video lists

  • A list of videos that you can purchase and order. The site states: "These shows have been designed to increase awareness of the therapeutic role that horticulture can play in the lives of people who must overcome certain challenges, including physical and mental disabilities, developmental disabilities, and age."
  • List of books on horticulture therapy at the Elisabeth C. Miller Horticulture Library at The University of Washington. If you can not go there, this is still a nice list of references to look for in your local library or bookstore.

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