Horticultural Therapy

The principles of horticultural therapy date back to ancient times when Egyptian physicians prescribed ‘walks in the garden’ as a treatment for royalty suffering from mental disorders.  Records dating from 1768 indicate doctors were prescribing ‘tending the soil’ as a cure for the ills of the mind and nervous system.  However, it was not until 1955 that horticultural therapy was officially named as a discipline where clients/patients actively participated in specially designed treatment programs intended to link garden activities with improved mental and physical health.

Defining Horticultural Therapy

The American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) defines horticultural therapy as “a discipline that uses plants, gardening activities, and the natural world as vehicles for professionally conducted programs in therapy and rehabilitation.”  Four elements are required for horticultural activities to be considered as part of a client/patient treatment plan:

  1.   a defined treatment procedure which focuses on horticultural or gardening activities,
  2.   a client with a diagnosed problem who is in treatment,
  3.   a treatment goal that can be measured and evaluated, and
  4.   a qualified professional to deliver the treatment.

What is Horticultural Therapy?

H.T. is one of the treatment modalities that form the adjunctive therapy treatment approach.  Adjunctive therapy means in addition to or joined to traditional therapy or treatment approaches and includes art, music, and recreational therapy.  Horticultural therapy as a treatment approach is applied in a variety of institutional settings.  Institutions where H.T. is prescnbed as part of a client/patient treatment plan include:

  • psychiatric hospitals –  first recorded area to utilize treatment through gardening
  • physical disabilities – strokes, paralyzing injuries
  • sensory impairments – emphasis on gaining skills for daily living
  • geriatric – ill elderly
  • substance abuse – H.T. is used as part of treatment programs
  • social deviation – adults and children who commit crimes and are placed in detention or correctional facilities have been shown to benefit from H.T. programs
  • mental disabilities – often this work is directed to employment of clients

Purpose of Horticultural Therapy Programs

The therapy of working with living plants has been shown to enhance self-esteem, alleviate depression, improve motor skills, provide opportunities for problem solving, and encourage social interaction and communication.

Horticultural therapy places the patient in a care-giving role often engendering

confidence and a new sense of purpose.  Some of the goals of H.T. programs include:

  • learning basic skills and social skills
  • building confidence and increasing self-esteem
  • gaining qualifications and the opportunity to move into employment
  • rebuilding lives after illness or accident
  • maintaining or improving quality of life

Where can Horticultural Therapy Activities be used?

Horticultural treatment activities are used in greenhouse crop production; learning to make terrariums and bonsai; harvesting flowers and flower arranging; pulling weeds and cultivating the soil; transplanting trees; crafts and specialty items for sale.  Highly motivational among the horticultural activities are potting plants, plant propagation, and flower arranging.  Many horticultural therapy programs generate monies from the sale of their products, which is used in part to offset the costs of materials.