Documents: Special Interest: Horticultural Therapy:

Horticultural Therapy
by Karen Sanderson and Gardens Above
November 29, 1999

Alternative Medicine includes a variety of different therapies but there is one important therapy that we are not familiar with, this is called Horticultural Therapy.

Horticultural Therapy has become an accepted form of therapy in the U.S.A.

Horticultural Therapy is known as alternative medicine to some in the U.S.A.

Alternative means a choice limited to one of two possibilities, mutually exclusive so that if one is chosen the other must be rejected.

The Garden Connection views Horticultural Therapy as Complementary Medicine. Complementary means: to supplement or complete.

Medicine means: the science of restoring or preserving health. So, to consider Horticultural Therapy as complementary medicine is a far superior term than Alternative Medicine. To complete or supplement the science of restoring or preserving health, clearly identifies that Horticultural Therapy would be very helpful in the medical field.

Horticultural Therapy

What is Horticultural Therapy?

Horticultural Therapy is a process using plants and horticultural activities to promote wellbeing. Horticultural Therapy improves people's body, mind and spirit and therefore improves their quality of life.

As the quality of life is becoming more stressful, one would look at gardening as a non- threatening, relaxing and an enjoyable environment.

Gardening enables people to socialize and to verbalize their feelings. Gardening can be adapted for everyone to participate and is excellent for stress reduction and health management.

One of the keys to managing stress is to balance work and relaxation, while increasing our feeling of being in control. Horticultural therapy provides an excellent means for achieving this.


The idea of Horticultural Therapy is not new. The therapeutic influence of plants date back to ancient Egypt when physicians prescribed walks in the garden for disturbed patients. In 1918 Dr. Benjamin Rush noted that "digging in the garden was one of the activities that often led to recovery of patients in hospitals."

During the late 1800’s horticulture gained acceptance as a means of easing the stressful lives of poor inner city residents and of teaching individuals who were mentally handicapped.

In the early 1900’s the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, incorporated plants, gardening and nature study as integral parts of the patient's activities.

Dr. C. Menninger wrote in 1941: "Healthy flowers have helped me to keep my emotional and intellectual equilibrium. Hope never dies in a real gardener's heart."

Horticultural Therapy can be used in different areas such as Hospitals, Lodges, Senior Residences, Nursing Homes, Schools, Daycares, Rehabilitation Institutions, Botanical Gardens, Communities, Prisons and Young Offenders Institutes, Psychiatric Centers, Special education programs, Vocational Training Centers for the Developmental of Mentally challenged.

Mission Statement

The Horticultural Therapy program through the use of horticulture and horticultural related activities seeks to improve the lifestyle and wellness of individuals. The program seeks to improve the physical, psychological and social functioning of clients or for those who would just use the program for pure enjoyment.

  • To provide a rehabilitative environment
  • To increase and or maintain the level of functioning
  • To meet individual needs
  • To have fun
  • To stimulate the senses (the smell of flowers, touching textures of plants)
  • To provide intellectual stimulation
  • To enable a feeling of ownership and to create a greater feeling of belonging
  • To increase social interaction and to foster re - integration into the community
  • To improve mobility (example: increase hand coordination)
  • To establish a sense of control
  • To increase self esteem, self worth and self confidence (gardening gives people a great sense of pride and accomplishment in that they can plant a seed and follow the growth or the plant in the greenhouse or in the garden.
  • To encourage problem solving
  • To increase attention span
  • To beautify the grounds
  • To improve social skills
  • To develop working habits and skills
  • To develop a sense of responsibility

General Benefits for the Client

The benefits of horticultural therapy are found in four basic areas;

  1. Physical
  2. Psychological
  3. Social
  4. Cognitive


Physical improvements result from patients; adapting to physical changes in an non - threatening environment, working in the fresh air, moving their bodies. For clients needing to improve coordination or retrain their muscles, both gross and fine motor activities, horticultural therapy can include this.

Gardening can be adapted for anyone, regardless of their physical ability (raised beds or container gardens can make gardening possible even for those who have mobility problems or clients who use wheelchairs.


Psychological development results from improving self- confidence and self esteem.

When the clients plan and complete successful projects patients feel useful and productive. Plants depend on people for their care, patients gain a sense of responsibility providing additional motivation. Those with aggressive and angry feelings can relieve these feelings in an acceptable manner through the physical activities of hoeing, weeding, repotting and planting. As their anxiety and tensions are reduced, patients are more receptive to talking and working through their problems.


Social improvements come from working within a group in learning to share, to relate, to compromise and to work towards a common goal.


Cognitive benefits include learning new skills, problem solving and decision making. Clients are able to work more independently and follow complex direction. Their concentration levels also increase.


1. 12 month Horticultural Therapy program
This program is offered five days a week. The clients can participate from a part time to a full time basis. The yearly plan of horticultural activities follows the seasons:

Spring: production and selling of annual and perennial plants, preparation of the grounds for flower, vegetables and herb gardens. Community gardens are available to all hospital wards, day programs and staff. The service provides the plants, tools and the horticultural consultations. All Gardens have to be designed to have aesthetic and therapeutic functions and to provide a wide range of benefits to the staff; visitors and institutions. There are 5 factors to consider in planning and designing of therapeutic gardens:

  1. Site Design: some spaces should offer privacy and quiet areas and other areas encourage group activities. Planting bed heights are important.
  2. Accessibility: the gardens must be fully accessible to all users. They must be easy to enter and exit and have surfaces and contours that allow safe and free movement.
  3. Ease of Use: The gardens should encourage frequent and repeat use. Ample shade places are needed and seating should be plentiful and provided in both open sunny and shaded areas. Paths should offer interesting views with plants placed along them so that people can smell and touch them (sensory gardens for the visual impaired). Water fountains may be considered in larger gardens.
  4. Plant Material: plants must be esthetically and sensory pleasing. Plants for outdoor gardens should be selected to form an ecosystem that attracts birds. Plants should be selected for easy maintenance and pest resistance.
  5. Quality of Maintenance: The gardens must remain attractive and grounds maintained properly.

Summer: - maintenance of gardens and selling of the vegetables, flowers and herbs.

Fall and Winter: - arrangements of fresh and dry flowers, production of specialty vinegar’s, flower pressing(for cards etc.) multiplication and culture of house plants, culture of poinsettia and sale.

2. Bedside Horticulture program - a program used for clients that are unable to attend regularly scheduled horticultural therapy programs, refusal to participate in group programs and or inappropriate for group programs.

3. Sensory and Teaching Gardens

4. Greenhouse program

5. Garden clubs

6. Garden Clinics and workshops

7. Volunteer program

8. Horticultural Home Care program - a service offered to individuals who are requesting to stay at their residences with the help of Home Care and a new program called Horticultural Home Care (a program to assist individuals with their gardens and yards).

9. Environmental awareness and education - Earth Day

10. Other therapies such as Aromatherapy can be used with Horticultural Therapy

Financial Management

  1. Form a foundation or society(grants, membership drives).
  2. Fund raising - perennial fundraising, garden lots ($50.00 per season), craft sales(horticultural therapy program participants)
  3. Garden tea party, walking tours of the gardens
  4. Artists painting in the gardens(selling the paintings)
  5. Farmers Market
  6. Silent Auction
  7. Garden sponsors and donations. Groups or individuals who donate to the horticultural program will be recognized accordingly. If they donate gardens, trees, shrubs, they will be recognized by placement of a personalized brass name plate at the respectable plant material(s) This unique idea could be set up as a gift for memorials, tributes, congratulations on an engagement, marriage, birth, birthday, recognition of a service, business or person.
  8. Stampede parade (recognizing Horticultural Therapy to the public)
  9. Adopt a Garden - an interesting concept to promote beautification of the hospital grounds, teamwork, health promotion and public relations. Gardening teams would consist of staff, patients and volunteers.

Referral Process

Clients are referred to the Horticultural Therapy program from nursing, rehabilitation services and medical staff. The program is also a non-referral program and is available for everyone. The referred clients will have an evaluation done by a Horticultural Therapy Consultant and progress notes will be issued to the referrer.

For further information contact:

Karen Sanderson R.N.
Telephone 403-275-4540
Horticultural Therapy Consultant
Fax 403- 275-4540

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