Gardening is Good Therapy
By Valerie Giles
Many of us garden just for the sheer joy of it. But did you know
that all over the country the healing aspects of gardening are
being used as therapy or as an adjunct to therapy?
Although this might sound like a new concept, garden therapy
has been around for decades. For example, the Garden Therapy Program
at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, and in regional hospitals
in Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Rome, Thomasville and Savannah,
has been helping people for over 40 years through gardening activities
known as social and therapeutic horticulture.
So what exactly is social and therapeutic horticulture (or garden
According to the article “Your future starts here: practitioners
determine the way ahead” from Growth Point (1999) volume
79, pages 4-5, horticultural therapy is the use of plants by a
trained professional as a medium through which certain clinically
defined goals may be met. “…Therapeutic horticulture
is the process by which individuals may develop well-being using
plans and horticulture. This is achieved by active or passive
Although the physical benefits of garden therapy have not yet
been fully realized through research, the overall benefits are
almost overwhelming. For starters, gardening therapy programs
result in increased elf-esteem and self-confidence for all participants.
Social and therapeutic horticulture also develops social and
work skills, literacy and numeric skills, an increased sense of
general well-being and the opportunity for social interaction
and the development of independence. In some instances it can
also lead to employment or further training or education. Obviously
different groups will achieve different results.
Groups recovering from major illness or injury, those with physical
disabilities, learning disabilities and mental health problems,
older people, offenders and those who misuse drugs or alcohol,
can all benefit from the therapeutic aspects of gardening as presented
through specific therapy related programs. In most cases, those
that experience the biggest impact are vulnerable or socially
excluded individuals or groups, including the ill, the elderly,
and those kept in secure locations, such as hospitals or prisons.
One important benefit to using social and therapeutic horticulture
is that traditional forms of communication aren’t always
required. This is particularly important for stroke patients,
car accident victims, those with cerebral palsy, aphasia or other
illnesses or accidents that hinder verbal communication. Gardening
activities lend themselves easily to communicative disabled individuals.
This in turn builds teamwork, self-esteem and self-confidence,
while encouraging social interaction.
Another group that clearly benefits from social and therapeutic
horticulture are those that misuse alcohol or substances and those
in prison. Teaching horticulture not only becomes a life skill
for these individuals, but also develops a wide range of additional
Social and therapeutic horticultures gives these individuals
a chance to participate in a meaningful activity, which produces
food, in addition to creating skills relating to responsibility,
social skills and work ethic.
The same is true for juvenile offenders. Gardening therapy, as
vocational horticulture curriculum, can be a tool to improve social
bonding in addition to developing improved attitudes about personal
success and a new awareness of personal job preparedness.
The mental benefits don’t end there. Increased abilities
in decision-making and self-control are common themes reported
by staff in secure psychiatric hospitals. Reports of increased
confidence, self-esteem and hope are also common in this environment.
Prison staff have also noticed that gardening therapy improves
the social interaction of the inmates, in addition to improving
mutual understanding between project staff and prisoners who shared
outdoor conditions of work.
It’s interesting that studies in both hospitals and prisons
consistently list improving relationships between participants,
integrating with the community, life skills and ownership as being
some of the real benefits to participants.
But in addition to creating a myriad of emotional and social
benefits, the health benefits of being outdoors, breathing in
fresh air and doing physical work cannot be overlooked. In most
studies, participants noted that fresh air, fitness and weight
control where prime benefits that couldn’t be overlooked.
Although unable to pin down a solid reason, studies have shown
that human being posses an innate attraction to nature. What we
do know, is that being outdoors creates feelings of appreciation,
tranquility, spirituality and peace. So it would seem, that just
being in a garden setting is in itself restorative. Active gardening
only heightens those feelings.
With so many positive benefits to gardening, isn’t it time
you got outside and started tending to your garden? Next time
you are kneeling in fresh dirt to pull weeds or plant a new variety
of a vegetable or flower, think about the tranquility you feel
while being outdoors in your garden. Let the act of gardening
sooth and revitalize you. Soak up the positive benefits of tending
to your own garden.
If you have someone in your life that could benefit from garden
therapy, contact your local health unit to find out more about
programs in your area. Not only will the enjoyment of gardening
help bond you together, but it will also create numerous positive
mental and physical benefits for both of you.
So get gardening today for both your physical and mental health.
You’ll enjoy the experience so much that you’ll immediately
Valerie Giles operates the Grow
Your Own Garden Website which focuses on gardening products,
flower and vegetable seeds, atio furniture and garden accessories.
Everything ou need for the gardening season.