National Horticultural Therapy Week

Image from Barclay Friends website,

A Barclay Friends resident, watering plants as part of the HT program

It’s National Horticultural Therapy Week!

What is horticultural therapy, you may ask? According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA), HT is “the engagement of a person in gardening-related activities, facilitated by a trained therapist, to achieve specific treatment goals…AHTA believes that horticultural therapy is an active process which occurs in the context of an established treatment plan. HT is an effective and beneficial treatment for people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities.” To add to that, the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association (CHTA) says that “Horticultural Therapy (HT) and Therapeutic Horticulture (TH) use plants, gardens, and the natural landscape to improve cognitive, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.”

In April of 2010, the the Wall Street Journal published an article on HT, titled “When Treatment Involves Dirty Fingernails: Research Finds That Horticulture Therapy Lowers Heart Rate, Improves Mood, Lessens Pain, Aiding in Healing Process.” Here are a couple of excerpts:

Practitioners say that in health-care facilities that can feel stressful and sterile, gardens and plants offer an important respite. “This is a normalizing place,” says Gwenn Fried, horticultural therapist at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center. Rusk features a Glass Garden conservatory filled with lush tropical plants, a pond, chatty birds as well as an area where patients work on the mechanics of planting seeds, dividing plants and starting new ones from cuttings. Ms. Fried says the horticultural-therapy sessions can help patients with a wide variety of rehab exercises, such as redeveloping fine motor skills or even cognitive work following neurological surgery.

A 2005 study of 107 patients published in the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation indicated that cardiac rehabilitation patients in a one-hour gardening class clocked in lower heart rates and better dispositions than patients who received a generic patient-education class. Another study, published in 2008 in HortiTechnology, showed that 18 residents of an assisted-living facility showed a significant increase in self-rated health and happiness after participating in four horticulture classes.

Another more recent article from The Telegraph (“Gardening therapy helps children grow: Special needs youngsters thrive when given horticultural tasks“) discusses how HT can help children with special needs, including those with Down’s syndrome and autism. Some HT programs in the UK are funded by the NHS (what a concept, right?).

Recently, an NHS-funded horticultural therapy unit for patients with head injuries and dementia was set up in Cumbria, and some doctors prescribe gardening to relieve anxiety and depression. Its benefits are now being extended to young people with conditions such as autism and Down’s syndrome. Angus is one of hundreds of children in Britain with special needs whose lives are being transformed by the therapy. It combines being outdoors with the opportunity for them to acquire a range of vital skills – from learning how to interact with a group, to taking responsibility for living creatures. The children’s confidence and self-awareness grow and they develop a sense of purpose outside school. Recent research by the Royal Horticultural Society found that 84 per cent of people in this age group responded positively to being outdoors.

For more information and resources, including links to national and international organizations, visit the TLN’s Horticultural Therapy page. Enjoy your week!