Improving Life and Empowering Others Through Horticultural Therapy by Wendy Gist

Peaceful Gardening 
Do you ever stop and wonder what it is about gardening that makes you feel so good? Keep in mind that peaceful garden settings have provided healing effects for centuries. We all probably know at least one person who may not be capable of experiencing the contentment of gardening in their lives, due to an illness or disability. Maybe this person is you or perhaps a mother or grandmother. A useful therapy can bring the healing powers of gardening to all.

What is Horticultural Therapy?
Horticultural Therapy (HT) helps bring the joy of gardening to everyone. HT is a clinical profession that uses plants to improve the social, spiritual, physical and emotional well-being of individuals who participate in it.

Horticultural Therapy Professionals
HT’s are trained professionals in designing, planting and maintaining a garden that suits specific needs, such as providing therapeutic garden spaces accessible for people with disabilities. For example, they may offer wide paths and entrances and are skilled in selecting plants for their proper scent and color to promote healing. Any one can benefit from properly implementing plants in their lives. Some programs offer healing through support of horticulture for chronic illnesses such as cancer.

The Benefits
HT is successful in a variety of medical and social establishments, including hospitals and vocational programs. Plants and plant-related activities provide many benefits:

  • Mobility
  • Balance
  • Endurance
  • Socialization
  • Memory Skills

Essentially, HT may improve mood and quality of life for the mind, body and spirit. Physical tasks become easier when the mind and body are relaxed. Gardening, in a group setting, can bring enjoyment along with the social benefits of joyful conversation, laughter, meeting new friends and bringing the community together. Gardening therapy also improves self-esteem and connects the young with the old.

HT for Better Mood
A promising 2005 study published in the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Concluded, “HT improves mood state, suggesting that it may be a useful tool in reducing stress. Therefore, to the extent that stress contributes to coronary heart disease, these findings support the role of HT as an effective component of cardiac rehabilitation.”

Plants have a positive effect on people at home too. HT’s can also bring gardens indoor for year-round pleasure. A behavioral research study conducted by Nancy Etcoff, Ph.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, revealed “that people feel more compassionate toward others, have less worry and anxiety, and feel less depressed when fresh cut flowers are present in the home.”

So, ask questions to find if this type of therapy may suit the needs of your loved ones to aid in a spiritual and emotional connection.

Useful Horticultural Therapy Websites:

Top Horticultural How-To Books:

Recommended Horticultural Healing Books:
(available at

  • Generations Gardening Together: Sourcebook for Intergenerational Therapeutic Horticulture (Hardcover)
    by Jean M. Larson (Author), Mary Hockenberry, Ph.D. Meyer (Author)
  • Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations (Wiley Series in Healthcare and Senior Living Design) (Hardcover)
    by Clare Cooper Marcus (Editor), Marni Barnes (Editor)
  • Spiritual Gardening: Creating Sacred Space Outdoors (Paperback)
    by Peg Streep (Author), John Glover (Photographer)