Horticultural Therapy

What is Horticultural Therapy?

A seed is planted. With the right care and a bit of patience, that seed sprouts. Flowers, greenery, and even food are some of the gardener’s rewards. Horticultural Therapy (H.T.) (also know as Gardening Therapy) expands on this life-affirming cycle by appreciating some other benefits of working in a garden, such as stress reduction, problem-solving, socialization and physical activity. Many a home gardener will enthusiastically declare the restorative healing effects of tending their landscape.

The Many Benefits of Working in a Garden

For a person undergoing rehabilitation or recovering from illness, be it mental illness, physical injury, or addiction, harnessing the healing benefits of gardening can produce amazing results.

The tasks involved require concentration that may reduce negative, worried or obsessive thought patterns. Learning new skills, or practicing those sidelined by illness, instills pride, accomplishment, and confidence. Simply being outdoors, engaged in light to moderate physical activity, has the double benefit of absorbing essential vitamin D from the sun and improving cardiovascular health. Gardeners follow directions, practice fine-motor function, develop social skills, and enjoy the tangible evidence of their labor.

Gardening as Therapy

As a complementary modality in a therapeutic environment, these significant positive effects can lead to breakthroughs in treatment. Horticultural Therapists seek to maximize the skills and insights thus gained, leading to improved psychological, physical, social and cognitive functioning.

Donald J. Parker, LCSW, President & CEO of Carrier Clinic® offers his thoughts:

Connecting with the earth and having a living garden as proof of our labor are part of what makes horticultural therapy effective in treating myriad psychiatric, physical, social, and cognitive issues.

Where is Horticultural Therapy Practiced?

First documented at the turn of the nineteenth century by Dr. Benjamin Rush, the “Father of American Psychology”, the use of gardening in therapy has a long history of helping people rehabilitate from illness, trauma, and social isolation. Early examples included hospital farms where psychiatric patients tended crops. More recently, a particularly successful inmate program at Riker’s Island Prison has been thriving since its inception in 1989. Other current H.T. programs can be found in nursing homes, trauma and psychiatric hospitals, and drug rehabilitation facilities. In these settings, therapeutic gardens benefit both those tending them and those who simply enjoy their beauty as a meditative space, thereby improving the quality of life for countless people.

At Carrier Clinic®, we know the importance of a psychiatric hospital not only being a place of traditional healing, but also one that nurtures mental health through a connection with nature. This is why we have multiple gardens throughout our facility. Our older adult patients and residential adolescents plant and care for vegetable gardens, and are rewarded with the fruits of their labor, both literally, and in the feeling of pride they experience.

Concluding Thoughts

Whether doing physical therapy, dealing with emotional or cognitive issues, or learning life skills, people who work with horticultural therapists can experience long-lasting positive changes. Including H.T. in a treatment plan may be just the thing to plant a seed of hope.

Related Topic

If you found this topic interesting or helpful, check out our related post about strengthening your mental health for Earth Day (or any day!) with therapeutic gardening.


Or if you enjoyed this resource, print a copy for a friend to spread awareness about alternative therapies.