Healing through Horticulture: Horticultural Therapy
Horticultural Therapy has been defined as “the use of plants and gardens for human healing and rehabilitation”. Leading horticultural therapy charity Thrive note that “social and therapeutic horticulture is the formal name given to the process of using gardening, plants and horticulture to help individuals develop.”
Horticultural therapy can benefit people in a number of ways, including psychological, emotional and physical benefits:
There is something magical and curative about the powers of nature as seen in the growth of a plant. Flowers perpetuate themselves with their seeds, constantly repeating the cycle. Nature is forgiving. If a plant dies, another can be grown in its place. If a mistake is made, nature teaches how to avoid repeating it, because the life cycle of plants provides us with hope of life renewed and a chance to begin again.
Mitchell Hewson, Taking Nature’s Path to Recovery.
Benefits of the Healing Gardening
There is much research to confirm what common sense already tells us – that being in a light, airy environment (whether outside or in the conservatory) enhances our sense of well-being.
Natural light is in itself therapeutic. Studies have shown that light affects body rhythms and vitamin D levels, as well as improving our sense of well-being.
Spending time in the garden has been shown to improve self-esteem and restore confidence. It stimulates memories of former gardens and old skills too, which is especially valuable for the elderly and for depressed individuals. Gardening in a group is also a practical and unthreatening way of socialising with others.
Gardening is particularly good at improving upper body strength, but also improves lower body strength and range of motion, encourages mobility, enhances circulation and cardiovascular ability, builds endurance and strength and improves co-ordination.
Horticulture is a good way of enhancing our thinking skills and memory abilities. Working with seasonal plants helps us to feel more closely involved in the seasons, to appreciate the time of year and live in harmony with our environment.
Psychological and Emotional Well-being
As we shall see, the healing garden has much to offer in terms of helping us to release stress and anxiety, and to find emotional and psychological healing.
When life becomes too much, there’s nothing like a garden to offer refuge, tranquillity and comfort. Cares and tension slip away. We slow down, relax and re-establish our connection with the natural world. We can begin again…. People have always turned to nature for restoration and healing, for good reason. Plants affect us on a multitude of levels.
Studies show that when we look at natural vegetation, blood pressure drops, the skin warms, muscles relax and we start to recover from stress. Physical healing is promoted.
Our mental health benefits, too: When psychiatric patients see flowering plants at mealtimes, their morale improves, they eat better, they talk to each other more and they stay at the table longer.
If just looking at plants does all this, think what growing them can do.
Lucia Morgan, ‘Plants Can Heal’, Abilities, Issue 38, 1999.
You can learn more about Healing through Horticulture and Healing Garden Design at Horticultural Therapy.