Therapeutic Gardening

Therapeutic Gardening

FS299E
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Anna McHugh, MOT, OTR/L, formerly MOT student, Department of Occupational Therapy, Colorado State University, Gina Ord, MS, OTR/L, Assistant Professor, Health and Nutrition and Yakima County Extension Director, Washington State University
This fact sheet gives an overview of therapeutic gardening and is intended for use by home gardeners, Master Gardeners, professionals who are helping to develop or lead therapeutic garden programs, and professionals such as occupational therapists, social workers, counselors, health workers, and teachers. It also provides information for individuals interested in participating in a therapeutic garden for its therapeutic benefits.
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Introduction

What is Therapeutic Gardening?

Therapeutic gardening is the cultivation of plants to promote a healing environment, receive mental and physical health benefits, and increase well-being (AHTA 2017; Simson and Straus 1998). Gardening has many different purposes for individuals, ranging from increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables for health benefits, to providing an attractive habitat for beneficial wildlife and increased ecosystem diversity, to creating a peaceful and beautiful sanctuary. Whatever the primary purpose for gardening, many gardeners will attest to the unexpected benefits they enjoy, from increased endurance to decreased stress and anxiety. With therapeutic gardening, the primary intent is increased well-being, achieved through the gardeners’ active and passive participation with the garden (AHTA 2017; Simson and Straus 1998).

The American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) defines a therapeutic garden as “a plant-dominated environment purposefully designed to facilitate interaction with the healing elements of nature.

Interactions can be passive or active depending on the garden design and users’ needs. The basic features of a therapeutic garden can include wide and gently graded accessible entrances and paths, raised planting beds and containers, and a sensory-oriented plant selection focused on color, texture, and fragrance” (2017). Table 1 summarizes common therapeutic garden settings, professionals, and beneficiaries.

Horticultural therapy is differentiated from therapeutic gardening by the presence of a trained professional carrying out a plan of care with measurable goals. Defined by the American Horticultural Therapy Association, horticultural therapy is “the engagement of a person in gardening and plant-based activities, facilitated by a trained therapist, to achieve specific therapeutic treatment goals” (2017). Horticultural therapy is practiced by a variety of professionals and is also in the process of developing its own professional standards; those who complete these standards are known as Registered Horticultural Therapists.

 
Table 1: Benefits, Settings, and Professionals Involved with Therapeutic Gardening.

(Data sources: AHTA 2017; Flahive-DiNardo et al. 2013; Page 2008; Simson and Straus 1998)

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Copyright Washington State University

Published April, 2018

WSU Extension bulletins contain material written and produced for public distribution. Alternate formats of our educational materials are available upon request for persons with disabilities. Please contact Washington State University Extension for more information

Issued by Washington State University Extension and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in furtherance of the Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Extension programs and policies are consistent with federal and state laws and regulations on nondiscrimination regarding race, sex, religion, age, color, creed, and national or ethnic origin; physical, mental, or sensory disability; marital status or sexual orientation; and status as a Vietnam-era or disabled veteran. Evidence of noncompliance may be reported through your local WSU Extension office. Trade names have been used to simplify information; no endorsement is intended.