Horticultural therapy is the use of plant-based skills and practices to improve the physical and mental health of participants. It provides opportunities to build physical strength, improve well-being and gain skills in gardening. Traditionally, it has been used in health-care facilities to support the well-being of residents, however, the recognition of the benefits of horticultural therapy are becoming more widely known and its applications are growing to include an ever-widening group of applications.
In Japan, forest bathing has been a well recognised treatment to restore well-being and find balance. Tasmania too offers opportunities for forest bathing where participants can immerse themselves in the natural world. Participants of forest bathing seek to be mindful of their surroundings: the sounds, smells and sights. They embrace the peace of the natural world – forest bathing, could be considered an introduction to the effectiveness of horticultural therapy.
Consider the action of potting up seedlings, a typical horticultural practice – in order to successfully complete the task, participants need to access their fine motor skills, follow instructions, and have a vision for the future. Seedlings grow to become larger plants, which may produce a harvest, fruit or flowers. Gardening is a belief in a future; it is an acceptance of responsibility and an acknoweldgement that with time and patience, there will be a reward.
Horticulture and indeed gardening, are beneficial to the body in terms of physical and psychological well-being, and this is the framework under which horticultural therapy operates. There is scope to support physical and mental rehabilitation whilst developing skills and knowledge in sustainable gardening practice.
Most horticultural therapists (at least in Australia) are trained in health, allied health or education with additional training in horticultural therapy – I fall into the latter. As a result, most horticultural therapy sessions operate in association with a health or education organisation, but, horticultural therapy is for everyone and will support all people of all ages in some manner.
The average person can be upskilled in aspects of horticulture in the context of gardening – this means, the average person can access horticultural therapy themselves by gardening. Active gardeners are already accessing some form of horticultural therapy, that, with a little further research, may take on a whole new therapeutic value. Those new to gardening need only step outside or bring home an indoor plant to start their journey.
In conclusion, gardening is the key to improving our health and life. Granted, there are specialists amongst us who have the training and skills to tailor gardening programs to support specific needs and improvements, but in saying that, it is also worth acknowledging that anyone is able to start the journey on their own terms. Whatever aspect of our lives needs a little tweaking, horticultural therapy offers at least the beginning of a solution to support improvement in that and many other areas.
There is no time like the present to start on the journey so try it, lean in to gardening and…dig in!