By Jane Grossman / Extension Master Gardener

Science is now catching up with what gardeners have known for centuries: working in the garden is healing balm for the soul. Research studies continue to validate and support the therapeutic benefits of gardening for the elderly, Alzheimer’s patients and children.

Gardening offers therapy and healing

The American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) divides plant therapy into four categories:

• Horticultural Therapy, in which a client works with a trained therapist in horticultural activities for a specific goal.

• Therapeutic Horticulture, a process using plant-related activities to improve well-being.

• Social Therapy, involving leisure activities related to plants and gardening to enhance social interaction.

• Vocational Therapy, a major part of Horticultural Therapy focused on training for future employment in the horticulture industry.

Therapeutic gardening is now practiced in a wide variety of settings, including schools, nursing homes, hospitals and prisons. Working with plants is used as a rehabilitative tool for both juveniles and adults.

GreenHouse, based on New York’s Rikers Island, offers incarcerated men and women an innovative jail-to-street program using horticultural therapy to prepare them for reentry after release.

The famous Chelsea Flower Show in London recently showcased the therapeutic benefits achieved by female prisoners who train for jobs in the outside world by cultivating crops served in local restaurants.

Therapy gardens get nursing home residents outside, working with the plants and expanding their sensory connection. Interacting with the fragrance, texture, color and movement of plants can create a connection to memories.

Rooftop gardens are being used in Sydney, Australia for individuals suffering from depression and anxiety. These relaxed and beautiful environments provide peaceful places to work and feel productive.