GARDENING: Horticulture as Therapy

For those who love gardening it will come as little surprise to learn that such activity is now being used for therapeutic purposes. Horticulture as therapy has come into vogue. Why did it take so long, one might ask. In any case, people being trained to work with the elderly, and particularly those diagnosed with dementia, emotional problems, autism and other diseases, are learning to give them opportunities to grow things. As therapists see it, working with plants can be healing, not just physically, but psychologically.

Roger S. Ulrich, a director of the Center for Health Systems & Design at Texas A&M University has found that simply looking out a hospital window at greenery, water, or flowers, or even images of these things, can lower stress and hasten recovery from surgery. For dementia patients, horticultural therapy improves concentration, cognitive functioning and a sense of well-being. Peg Schofied, who works with people with dementia, believes that “we are reducing stress, they’re peaceful and calm, they feel they’ve accomplished something. I know this has meaning for these folks, and that is the point.”

Kansas State University was the first to offer a bachelor’s degree in horticultural therapy, and Rutgers University does now as well. Certification programs are also available at various schools. Jack Carman, a faculty member of Temple University’s “hort therapy” certificate program and landscape architect, specializes in designing therapeutic gardens for senior communities and health-care facilities. He believes that gardens should be enclosed for safety; filled with nontoxic, colorful plants, and have paths and furniture that accommodates walkers and wheelchairs. Bird feeders, fountains, and benches, should all be sensually engaging and appropriate for the region. For more information on horticultural as therapy, go to the American Horticultural Therapy Association website www.ahta.org

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