The latest research on the use of gardens and gardening as therapy has been so positive that a new “branch” of therapy has emerged. “Horticultural therapy” involves a trained therapist who works with people on gardening-related activities tied to treatment goals and improved quality of life.
Whether you tend to your own garden or greenhouse, or take advantage of a horticultural therapist, you can reap the benefits of gardening health, which may help:
Enhance self-esteem. Plants can give elderly people or others who have no family something to care for. When plants respond to care, this helps to make the gardener feel competent and useful. It can also be satisfying to watch seeds grow into healthy mature plants and to eat your own chemical-free produce.
Ease stress. Simply viewing a garden or another natural vista may help relieve anxiety or anger … and quickly reduce a person’s blood pressure and pulse rate. Rigorous chopping and pruning can relieve pent-up anger and nervous tension, too.
Improve mood. The soothing colors, textures and smell of plants can have an uplifting effect on the mind and spirit.
Speed recovery from illness. Several small studies suggest that hospital patients who either had access to scenic views or gardens or had plants and flowers in their rooms recovered from surgery more quickly. They also seem to have less pain and anxiety than those without such access. More research is needed on this finding, though.
Encourage social interaction. In a nursing home or rehab facility, gardens can bring people together in a peaceful setting. This may help ease isolation, depression and loneliness. Gardening has been more successful than many other therapies in helping to engage people with dementia.
Increase sense of control. If restricted by a disability, even simple gardening projects, such as growing a potted plant from a cutting, can give people a feeling of control.
Promote exercise. Potting or planting seeds can gently exercise aging or arthritic joints. Weeding or raking can be an aerobic workout and a good calorie burner and stress reducer.
If you don’t have much of a garden, start with tending a few pots. If that goes well, you may find the desire and energy to make your own garden or greenhouse. Then the next time you are feeling a little down, you can simply head out into your very own therapy room. Restoring a garden can help restore you, too.