What Is Horticultural Therapy?

Horticultural therapy. It’s not therapy for that suffering houseplant in the intensive care unit of your living room corner. Well, a horticultural therapist should be able to help you with that too— but that’s not the essence of what they do. Horticultural therapy (HT) is a form of therapy that uses plants and plant-based activities (and indeed, all things natural) to achieve specific goals. In horticultural therapy, the end goal is greater than the garden itself. ‘The process, not the product,’ is our common refrain.

Horticultural therapy program goals are often rehabilitative and therapeutic (for example: a propagation activity to increase fine motor skills; or, a nature walk to calm a hyperactive mind), and applied in a clinical setting where patient centered care is practiced. But many horticultural therapy programs can also be adapted for:

(a) educational instruction– the hort therapist knows how to use a plant not only to teach biology, but a myriad of subjects (math, geography, history, and character lessons, etc.) that seem to dovetail into each other and become relevant in the context of horticulture;

(b) vocational training– HT programs can equip men and women of various ages for a career in horticulture, gardening, landscaping, and other fields;

(c) business promotion– a horticultural therapist can create inviting storefronts and therapeutic indoor plantscapes for your place of business. Restaurants and food spots who want to grow organic produce on-site consult horticultural therapists. The therapist can also be hired by garden centers and flower shops to lead workshops with the aim of increasing the business’ foot traffic and providing their clientele with gardening advice; and

(d) individuals who prefer natural healing methods, who want a greener, more serene living environment, or who simply want to learn about gardening.Horticultural therapy works because of the innate connection humankind has with the natural world. It’s ability to awe, fascinate, and inspire has touched people throughout the span of time. Nature and the practice of gardening crosses cultural, generational, racial, political, religious, and international bounds. Horticultural therapy has a truly universal application.

Horticultural therapists are trained to work with special groups, using horticulture and the natural environment to teach, train, and/or rehabilitate. They are mindful of how humans and plants interact and impact each other, and they work to assist in the healing of hurting people and a hurting planet.

Zachary Turck, Horticultural Therapist at Isaiah’s Figtree