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Master Gardener Journal  


S P E C I A L   F E A T U R E



Healing Through Horticulture

by Diane Ashcroft, Master Gardener Intern

Gardens grant us the power to heal the mental and physical pain in our lives. Just as our ancestors understood at a deep level their dependence on the natural world and its healing plants, we are coming to a renewed understanding of gardening as a healing agent in our complex technological society. Horticultural therapy, the combination of scientific therapeutics and gardening, is helping people participate actively in their healing process by getting their hands dirty.

Horticultural Therapy is really an old idea, going back as far as ancient Egypt where health practitioners often prescribed outdoor walks and breathing fresh air to their ailing patients. During the Middle Ages monks grew healing herbs and provided outdoor spaces affording quiet contemplation and safety for the ill. Friends Hospital was built in the 1800's on a 57-acre farm near Philadelphia to properly care for the mentally ill. Florence Nightingale strongly encouraged hospitals to provide light, air, and gardens for the sick.

In "The Healing Power of Gardens," author Anne Raver states, "When the ancients were sick, they walked among trees and plants and breathed fresh air to soothe their pain. Then came the discovery of penicillin, chemotherapy and laser beams. High-tech medicine buried the garden under high-rise hospitals with sealed windows. But now there's a movement afoot to return nature to the lives of patients."

Since 1972, the American Horticulture Therapy Association has been at the forefront of developing and maintaining this practice. They have been instrumental in setting up gardens in nursing homes, hospitals, vocational schools, and prisons. An article in American Nurseryman defines horticultural therapy as, "A treatment plan focused on horticulture or gardening activities. It needs a client (patient) with a diagnosed problem and a treatment plan that can be measured and evaluated. Also needed are qualified professionals to deliver the treatment."

Pushing and pulling are repetitious and FUN exercises when done in a garden rather than inside a gym on a machine. Writer Patricia Owens, in "Developmental Disabilities," points out that increased self-esteem; nurturing; connecting; relaxing; and the jogging of old memories by familiar sights, smells, and textures are further benefits of a horticulture therapy program.

Today, healthcare professionals throughout the world are helping their patients help themselves--by digging in the dirt. While cultivating their external gardens, they also heal their internal gardens.

References:

Owens, Patricia. "Developmental Disabilities." Crain's Cleveland Business. 12/03/01.

Raver, Anne. "Healing Power of Gardens." Saturday Evening Post. Mar/Apr, 1995.

Warner, Charles Dudley: My Summer In a Garden. 1870.

American Nurseryman. 12/15/99.


Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated July 28, 2003
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
Comments to Maricopa-hort@ag.arizona.edu 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040,
Voice: (602) 470-8086 ext. 301, Fax (602) 470-8092