From time immemorial gardening has had immense positive impact on an individual’s lifestyle. Many of us are passionate about gardening for the sheer joy of it, unaware of its healing aspects to the infirm.
Words are not enough to describe this impeccable beauty that has survived the ravages of time. The hobby of gardening has so much to offer in terms of therapy that its expansion in the form of Horticulture is being used as a therapeutic tool for both the young and the old.
That gardening can help improve cognitive skills, as well as physical and psychological behavior of a person is a relatively new revelation. The healing potential of horticulture therapy is gradually establishing the basis of knowledge for therapists, research scientists, gardeners and of course layman interested in this unique art and form of therapy. Father of American Psychiatry, Dr. Benjamin Rush, in the 19th century reported that ambience of the gardens had curative effect on people with mental illness. The gradual healing impact of gardening on war veterans in the 40’s and 50’s expanded the practice of horticulture therapy. Although slow, today a practical expansion of its wide ranging benefits is being extended to people in vocational, therapeutic and wellness programs. Physically the bending and rising movements and the eye – hand coordination to sow the seeds provide not only adequate exercise but also improves the cognitive skills. For the elderly this form of exercise is very suitable and enjoyable. Even people on wheelchair can enjoy gardening and go for potted plants.
Centers that concentrate on the institutionalized elders or assisted living facilities (facilities or centers for the physically challenged) operate with a primary task of boosting their self confidence and morales. Horticulture is a unique teaching method helping the challenged and elderly people to live life independently; of course their conditions are borne in mind and the gardening activities are assigned accordingly. Some centers like the American Horticultural Therapy Association follow the organizational theory of team work with their residents and applaud their yield when it blooms.
These centers bear in mind the physical conditions during old age that might hamper an elder from pursuing the task.
- Importance is given to having raised beds and containers
- Entrances are widely built to make it easily accessible making a gentle path for occupants on wheelchairs.
- The green house concept is focused upon to pursue the horticulture tasks throughout the year.
- Appropriate gardening tools are provided to enable the elderly and the physically weak patients to regain physical strength to a certain extent.
Joseph Breck, horticulturist wrote, “Man was not meant to rust out in idleness. A degree of exercise is necessary for the preservation of health, both of body and mind, as his daily food. And what exercise is more fitting, or more appropriate of one who is in the decline of life, than that of superintending a well-ordered garden?”
Horticulture as a therapy has proven to be beneficial for all ages groups. Unfortunately, its therapeutic benefits are not well known to the general public. Horticulture therapy is so much in demand that some well known colleges and universities have added it as a degree and certificate program in their institutes.
A beautifully kept garden can be a form of legacy too that one can leave behind. It’s not just a distraction from the normal hospitalization but is a journey to self actualization that brings the young and the old together and takes the institutionalized and the challenged through a journey of spiritual healing. It sure is a worthwhile activity that even a healthy person should indulge in.
Latest Publications and Research on Gardening and Horticultural Therapy for the Young and the OldA pilot horticultural therapy program serving veterans with mental health issues: Feasibility and outcomes. - Published by PubMed
Horticultural therapy program for middle-aged women's depression, anxiety, and self-identify. - Published by PubMed