Therapy Spotlight: Horticultural Therapy

Hillside Horticulture Therapy Program in Atlanta

One of the keys to our children’s success at Hillside is the variety of therapeutic modalities we offer. Every child has his or her own set of unique strengths, difficulties, and interests, and our clinicians consider these needs and opportunities when implementing individual treatment plans. In recognition of the necessity of diverse and targeted programming, we introduced Horticulture Therapy to our campus in 2015.

What is Horticulture Therapy?

Horticultural Therapy is a formal practice that uses plants, horticultural activities, and the garden landscape to promote well-being for those engaging in the activities. Horticultural therapy is a time-proven practice and the cognitive and therapeutic benefits of garden environments for individuals with a mental illness have been documented since the early 19th century.

Horticulture Therapy programs are administered by professionally trained Horticultural Therapists, like the certified Horticulture therapist we have on-site at Hillside. By participating in Horticulture Therapy, children enhance their self-esteem and self-worth through activities which engage exploration of nature, creative expression, and mindfulness. Horticultural Therapy instills positive metaphors for healing and reflection by witnessing the plant life-cycle with hands-on plant-related activities. It promotes socialization and provides purposeful activities that empower a sense of ownership and stewardship.

For instance, the children plant gardens throughout the campus. They grow vegetables and get to eat what they grow and share with family and staff. Making flower arrangements from flowers and greenery in the garden, propagating plants, composting, feeding birds and raising butterflies.

Horticulture Therapy for Children and Adolescents at Hillside

Horticulture Therapy is an integral part of Hillside’s residential treatment program and one of our clients’ favorite therapeutic engagements. Horticulture Therapy is built into the school day and is a part of each client’s weekly schedule. Activities during Horticultural Therapy include planting gardens throughout the campus, making flower arrangements from flowers and greenery in the garden, propagating plants, composting, feeding birds and raising butterflies.

Our clients learn to grow vegetables and get to enjoy and share what they grow with families and staff. They learn about pollinators and their role in the environment in the pollinator garden. Our clients are encouraged to engage therapeutically in creative ways with items collected in nature, connecting them to the natural world. Horticulture Therapy activities at Hillside give our clients the opportunity to work together as planners, builders, and landscapers in a miniature world they create, giving them a sense of accomplishment and pride.

“In the garden, we are free to experiment and to see that what we do actually makes a visible difference.”

Benefits of Horticulture Therapy

Horticultural therapy uses plants and gardening to promote well-being. The benefits of horticultural therapy for individuals with mental health issues have been documented since the early 19th century. Horticultural therapists have specialized training to provide horticultural therapy sessions in a variety of educational and therapeutic settings to improve the physical and mental health of an individual. Here are some of the benefits of horticulture therapy.

Provides Intellectual Stimulation

Clients who participate in horticultural therapy develop new skills as they learn gardening techniques and flower-arranging methods. Clients may also experience heightened curiosity as they wonder about plants and how they grow. They develop a deeper understanding of the relationship between themselves and nature as they observe interactions. In turn, gardening improves decision-making abilities.

Lastly, horticultural therapy stimulates the senses and increases the perception of sensory details, which can enhance an appreciation for one’s surroundings and evoke positive feelings of connectedness.

Supports Emotional Health

Clients can choose gardening activities that allow them to enjoy the success of their effort. For example, a client can plant vegetables that are easy to grow, then enjoy eating and sharing their produce. It helps provide a sense of accomplishment and responsibility, and ultimately, a greater sense of self-worth.

Clients can also relieve aggression in a safe and healthy way while gardening, whether they are breaking up dirt or pulling weeds. Children can learn to redirect aggressive feelings and improve self-control. These activities utilized in Horticulture Therapy help support both emotional and mental health.

Lastly, clients get to express themselves creatively as they arrange flowers or plan a landscape and take pride in their creative accomplishments.

Develops Physical Skills

Through gardening, clients develop and improve basic motor skills and coordination. They use muscles they may not have used much before. For example, a client might flex their fingers to transplant seedlings. Horticultural therapy provides meaningful physical activity outdoors in the sun and fresh air.

Builds Social Skills

During horticultural therapy sessions, clients work together to reach a common goal. They learn to respect each other, cooperate and share responsibilities. Clients enjoy the bond of sharing produce with one another and feel a sense of contributing to others.

One study found children who participated in a year-long gardening program experienced increased overall life skills, including better teamwork and communication and higher self-understanding. Gardening gives children the chance to work together, make decisions and solve problems. It helps them feel valued and gain a sense of belonging.