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What Is Garden Therapy?

By Tara Barnett
Updated May 17, 2024
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Garden therapy is generally understood as the use of participation in gardening activities as well as spending time in gardens as therapeutic exercises. Many different groups are thought to benefit from garden therapy, including patients with Alzheimer's and people with physical disabilities. This type of therapy is only occasionally prescribed individually, but it is often used in institutions where people with various impairments are housed. The mechanism by which garden therapy works is not well understood, but various psychologists attest to the fact that for some people gardening is very therapeutic.

Usually, garden therapy involves simple gardening activities like watering plants, caring for seedlings, and other general horticultural tasks. The plants grown in this type of therapy are usually hardy and easy to maintain in order to decrease the risk of disappointment, but individuals may progress to more advanced gardening activities. Age and type of disability also play a factor in the kinds of gardening activities undertaken. It is important for the success of the therapy that this activity does not prove more of a frustration than a victory.

The reasons that garden therapy is effective vary between individuals. For people with Alzheimer’s and decreased activity due to age, gardening is usually a way to stay active as well as a way to stay in touch with changes over time. Younger people often develop patience and learn skills as a result of this type of therapy. Given that this type of treatment is not well regulated, the goals of any particular program may be different.

Not only is participation in gardening thought to be therapeutic, but simply viewing gardens is known to have positive effects on health as well. In the very least, being out in a garden provides fresh air and possibly exercise. Indoor gardens can provide visual stimulation as well. There is some evidence to suggest that viewing paintings of gardens can improve healing time and that live gardens may have the same effect.

Whether garden therapy is successful because of the type of activity being performed is certainly up for debate, but it is true that for some individuals gardening is highly therapeutic. It is possible, however, that the same mechanism could work for any number of projects that involve interaction and progress over time. For example, taking care of fish in an aquarium might have similar effects, as might needlework or collecting rocks. Even so, there are various gardening organizations devoted to the success of garden therapy, and these organizations often provide much needed attention to people who otherwise would not have many activities.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By andee — On May 08, 2012

While I can understand how garden therapy could be beneficial for many people, I don't know if it would work for me or not.

I love looking at beautiful gardens, but don't know much about gardening, and find that I have never enjoyed it.

I think I would be one of those people who would end up getting more frustrated than it would be worth. Instead of gardening being therapeutic, I think it would be just the opposite for me.

Seeing something grow from seed is a very satisfying feeling, but I just never liked all the other work that went along with it.

I wonder if there are many people who discover the love of gardening at a later stage in life? My mom never did much with gardening when we were kids, but now this is her favorite hobby.

I can see how this is therapy for her. She loves working outside in the sunshine and always says she can't wait to dig in the dirt.

By julies — On May 08, 2012

I can definitely understand gardening as therapy for anyone, not just those who might be in some kind of group setting.

When I am working in my garden, this is where I can think, plan and create. It takes a lot of work to have a beautiful garden, but this is well worth it.

There is something so calming and soothing when I have the chance to sit down by one of my flower gardens and enjoy the beauty around me.

Looking at the flowers, smelling their fragrance and hearing the sounds of nature around me is some of the best therapy I can think of.

By LisaLou — On May 07, 2012

My aunt and uncle live in a senior center that has some of the most beautiful flowers and garden areas that I have ever seen.

Much of this is done by the residents, and for my uncle, is one thing that keeps him going.

Gardening was always one thing he was very passionate about and spent hours doing. Being able to still have an outlet for this activity is very important for him.

Even though he can't do much physically, he can still take part in tending the flowers and the gardens. I can see how this is therapy for him, and gives him a sense of purpose and reason to get up in the morning.

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