Too often individuals with disabilities and those in residential facilities get limited opportunities to interact with nature. This is unfortunate because a connection with the natural world offers many health benefits. Among other things, time in nature triggers a calming effect where one could gain new perspectives while disconnecting from the screens begging for attention. Horticultural Therapy (HT) is a popular intervention involving nature, garden landscapes, and activities including plants. The benefits of Horticultural Therapy have been experienced by many populations for centuries.
The American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) describes Horticultural Therapy as “…the engagement of a client in horticultural activities facilitated by a trained therapist to achieve specific and documented treatment goals.” The AHTA stresses “…the process itself is considered the therapeutic activity rather than the end product.” In other words, the flowers participants grew from seed might look great, but meeting the participants’ prescribed goals along the way is the true measure of the activity’s success.
Sound familiar? Maybe like using recreation to help address client’s needs?
Why incorporate horticulture activities in your programming?
- Age Appropriate Many horticultural activities are suitable for most age groups.
- Disability Appropriate Many populations including those with cognitive, emotional, physical, mental, and substance abuse issues have benefited from Horticultural Therapy
- Evidence Based Studies have shown the benefits of using Horticultural Therapy for various groups.
- Budget Friendly A greenhouse or landscaped garden isn’t cheap, but many activity ideas won’t drain your monthly budget.
Unfortunately, budget constraints and other issues facing facilities may make hiring a full time Registered Horticultural Therapist difficult. As a Recreation Therapist or Activity Professional, incorporating horticultural activities into leisure programming provides your participants the chance to interact with nature.
Some Therapeutic Benefits of Horticultural Therapy Activities:
- Learning new skills
- Building self-confidence
- Increased feelings of empowerment
- Creating a sense of responsibility/accomplishment
- Promoting enthusiasm/interest in the future (especially in seniors)
- Sensory stimulation
- Developing and improving motor skills
- Physical activity
- (Re)connecting with the outdoors
- Decreased depression
- Stress reduction
Don’t have a greenhouse or area for a therapeutic garden? Start with a simple window sill and grow your programming from there. Below are a couple easy Horticultural Therapy activities to try with your participants.
Growing Plants from Seeds
Need a simple idea? How about an activity requiring potting soil, containers, and lunch (or any meal/snack). Harvest the seeds from the fruits and vegetables your participants’ meal. Or consider running an activity where participants snack on fruits such as oranges, apples, cucumbers, or whatever is available. They could then find seeds and set them aside for the second half of the activity. Discuss healthy eating, how a simple seed becomes a bush/plant/tree, or the responsibility of caring for plants.
After the snack and everyone washes their hands, let them plant a few seeds into a containter filled with potting soil. Generally, planting seeds about a half to a quarter inch into the soil then lightly covering them is sufficient. Regular watering and plenty of sunlight will allow the seeds to sprout to the delight of everyone invested in the activity. Do some research on the seeds you use–some may take weeks before sprouting, and others require special conditions.
You could also purchase seed packets or starter kits for an easier option.
Flowers are blooming all around us this time of year. Want to have a little reminder of these beautiful colors during the dreary days of winter? Flower pressing involves pressing the flowers until they are dried out and flat. By using this technique, the flowers could be preserved for years or used in other types of crafts.
Make a Miniature Succulent Garden
Succulents are relatively easy to care for and aesthetically pleasing. An appropriate container, some special soil, and affordable succulent plants could liven up any room and give those with little horticultural experience success. Here is a good primer for creating a thriving succulent garden.
Simple Pine Cone Bird Feeder
Gather some pine cones from the ground or a craft store. Have your participants spread peanut butter on them. Sprinkle birdseed on top of the peanut butter and lightly press down so the seeds stick. Using yarn or other decorative string, hang it from trees or bushes in a viewable area. Within no time, your participants will be talking about the visiting birds. Take some time to discuss the types of birds and anything else the participants noticed.
Don’t undervalue the benefits of being outside. Give your clients the opportunity to appreciate the outdoors in whatever setting you find appropriate. A simple walk through a park or nearby forest preserve offers many positive benefits. Residents stubbornly clinging to their rooms may be revitalized after persuading them to come outside.
There is no doubt connecting with nature is important to everyone’s well-being. From raised planters, therapeutic gardens, opportunities to landscape, and participating in simple horticultural activities, Horticultural Therapy offers many opportunities to address your participants’ need areas. It also illuminates Mother Nature’s fascinating processes of we often take for granted.
Even if you don’t have a green thumb, integrating simple horticultural activities into your recreation programming will benefit you and your participants. Don’t be overwhelmed. Good potting soil, seeds, light, and water will give you and your participants the self-confidence and drive to blossom a thriving horticulture program.
Tell the Real Recreation Therapist:
How do you use horticulture with your participants? What successes have you observed?
Do you work with any Registered Horticultural Therapists?
What is one activity you feel a budding Recreation Therapist could implement for their participants?