Horticultural Therapy Fact Sheet ~ Rutgers Cook College

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<ol><li> 1. Fact sheetFor a comprehensive list of our publications visit www.rce.rutgers.eduHorticultural TherapyJoel Flagler, H.T.R., Bergen County Agricultural AgentHorticultural therapy is using plants and grow-ingenvironments as tools to heal and rehabilitatesick and disabled people. It is not a new concept. Infact, it is one of the oldest of the healing arts, datingback to ancient Egypt. For centuries in this country,gardening and planting activities have been pre-scribedfor people suffering from a wide range ofmaladies and limitations. Today, indoor and outdoorhorticulture programs are common in hospitals,nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and prisons,as well as in facilities for blind, visually impaired anddevelopmentally and physically disabled people.Of course, people do not have to be disabled orill to enjoy the benefits of working with plants.Horticulture and gardening programs abound in pub-licand vocational schools, day camps, senior andcommunity centers, and urban housing develop-ments.Why does horticulture appeal so widely? That isdifficult to say, yet nearly everyone knows the spe-cialsatisfaction of watching a flower or vegetablegrow and develop. One important component of thissatisfaction is feedback or interaction between twoliving organisms: person and plant. Plants, whethervegetables, shrubs, or lawns, will react to the nurtur-inggiven them. Plants do not discriminate. Theyrespond to proper care whether the person providingwater and fertilizer is old or young, black or white,ambulatory or in a wheelchair. The nonthreateningnature of plants contributes to their nearly universalappeal. People who grow plants quickly realize asense of achievement and increased personal confi-dence,FS692as plants reward their caretakers with newleaves, new flowers, and new fruits.The word therapy is associated with clinicalprograms that treat ill or injured people. The thera-peutictreatment team consists of doctors, nurses,psychologists, social workers, occupational thera-pistsand others. Those treated are referred to asclients or patients. Though particular goals varyfrom client to client, the overall objective is toincrease their physical and mental well-being.Horticultural programs in rehabilitation facili-tiesdiffer from those in clinical facilities. Therehabilitation treatment team includes work evalua-tors,vocational skill instructors, and production andsales specialists, among others. The clients arereferred to as trainees or workers. Their aims areto gain vocational skill training and employmentopportunities. The training environment is modeledafter horticultural businesses. The overall goal is tohelp people reach their maximum work potential andsubsequently enter employment.One common denominator in nearly every appli-cationof horticultural therapy is the maximum use ofplant materials. The special textures of leaves,stems, flowers, and soil provide effective sensorystimulation. The same is true of plants fragrancesand tastes. Because blind and visually impairedpeople cant fully appreciate a colorful bed of flow-eringannuals, textures and scents stimulate thosesenses not impaired. Activities using herbs, spices,and dried materials can be important stimuli for blind </li><li> 2. and partially sighted people.Adapting horticultural activities and tools foruse by ill and disabled people is a major challenge forthe horticultural therapist. Common examples ofadaptive gardening tools are raised beds, which maybe made from halves of whiskey barrels, and hang-ingcontainers. These adaptations bring the soil levelup to a height suitable for nonambulatory gardeners.Raised beds can also be enjoyed by those working ina standing position, for stooping and kneeling be-comeunnecessary.Even common garden and greenhouse tools canbe modified for ease in handling, using extenderhandles and safety grips. For clients who cannotgrasp or hold onto a tool, C clamps and Velcro strapsmay be used to affix the tool to the user. Theseexamples are quite basic, but many sophisticateddevices are available that help people with moreprofound physical limitations to participate. Manyof the prosthetic devices used by occupational andphysical therapists can be incorporated into a horti-culturaltherapy program. No one should be deniedthe benefits of working with plants. 2004 by Rutgers Cooperative Research &amp; Extension, NJAES, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.Desktop publishing by Rutgers-Cook College Resource Center Published: August 1993RUTGERS COOPERATIVE RESEARCH &amp; EXTENSIONN.J. AGRICULTURAL EXPERIMENT STATIONRUTGERS, THE STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW JERSEYNEW BRUNSWICKDistributed in cooperation with U.S. Department of Agriculture in furtherance of the Acts of Congress on May 8 and June 30, 1914. Rutgers Cooperative Extension works inagriculture, family and community health sciences, and 4-H youth development. Dr. Karyn Malinowski, Director of Extension. Rutgers Cooperative Research &amp; Extension providesinformation and educational services to all people without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or familystatus. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Rutgers Cooperative Research &amp; Extension is an Equal Opportunity Program Provider and Employer. </li></ol>