Horticultural therapists use gardening and horticultural activities to
improve people's physical and mental health. This type of therapy can benefit
the physically disabled, the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled, the
elderly, substance abusers, public offenders and the socially disadvantaged.
Horticultural therapists use all phases of gardening to help people, such
as identifying plants, planting seeds, tending gardens and selling grown produce
and flowers. These therapists are trained members of rehabilitation and therapy
teams. They use a combination of knowledge about horticulture, psychology
and social and behavioral sciences to help their clients.
"Some people still have difficulty with the word 'therapy,' and so some
people are called horticultural instructors or vocational instructors," says
horticultural therapy professor Richard Mattson.
Growing plants can have many benefits. It can alleviate depression, improve
self-esteem, improve motor skills and enhance problem-solving skills.
The first known instance of a greenhouse being used to assist individuals
with mental illness was in 1879. Many veterans' hospitals after the Second
World War also used horticultural therapy. In 1955, Michigan State University
was the first institution to offer a degree program in horticultural therapy.
Horticultural therapists can work in many different settings, such as hospitals
for the mentally ill or disabled, homes for the elderly, botanical gardens,
community gardens, farms, schools, correctional facilities and universities.
These therapists can also be self-employed and work on a contract basis.
Depending on where they work, horticultural therapists may work part time
or full time. They can work Monday to Friday, but because of client needs,
they may work evenings and on some weekends.
"I work mostly with geriatrics, so my work is done in the mornings and
afternoons," says Nancy Lee-Colibaba. She is a horticultural therapy coordinator.
Some of a horticultural therapist's work is done in the office, at hospitals
or care facilities. But much is also done in gardens and greenhouses. Horticultural
therapists, especially those who are self-employed, may need to travel during
"I find the work physical," says Lee-Colibaba. "But that's not saying someone
with physical limitations couldn't find an area to work in. It's all about
finding what the limitation is and working around it."