Therapeutic Horticulture

A therapeutic garden, according to the American Horticulture Therapy Association, is “a plant-dominated environment purposefully designed to facilitate interaction with the healing elements of nature. Interactions can be passive or active depending on the garden design and users’ needs.” 

Horticulture therapy can help people to improve:

  • Fine motor skills (the ability to use the small muscles in the hands and wrist)
  • Concentration
  • Stamina
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Sense of independence and control

Seniors with cognitive decline show reduced agitation, increased self-esteem and develop a greater sense of purpose by gardening or just being in a garden  

Children on the autism spectrum may experience lessened hypo-or-hyper sensitivity, better social interaction and reduced agitation.

Need help on a therapy-related project?

Contact Henrico Cooperative Extension at (804) 501-5160 or email [email protected] to schedule a consultation. Please allow 3 weeks for scheduling purposes.


Henrico Master Gardener Projects & Activities:

Henrico Master Gardeners have been working with St. Joseph’s Villa http://neverstopbelieving.org to develop a children’s serenity garden (below) for children on the autism spectrum who attend school there.

The garden has features and plants that appeal to all of our senses. There is a water feature that provides the sound of falling water.

There are paths with bridges that are wheelchair accessible.  There are plants that provide color all year long and attract butterflies and birds and plants that can be touched and tasted.

There are places for the children’s art projects like this sculpture.  

Henrico Master Gardeners are also working with the Circle Center, an adult day care facility on a regular basis. We have also worked with The Millhouse, Marywood and Beth Shalom to do individual projects.

Therapeutic Winter Activities by Susan Morgan (article summarized from https://htinstitute.org/ ):

As winter approaches, horticultural therapy activities often have to move inside because of colder temperatures and inclement weather. There are a variety of indoor  options that can help take advantage of this time of year. Even though you are not in a garden many of these activities provide similar therapy.

Using the Harvest: During the growing season, grow a variety of herbs, cut flowers, and other plants that can be harvested from the garden for winter use. Dry seed pods and herbs for later use in making herbal tea, salts, bath tea, potpourri and hand scrubs.  Harvest everlasting flowers like strawflower, globe amaranth, and lavender for make dried floral arrangements. Stripping the leaves of dried lemon verbena from the stems is a wonderfull fragrant experience which can then be crushed to make tea. Hold a “spa day” for clients to pamper themselves with handmade bath tea and hand scrubs.

Garden Planning: Work with clients to plan next season’s garden. Ask questions like “What should we plant?” or “What plants do you want to harvest and use later in the year?” Make collages using pictures of favorite plants and new introductions from seed catalogs. Research and plan a themed garden, such as a teapot garden or spicy garden. Order seeds, read their package labels, and determine when and how the seeds should be started indoors. 

Engaging with Living Plants through Tropicals: Tropical plants enable clients to have direct access to plants that are green and living during winter. Propagate and repot tropical houseplants like spider plants, Christmas cactus or other succulents. Use tropical’s to create dish gardens, topiary, and terrariums. 

Fresh Flower Arranging: Take apart grocery store bouquets and use the flowers to make bud vases, boutonnieres, or corsages. On Valentine’s Day, make boutonnieres with carnations and fern, attach a heart shape embellishment and put on participant’s shoulders with a safety pin. Create handmade paper with leftover flower petals and clippings from the garden. Other options include forcing amaryllis or paperwhite bulbs indoors or painting birdhouses or egg gourds as ornaments.

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.

— Alfred Austin