Nature Improving Human Health

Residents maintain a garden, growing squash and other vegetables, flowers and herbs. In addition to plants at ground level, raised beds to yield easy access.
Residents maintain a garden, growing squash and other vegetables, flowers and herbs. In addition to plants at ground level, raised beds to yield easy access.

Horticulture has been used as therapy for centuries. In 1798, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote that gardening improved the conditions of mentally ill patients.

Gardening as a means of physical and occupational rehabilitation was employed in U.S. Veterans Administration hospitals for returning World War II veterans. The idea of using nature to improve human health and well-being gained credibility through research in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The American Horticultural Therapy Association cites the following benefits of horticultural therapy:

  • Enhance self-esteem
  • Alleviate depression
  • Improve motor skills
  • Provide problem-solving opportunities
  • Encourage work adjustment
  • Support social interaction

Many long term care communities use gardening and horticulture therapy to help residents become re-involved with life. At United Methodist Communities at Pitman, residents enjoy monthly classes taught by Beverly Agard, a registered horticultural therapist. Sometimes, as a bonus, residents can sample the fruits or vegetables of their labors.

While people of all ages and abilities can profit from simply viewing and growing plants, the advantages of people-plant interactions can be focused and enhanced with guidance from a horticultural therapist. Adaptive tools and therapeutic gardens often lend an even greater degree of accessibility and long lasting benefit.