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Cultivating Wellness with Horticulture Therapy

Think about a time when you were able to sit in an outdoor courtyard, a garden, or maybe a breezy front porch. You may have noticed the movement of the leaves and the fresh floral scent, or the sound of a nearby bee doing her work. It feels peaceful and mindful. Incorporating nature and stillness is not a new or even groundbreaking approach to mental wellness, but it is more recently practiced and researched. This blog will explore how horticulture therapy could benefit your therapeutic journey.

Let's dig in!

What is Horticulture Therapy?

Horticulture therapy involves engaging clients in gardening and plant-based activities, facilitated by experienced therapists. It's used in a variety of settings, from hospitals and rehabilitation, centers to schools, private therapy practices, and community gardens. The activities can range from planting seeds and tending to plants, to designing garden spaces and even participating in nature crafts. Nature focused therapeutic approaches have the ability to be adaptable for many different settings. That is one of the reasons we love working with plants at Salt and Cypress Counseling. Plants adapt, and so can we.

The Roots of Horticulture Therapy

In the early 1800s a psychiatrist named Dr. Benjamin Rush, observed the positive effects of gardening on individuals with mental illnesses. The discipline of psychiatry was new, and research was limited. Many of the practices at the time would be considered unethical and inhumane now. Dr. Benjamin Rush was known as one of the first American physicians to advocate for the humane treatment of those that were suffering from mental illness. In his work, he recognized that many of his patience showed improvements when participating in gardening and spending time outdoors in comparison to the harsher approaches of this colleagues. This early recognition of the benefits of nature and gardening, in the treatment of mental illness and stress, was the precursor to what we now refer to as nature-based and/or horticulture therapy practices.

Research-Backed Benefits

1. Mental Health Improvements

Numerous studies highlight the positive impact of horticulture therapy on mental health. A study published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that clients who engaged in gardening reported significant reductions in symptoms of depression and anxiety compared to a control group. The action of nurturing plants can provide a sense of purpose, reduce stress, improve focus, and promote mindfulness.

2. Cognitive Function and Memory

Horticulture therapy has been shown to enhance cognitive function, especially in older adults. A study in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found that gardening activities helped improve attention, memory, and executive function in patients with dementia. The sensory stimulation and mental engagement involved in gardening can help keep the brain active and healthy.

5. Social Interaction and Community Building

Gardening can take place in group settings; this can increase social interaction and a sense of community. The shared goal of creating and maintaining a garden can bring people together, reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness. This social aspect is particularly beneficial for individuals with social anxiety and for those who have experienced trauma.

The Healing Power of Nature

Combining therapy and nature taps into our intrinsic connection with the environment. This is known as "biophilia," this theory suggests that humans have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. Being in natural environments can restore our cognitive functions, reduce stress, and improve our overall experiences

Case Studies: Real-Life Impact

  • Hospital Gardens: Some hospitals have incorporated healing gardens into their design. Research shows that patients with access to garden views or who participate in gardening activities have shorter hospital stays, require fewer pain medications, and experience less stress.

  • Community Programs: Urban community gardens have shown remarkable success in bringing together diverse groups of people, improving neighborhood aesthetics, and providing fresh produce. Participants often report improved mood and a greater sense of community pride and ownership.

Getting Started with Horticulture Therapy

You don't need a green thumb to start benefiting from this approach. Here are a few simple steps to incorporate gardening into your life:

  1. Start Small: Begin with a few potted plants or a small garden bed. Choose easy-to-grow plants like herbs, tomatoes, or flowers. Perfection is not the goal.

  2. Join a Group: Join a local gardening club, community garden, or start one in your neighborhood

  3. Get Creative: Incorporate elements of garden design, such as creating a sensory garden with plants that have interesting textures, scents, and colors.

  4. Seek Guidance: If you’re interested in the therapeutic aspects of gardening, consider working with a trained therapist who can tailor activities to your specific needs. Our therapists at Salt and Cypress Counseling love to incorporate some of these techniques into sessions with our clients.

Local Garden Resources in Wilmington, North Carolina

The New Hanover County Arboretum

6206 Oleander Dr, Wilmington, NC 28403

Sokoto House - Community Garden

1213 Dawson Street, Wilmington NC 28401

NHRMC Community Garden

1415 Physician’s Drive, Wilmington, NC  28401

Shared Harvest Neighborhood Garden

3403 Winston Blvd, Wilmington, NC

Do you know of other local gardening resources? We would love to hear from you in the comments!


  1. Journal of Health Psychology - Effects of Gardening on Depression and Anxiety

  2. American Journal of Public Health - Physical Health Benefits of Gardening

  3. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease - Gardening and Cognitive Function

  4. Research on Hospital Gardens and Patient Recovery

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