Gardening Heals
March 18, 2010
Allan in Gardening, Musings on Gardening, health, health benefits gardening, horticultural therapy

Photo by Brian Peterson for the Star Tribune Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. Click on the image to read their article "Program Seeds a Path to Healing". Gardening makes us feel good. Ask anyone with a green thumb, even those whose bodies ache from weeding, and they will extol the health benefits of this very satisfying hobby. Although we gardeners do not need validation for our commitment to this pastime, it is comforting to read that professionals agree with us. Of course, their language is more academic than our own vernacular, but that does not stop us from appreciating their remarks. 

We should not be offended to learn that in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, horticulture was an acceptable form of treatment in mental institutions. By the early 20th century, its therapeutic importance was recognized in the caring of war veterans, the mentally handicapped and at-risk youth. By the middle of the 20th century, healers reached the consensus that horticultural therapy deserved professional status. Today, professionally trained Horticultural Therapists apply their skills for healing, rehabilitation, and training.

Garden therapy has been adapted to almost every kind of medical situation and social service, including Alzheimer’s and autism. Garden related activities have been implemented in schools, hospitals, correction facilities, at-risk-youth and vocational programs. For example  the Langone Medical Center in New York City uses Horticultural Therapy in the departments of Pediatrics, Oncology, Epilepsy, Psychiatry, and in its preschool.

Teresia Hazan is a horticultural therapist at the Legacy Health System in Portland Oregon. From her perspective, there are four main health benefits associated with gardening:-

1] Cognitive Benefits: Gardening can be knowledge building. The mind is stimulated when memory and logic are used and when judgments in the garden are made about numerical quantities or safety. Gardening exercises the attention span and sharpens one’s ability to follow instruction. In addition, horticulture teaches about living things- a learning activity that may also lead to a broader interest in the natural world. Furthermore, acquiring knowledge about the life cycle of plants helps in understanding abstract concepts such as time, change, growth, and death.

2] Physical Benefits: Gardening is good exercise. It challenges the body and gives it a work out. It involves flexibility and movement because the gardener needs to walk, stoop, bend, reach, and maintain balance. Gardening also exercises the upper body, hands, fingers, and arms, and the lower body, especially hips and thigh muscles. For those with no other physical activity in their lives, gardening offers mild to moderate exercise that develops coordination, strength, and stamina. Sensory stimulation is provided by touching, feeling and, smelling. Horticultural activities exercise the eye through visual scanning, by observing near and far, and by increasing awareness of spatial relationships. Selecting appropriate tools for various gardening tasks sharpens problem-solving abilities, as they relate to physical movement. Not to be overlooked are the fundamental corporeal benefits derived from working in the fresh air and sunshine.

3] Social Benefits: As a common interest, shared by many, gardening stimulates social interaction. It improves self-esteem, confidence, and social skills. Communication between gardeners generates the expression of opinions and provides opportunities to embrace opposing points of view in a friendly environment. Communication also stimulates verbalization of descriptions, the ability to ask questions, and the expression of disappointment and happiness. Gardening also helps to develop positive work related attitudes and behavior, and motivates people to work cooperatively.

4]: Psychological Benefits: Gardening provides opportunities for creative self-expression and for relieving tension, aggression, and frustration. The planting cycle promotes an interest in, and a positive enthusiasm for, the future, which helps fight depression. Gardening has the power to lift the spirits of those with little sense of purpose or hope - feelings that may have developed because of isolation, or from loss due to illness, accident, disease, retirement, or death.

Some gardeners admit that they feel misunderstood by those who does not garden. Perhaps this information will empower them to speak with pride about their passionate hobby. Horticulture is good for the heart because it exercises the body; it warms the soul because it is satisfying, and it benefits the community because it helps to rehabilitate the fallen.

Article originally appeared on Garden Design, Montreal, Perennial Flower Gardens, Gardening Tips, Gardening Advice, Gardening Book Reviews (http://allanbecker-gardenguru.squarespace.com/).
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