12 mth Garden Therapy Programme

Garden Therapy for Mental Health

Horticulture represents a suitable vehicle for helping people with a wide range of mental disorders. Programmes need to be adapted to the individual based on their diagnosis and individual needs. For example, for someone with dementia it would be a good idea to create simple tasks with clear instructions. The therapist could instruct the client how deep to dig holes for planting, and how wide to space them. The therapist could place the plants in the holes and backfill them. The client could then water each plant afterwards. In this way, the client is involved in the process and as such they are less likely to ask questions or become distracted. 

For clients with other types of mental disorders, you can start with a baseline which is where they are currently at, and establish what their goals are i.e. where they would like to be. This provides a means of measuring progress. For example, someone with a social phobia may find it fear-provoking to become involved with a therapist in undertaking gardening tasks. To begin with they may only get within ten metres of the therapist and fail to make eye contact. After several weeks they may get a little closer and make eye contact once or twice in a session. As the therapy progresses, they may begin to trust the therapist more and begin to lose their fear. As such, the therapy is working as a form of desensitisation. The client is gradually exposing themselves to more fearful situations and overcoming their social phobia. The same principles may apply to clients with a range of anxiety disorders.

In the treatment of depression, it is known that helping the client to become active is an important part of recovery from, and containment of, symptoms. By focussing on other things, the sufferer can take their mind from those thoughts which are perpetuating their illness. Not only does horticulture therapy help to re-focus thoughts, but the exercise involved also reduces blood pressure and stress levels and helps to release hormones such as dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins which stimulate feelings of pleasure and exhilaration which serve to compete with depressive feelings.   

Whilst some clients may need one-on-one supervision depending on the nature of their disorder and their ability to work independently for short periods, often groups of patients with mental health problems can work alongside one another in a therapeutic setting. Many mental health inpatients and day care patients have stated that horticulture and garden therapy offers them a break from the hospital environment which is often viewed as being sterile, unstimulating, and a place where thoughts associated with their conditions may predominate.

If several different groups are underway concurrently, e.g. a planting group, a pruning group, and a compost-making group, then clients may switch from one group to another depending which holds most interest for them.

Effectiveness of Horticultural Activities

Horticultural therapy not only offers an opportunity for clients to socialise and get away from the ordinary mental health hospital environment, but it can alleviate symptoms associated with mental health disorders and enhance concentration levels. 

Some studies have also demonstrated that individuals with mental health disorders who become involved in horticulture therapy become more concerned with their personal hygiene and strive to improve it. They are also able to take on responsibilities and realise their capabilities which helps towards improving their levels of self-esteem and self-worth. 

Group work can also help to improve social skills through working with others in establishing solutions to problems. Programmes or enterprises which involve dealing with the general public e.g. through sales of produce, also offer opportunities for patients to improve communication skills as well as using other skills like marketing and accounting. They also exercise mental processing in doing so.    

Another impact of involving people with mental health illnesses in horticulture therapy and associated activities is that through interaction with the local community, the community members are more able to see the value of these individuals and to appreciate their worth to the community. As such, community members often change their attitudes towards the mentally ill and increase their respect for them.   


A charity organisation (e.g. hospital, visual disability, care facility, special school, sheltered workshop) asks you to design a horticultural therapy garden from scratch to be used by young adults with visual impairments.    You will be required to write a report on this for the charity.  

Carry out research into planning an appropriate garden.

Think about access to the site and the gardens. Consider:

·               Beds

·               Paths

·               Plants used

·               Gardening equipment required

·               Other points

Include plans for the garden.