Cooperative Extension Service 
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Extension P. O. Box 68 LaBelle, Florida 33975-0068 Phone (863) 674-4092

Hendry County Horticulture News

Horticulture Has Great Healing Power

There is a great power in plants, and horticultural therapists are successful in tapping  it.  A relatively new field in gardening and health science, horticultural therapy was founded in the United States in 1973 by a group of practitioners who formed the American Horticultural Therapy Association.  Its objective is to enhance and encourage physical and mental health through activities involving gardens and plants. Horticultural therapists work with people in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and rehabilitation centers and are cross trained in horticulture and health sciences.

In historical terms, human beings, despite our modern sophistication, are only recently removed from their origins on the open plains and woodlands of mother earth's natural bounty.  Less than 10,000 years ago, our ancestors co-existed in harmony with nature.  There is some research that indicates that although you can take the man out of the country, you can not take the country out of the man.  In others words, somewhere deep in the human psyche, there is an ingrained innate attachment with the natural environment and people suffer when deprived of contact with nature.

Research with clinical patients has shown that an environment well planted with trees and shrubs has a healing and soothing effect compared to scenes without plants.  Other studies have demonstrated that trees and other plants in neighborhoods increase social activity, promote good community relationships and reduced vandalism.  Higher worker productivity and lower absenteeism have been reported where plants have been put in offices and planted around the workplace.

Therapists have concluded that handling plants nurtures the human soul and that a great sense of satisfaction can be gained from watching plants grow and flourish.  Relieving stress, encouraging independence and responsibility, and boosting self-esteem and confidence are just a few of the positive influences gardening can have on behavior.  Horticultural therapy  helps to treat the whole person, not just the part of the body or mind that is hurt.  They feel good about themselves again.

Kids and adults with psychological and dependency problems plan their own gardens and take risks with combinations of colors, textures, and forms.  They are able  to express themselves freely and creatively without being judged, and frustration and aggression can be vented harmlessly on weeds and soil.  Plants don't talk back or get angry; seeds sprout and grow no matter who you are or what you look like.  "People are always successful in controlled gardening activities.  Caring for plants gives a person some control over his or her environment, bringing pleasure and beauty to what may seem like an otherwise out-of-control life.  The lonely and detached find plants to be a perfect jumping off point for starting conversations, sharing common interests, seeking advice, and making friends.

People with physical disabilities find there are few barriers to gardening. It can be done in any position: sitting, lying down, or standing.  Plants can be appreciated not just for their beauty, but for their taste, texture, and scent, making them accessible to those with visual disabilities.  Gardening can be done at any time of the year, indoors or out, and exercises both fine and gross motor skills. Coordination, balance, and flexibility are stimulated by working in the garden; for those who are usually housebound, it is an excuse to enjoy fresh air and sunshine.

Gardening is a non threatening, social, and enjoyable pastime.  Instead of just squeezing a ball to exercise an injured hand, a person working with a horticultural therapist can prune a bonsai or create a bowl garden, making the rehabilitation process enjoyable and also impacting the psyche. If you enjoy your therapy, you are more apt to pursue it.

Gardening is real therapy for everyone.  There is nothing that can give one a greater feeling of well-being than a clear blue warm spring day when the birds are singing away, and the smell of grass and the flowers are in the air. It carries the soul to another place.  You can let go of whatever is bothering you at the moment and simply appreciate the wonder of nature and the glory of the season.  Good luck and good gardening.

Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service.  Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975,  e-mail - or phone 863-674-4092 or  863-983-1598.  You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle.   Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an Equal Employment Opportunity - Affirmative Action Employer authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap or national origin.

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