A Brief History of Horticultural Therapy

Horticultural Therapy (HT) is an adjunctive therapy that uses gardening and nature-related activities to facilitate health and well-being. The notion that gardening is therapeutic is not a new one. Those of us who are gardeners have no difficulty enumerating the many benefits of working with plants. Through gardening and nature-related activities, those with disabilities can experience a greater sense of competence, enhance sensory stimulation, improve motor skills, and find occasions for socialization, self-expression and creativity.

Horticultural Therapy at Tucson Botanical Gardens

The profession of Horticultural Therapy traces its roots in the United States to what is now Friends Hospital in Philadelphia where, in the 1880s, the first greenhouse for use in treatment of the mentally ill was built. In the early 1900s, the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, implemented the use of gardening in treating those with mental illness. Since World War II, Horticultural Therapy has been developed as a treatment for those with a variety of disabilities, including mental illness, cardiac disease, cancer, AIDS, developmental disabilities, Alzheimer’s Disease, visual impairments, and brain injuries. It is used with all ages and by professionals in such diverse settings as hospitals, long-term care facilities, schools, prisons, group residences and day programs. Additionally, nearly all of the major botanical gardens in the East and Midwest have Horticultural Therapy programs.

The Gardens’ Horticultural Therapy program, initiated by a Gardens’ docent in 1983, is one of the oldest public garden-based programs in the country and the only program of its kind in Arizona. Since 1998, the program has helped over 1000 individuals in more than 40 different schools, human service agencies and long-term care facilities in southern Arizona.  Trained docents in our Horticultural Therapy outreach programs bring monthly, bi-monthly and quarterly hands-on gardening and nature craft activities to residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities. In 2019 we provided programs for 14 area facilities. Historically, we have provided an average of 10 programs per month and have served an average of 120 individuals through them. Horticultural Therapy on-site programs provide hands-on gardening and nature crafts activities to developmentally disabled teens from neighborhood high schools and adult day programs. Please visit the raised garden beds area near the Gardens’ compost area where you can see first-hand our on-site program at work.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all Horticultural Therapy programs are currently on hiatus.

For more information about our Horticultural Therapy programs, please contact Katie Rogerson, Director of Education & Public Engagement, at 520-326-9686 ex. *39 or education1@tucsonbotanical.org