Garden Therapy

Published: March 6, 2006  |  Source: chicagobotanic.org
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Planting the seeds of success

plantpowerRecovering from a stroke or a spinal cord injury takes time, patience, and a lot of hard work. But some patients are planting the seeds of success.

Dennis Sabat never thought therapy for a paralyzing neck injury would include digging in dirt.

“I wasn’t a believer,” he says. “But when I came up, I found it’s a pleasant change from squeezing putty balls or putting pegs in holes.”

A rooftop greenhouse is more than a tropical oasis from standard therapy. Studies show that gardening helps improve memory, coordination, balance and strength.

Linda Ciccantelli founded the Magee Horticultural Therapy Program and she says, “just the act of putting the soil in the pot, digging the hole, the depth perception, planting the seed, watering the plant,” is helpful.

The green thumbs belong to spinal cord and brain injury patients as well as those who’ve had a stroke.

“They’re working on their mobility, their strength, strengthening their endurance but they’re incorporating it with something that has a function, that has a purpose. And that’s living and growing, that they enjoy,” Linda says.

Patients say garden therapy helps them forget why they’re in the hospital in the first place.

Lamont Peterson says, “It takes your mind somewhere else. You feel good about plants.”

For more information on gardening as a therapy visit the American Horticultural Therapy Association Web site or call them at 1-800-634-1603.

Fast Facts:
# Plants are an important source of food, but they may also lift the spirit. Many people have found gardening to be a relaxing hobby.
# Horticulture therapy has been used to improve mental health for hundreds of years.
Now some hospitals are incorporating horticulture into their therapy programs. The therapy has physical benefits as well as psychological ones, helping patients improve strength, dexterity, speech, social skills and memory.

Supplemental Information

The Value of Plants
Plants are an important part of our world. They provide us with food and some even have medicinal value. Horticulture, the art and science of cultivating plants, is an age-old practice. Native Americans appreciated the value of plants and the harmony in which plants lived with man.

In the late 1700s, Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, reported that gardens and planting appeared to lead to an improvement in symptoms of mentally ill patients. In the early 1800s, hospitals in Spain were using horticultural therapy for the mentally ill. In the 1940s and 1950s, horticulture was used in the Rehabilitation of veterans returning home from the world wars. Today, horticultural therapy is used in a wide variety of settings, from nursing homes and senior centers to rehab facilities, schools and outreach programs.

Benefits of Horticultural Therapy
Using plants for therapy goes way beyond providing food. Experts say planting requires strength, dexterity and coordination. Picking up and placing a seed in the soil may improve fine Motor control and hand-eye coordination. Transplanting, digging, moving pots and carrying watering cans improve muscle strength and endurance. Gardening stimulates the senses by exposing the patient to different textures (i.e., soft soil and hard pots) and smells. Patients learn to concentrate and stick to an activity.

As patients garden, they learn about planting techniques and the names and characteristics of different plants. That stimulates the brain and may improve memory and concentration. Patients working in groups get to practice speech and socialization skills. Many find planting and gardening to be relaxing, which can reduce stress and anxiety. As patients watch the fruits of their labor grow and bloom, they may develop more confidence in themselves and improve their self-esteem.

Horticulture therapy can be adapted to meet the needs of a variety of patients. Raised beds, adapted tools and wide aisles provide access to people in wheelchairs. Benches and tables can be used for those with limited ability to stand or sit for long periods of time. And since many programs have a greenhouse, rain, snow or cold temperatures don’t hinder access to the plants.