As we have seen, the use of horticulture for healing has a long history. In 1699 Leonard Maeger, writing in the English Gardener advised his countrymen ‘to spend their spare time in the garden, either digging, setting out, or weeding; there is no better way to preserve your health’
Dr. Benjamin Rush, pioneer psychiatrist, and a signer of the American Declaration of Independence, declared in his time that ‘digging in the soil has a curative effect on the mentally ill’.
Following both World War I and II, veterans’ hospitals made increased use of gardening as therapy in the treatment and reeducation of injured soldiers. Volunteers from garden clubs brought the delights and benefits of their hobby to thousands of men recovering from battle.
Gardening with individuals who are differently-abled can show surprising results both in improving motor skills and in reducing stress. Twenty minutes of watering and tending plants produces visible calm.
By blending gardening and nutritional education, participants begin engaging in healthier behaviour, becoming more active and improving their diets.
As a therapy, gardening is unique in that a living medium – plants – is used. Differently-abled people get a hands-on connection with the natural environment and life cycle. By caring for plants individuals work with a product firmly anchored in reality. Participants realise that they have an effect on something else that is living. Changes in behaviour, emotional expression and reliability have occurred.
Some differently-abled gardeners feel a reversal of dependency when they see that they can function independently and garden for themselves. This can bring about a tremendous improvement in feelings of self esteem. Group gardening activities promote social interaction. Changes in outlook take place as participants wonder what will come up next week, or what will they plant next year.