Horticultural Therapist  What They Do

Just the Facts


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dotHorticultural therapists use gardening and horticultural activities to improve people's physical and mental health. This type of therapy can benefit the physically disabled, the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled, the elderly, substance abusers, public offenders and the socially disadvantaged.

Horticultural therapists use all phases of gardening to help people, such as identifying plants, planting seeds, tending gardens and selling grown produce and flowers. These therapists are trained members of rehabilitation and therapy teams. They use a combination of knowledge about horticulture, psychology and social and behavioral sciences to help their clients.

"Some people still have difficulty with the word 'therapy,' and so some people are called horticultural instructors or vocational instructors," says horticultural therapy professor Richard Mattson.

dotGrowing plants can have many benefits. It can alleviate depression, improve self-esteem, improve motor skills and enhance problem-solving skills.

The first known instance of a greenhouse being used to assist individuals with mental illness was in 1879. Many veterans' hospitals after the Second World War also used horticultural therapy. In 1955, Michigan State University was the first institution to offer a degree program in horticultural therapy.

dotHorticultural therapists can work in many different settings, such as hospitals for the mentally ill or disabled, homes for the elderly, botanical gardens, community gardens, farms, schools, correctional facilities and universities. These therapists can also be self-employed and work on a contract basis.

Depending on where they work, horticultural therapists may work part time or full time. They can work Monday to Friday, but because of client needs, they may work evenings and on some weekends.

"I work mostly with geriatrics, so my work is done in the mornings and afternoons," says Nancy Lee-Colibaba. She is a horticultural therapy coordinator.

dotSome of a horticultural therapist's work is done in the office, at hospitals or care facilities. But much is also done in gardens and greenhouses. Horticultural therapists, especially those who are self-employed, may need to travel during work hours.

"I find the work physical," says Lee-Colibaba. "But that's not saying someone with physical limitations couldn't find an area to work in. It's all about finding what the limitation is and working around it."

At a Glance

Use plants to help heal people

  • Therapists use a combination of knowledge about horticulture, psychology and social and behavioral sciences to help their clients
  • Much of the work is done in gardens and greenhouses
  • Specific training is available


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