What is Horticulture Therapy?

Horticulture Therapy (HT) uses plants and the natural world to facilitate participants in achieving specific and measurable goals in the domains of overall personal well-being: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, vocational, social, and creative health.

Who can benefit from HT?

Anyone can benefit from HT, since it's principles are universal and accessible by nature.  Indeed, most gardeners attest to the "therapeutic" feeling the activity gives them.  However, structured programs are developed by trained Horticulture Therapists in response to their clients' interests, needs, and abilities.  These programs are more involved than the participant just showing up, puttering in the garden, picking a vegetable, or pulling a weed (although these activities can certainly be part of an overall program).  Programs and activities are tailored to suit the participants, and therefore are as varied and diverse as the people who participate.  Objectives and goals that are measurable and meaningful are achieved through these tailored activities.

For example, a youth-at-risk participant may require job skills, mentoring and leadership training through an HT program.  The job skills are obtained through practical teaching sessions about horticulture, food growing, produce marketing and customer relations.  Mentoring may be provided by the Horticulture Therapist, or an older, more experienced volunteer.  The participant may develop leadership by teaching newly acquired skills to younger participants or new-comers to the farm.  Ideally, feelings of confidence and community involvement result from achieving the objectives and goals.

Typically, Horticulture Therapy programs in Canada have worked with people with special needs, youth-at-risk, people with mental health and addiction issues, women in transition, people with physical disabilities, veterans, the elderly, and people recovering from illness or loss.

Who is a Horticulture Therapist?

To be a certified Horticulture Therapist, one must have studied both Horticulture and Human Service/Community Support Work, with additional courses in HT from reputable educational providers.  The HT should have some practical experience in all these fields.  Vancouver Island University  in Nanaimo BC currently offers a diploma in HT.  Providence Farm, Home Farm, VanDusen Botanical Gardens, and Mitchell Hewson also provide training and internships in HT.

The Canadian Horticulture Therapy Association (CHTA) is the professional body which offers registration in the field of HT.  Professional registration comes after both related education and work experience levels of the applicant have been reached (Gardens Without Borders Horticulture Therapist Lisa Hamilton is currently in the registration process).

When and Where Can Horticulture Therapy Be Practiced?

Currently, Gardens Without Borders operates only within the growing season at Innisfree Farm, but the intention is to make it available year-round.  However, most HT programs are year-round, and include winter gardening, seed collecting, food making, holiday activities, and nature-related arts, crafts, and educational opportunities.

HT is practiced in seniors' care facilities, hospitals, schools, homes, farms, community gardens, day programs...