Get involved in horticultural therapy

Registered Horticultural Therapist Patricia Cassidy explains what horticultural therapy is and how IGCs can get involved.

June 5, 2019

People seek out different forms of therapy for many reasons in their lives. Whether it be recovering from an injury or suffering from a mental illness, the benefits of therapy can help assist in the healing process or getting back to normal.

Horticultural therapy has been around since the 19th century and today, it’s used within a broad range of rehabilitative, vocational and community settings.

© American Horticultural Therapy Association |
Horticultural Therapist, Patty Cassidy, works with a frail elder in the garden.

We reached out to Patricia Cassidy, HTR, who is a registered horticultural therapist at the American Horticultural Therapy Association and its vice president, to learn more about horticultural therapy, the organization and how independent garden centers can get involved.

Garden Center: What are the different disorders or illnesses that benefit the most from horticultural therapy and how does participating in such therapy improve the person’s quality of life?

PC: Horticultural therapy offers a wide range of services and applications to people who have an identified disability, illness or life circumstance. For example, horticultural therapy is highly effective for people with psychological, emotional, physical or developmental issues, victims of abuse and addictions, aging populations and children, to name a few. Because of this wide range of applications, horticultural therapy is found in many settings, including schools, memory care units, senior care facilities, prisons, hospitals, community gardens and behavioral health units.

As for improving quality of life, horticultural therapy adheres to the conviction that well-being is closely related to the relationship between people and plants. There’s plenty of evidence that working with plants promotes emotional, mental and physical well-being. Specifically, horticultural therapy helps to improve memory, strengthens cognitive abilities and enhances language and social skills. In physical rehabilitation, for example, horticultural therapy can help strengthen muscles and improve coordination, balance and endurance. 

GC: What makes up a therapeutic garden?

PC: While it can be said that most gardens provide therapeutic benefits, a therapeutic garden is a space with specific design features that provide intentional opportunities for users to engage with plants as they experience stimuli from the richness of being close to the natural environment.

AHTA defines a therapeutic garden as one “designed for use as a component of a treatment, rehabilitation, or vocational program.” Some essential design characteristics include making plants accessible so users can experience their sensory features; planting a lush palette of horticultural materials that provide several seasons of interest; maintaining well-defined walkways that enable users to access the plants; and establishing a garden design that is unified and easy to comprehend, such as having simple circular pathways that allow for independent use or gentle pushing.

GC: How can independent garden centers get involved within their communities?

PC: Garden centers are benefiting from the growing interest among the general public about the value of gardening. More importantly, as the word spreads about the vast health benefits that gardening provides, garden centers can capitalize on this trend by providing a number of services, programs and incentives to the horticultural therapists’ patrons who shop for supplies to maintain the therapeutic gardens or to equip clients with adaptive tools and products.

Some specific ideas include:

• Providing discounts to therapists who frequent the center to purchase supplies

• Adopting a nearby senior care facility, school or group home that cares for those with developmental delays and provide plant materials, tools and soils to the horticultural therapist for activities and garden enhancement

• Supporting Horticultural Therapy Week (late March) by displaying information about the profession and practice of horticultural therapy and making space in the center for horticultural therapy presentations and demonstrations

• Partnering with local senior care communities and holding a senior gardening day when care facilities bring their residents to the garden center for a few hours of shopping, working with horticultural therapists and receiving a discount on things they purchase

• Encouraging horticultural therapists to post information about their services on a community bulletin board or table for flyers

• [Publishing] a newsletter, including an article written by a horticultural therapist who describes the profession and the services that are available

Learn more about horticultural therapy by going to the American Horticultural Therapy Association website at