Don’t you get a sense of well being when you’re around flowers and plants. Think of the rush you got the last time someone brought you a bouquet of fresh flowers. Do you ever realize the great feeling, other than some aches and pains, after you have spent an hour or two in the garden? Plants do have a therapeutic value that many of us don’t think of. Yes, all that greenery and color is therapeutic. So therapeutic, in fact, that there is a whole professional field devoted to horticultural therapy. There are dozens of books, programs for master’s degrees and an American Horticultural Therapy Association. While the value of greenery has been realized for eons, it is only in the past 20 years that we have seen such a surge of interest in the subject.
According to the Northeast HTA, this is “the process of using plants, under the direction of therapists, through which people receive psychological, physical and social benefits.
Horticultural therapy has been around long before anyone thought to give it a name. In the 17th century many patients worked in the hospital’s gardens to help pay the costs of their treatments. Even then, doctors noticed that these patients recovered more quickly and led better lives than other patients. In the 19th century, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence noted that garden settings held curative effects for people with mental illness.
I have often attended it, but some 12 or 14 years ago I was asked to give the invocation at the Association’s annual luncheon in Washington; the honored guest was Senator John Mc Cain. He was being feted for his work, as a U.S. Senator, in backing legislation that would help the disabled throughout our nation. In his remarks he talked about his own experiences with plants and his feelings about how horticultural therapy had been used to help many of the POW’s return to a normal and fruitful life. His guest, a fine looking man, in his forties, had been homeless and without hope for a number of years. Someone on the Senator’s staff had helped him get into a VA hospital where one of his “treatments” was to work in the gardens, doing everything from weeding and cutting lawns to caring for a specific flower bed. It became his. He nurtured it. It stimulated his senses. It helped him look to the future and it certainly helped to bring him back to normalcy.
After both World Wars 1 and 2, veteran’s hospitals encouraged returning servicemen to work in gardens to speed their recovery and more quickly regain the use of injured limbs and to regain their mental stability.
From the AHTA: “people respond positively to green plants and colorful flowers. Gardening offers relief from physical and cognitive limitations, reduces stress. Gently exercises aging or arthritic joints and stimulates memory. Caring for plants inspires hope.”
So, the next time you receive flowers, the next time you spend some quality time in the garden, remember that it is more than enjoyment, it is a mental an physical exercise that will do your body and spirit more good than you ever imagined.