Therapeutic Gardening is Healing

December 28, 2021

Horticultural Therapy is an alternative or a supplementation to traditional talk therapy, similar to Equine Therapy or Art Therapy.  Therapeutic gardening is a time-proven and highly researched practice that can assist in the healing of a vast array of mental and physical health issues in all age groups.  From PTSD to autism to physical rehabilitation, this form of therapy helps heal by engaging clients in various plant-based activities.  It also promotes community and socialization skills.  Therapeutic gardens can be found in various settings including hospitals, prisons, drug rehab facilities, and community gardens dedicated to various non-profits or other healthcare facilities.  Here’s a great resource if you’re interested in learning more: https://www.ahta.org/horticultural-therapy

Currently, Colorado Springs does not have any Therapeutic Gardens dedicated to this profession.  However, there are a few in Boulder, Denver, and Fort Collins.  In fact, when I was in college, I volunteered at a program in Denver.  It was called The Dandelion Project, sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center (https://childlawcenter.org/).  The program was dedicated to providing a healthy, pressure-free environment with trustworthy adults to children involved in the foster care system.  I found it immensely rewarding and the experience has stuck with me.

In July this year, I happily took an opportunity presented by John Olson to switch gears in my career.  He and I were introduced by a mutual friend when I struggling to find meaning in my work as a Residential Landscape Designer.  Our mutual friend wanted me to meet John, describing him as someone who always finds a way to make his work meaningful. 

As a general rule, I detest networking (who doesn’t?), but I made an exception as I was feeling a bit desperate and trapped. I loved many aspects of my career but was increasingly frustrated that I couldn’t seem to meet my clients’ expectations.  Or maybe, they weren’t meeting mine.  Either way, I felt a strong need to do something that had a social impact. 

When I first met John, nearly a year ago, I had just begun pursuing a certification to become a Registered Horticultural Therapist.  With a degree from Colorado State University (Fort Collins) in Landscape Horticulture and Design, several years of experience working professionally as a gardener, completing the Colorado Master Gardeners Course, and a desire to help heal those in need, Horticultural Therapy seemed a perfect fit.

I did not expect a job offer to come from my networking with John, but as it turned out, he was looking for someone with a strong horticulture background to add to his new company, Urban Landscapes.  After taking some time to think about it, I concluded that this was a perfect solution for my need for a more impactful career.  I could further develop my skillset as a designer and “horticulture specialist” (maybe it’s too bold to call myself that) while working on projects that have a positive impact on my community. 

So now, I’m really excited to have a clear path forward in pursuing the type of work I’d like to be involved in.  In the coming years, I hope to become a licensed Landscape Architect and continue my education in Horticulture Therapy through CSU’s Horticultural Therapy Institute (https://www.htinstitute.org/). Although I’ll be approaching this field as a designer, instead of a therapist, I am confident that I will find great satisfaction in contributing to something that I believe will elevate our community and helps those who need it most. 

by Sherry MacWilliam

Therapeutic gardening can assist in the healing of a vast array of mental and physical health issues in all age groups.

1 Comment

on Therapeutic Gardening is Healing.
  1. |

    Thanks for the Post. As we plan our our Conservation Garden at Northern Water, a therapeutic garden is one of the options we’re considering to include. We will have many landscape typologies to show, but this therapeutic one seems an important choice to both offer for demonstration and to make it available for use in the community. With some many mental health needs coming out from the pandemic and other issues, it would be a valuable asset to offer. Good luck!

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