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Taking care of plants – and thus also of yourself

Horticultural therapy can help people with spinal cord injury

Horticultural therapy can help people with spinal cord injury

HT is suitable for young and old. (Source:

Spring is approaching and therefore the season when nature comes back to life. The perfect time – if you have not already done so – to take care of flowers and plants. Why? Because both mind and body can benefit from it and gardening can therefore be considered an alternative form of therapy. Its name? Horticultural therapy (HT). Let’s take a closer look at what this is all about.

The origin of HT can be traced back to the 17th century in England. Patients who were unable to afford a hosptial stay used to pay their treatment by working in the hospital gardens. The doctors soon realized that these patients benefited from the work and therefore recovered sooner.

Therapist helping patients to engage in gardening activities. (Source:

However, only in the years after the World Wars HT was re-discovered and used to treat mental and motor disorders in veterans. Today, HT is used in some hospitals – psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities.

In the U.S. the American Horticultural Therapy Association supports research, therapeutic applications and training of therapists. The latter are also trained at the Horticultural Therapy Institute in Denver, Colorado, and at numerous universities such as the Kansas State University

Also in Switzerland there are specialized centres such as the Horticultural Therapy Swiss Association in Ticino and another Swiss association called the Schweizerische Gesellschaft Gartentherapie und Gartenagogik which will hold its general meeting in Zurich on March 22, 2019. For those who are interested in specialized training the School of Life Sciences and Facility Management in Zurich offers an 18-day course in HT which is held starting on April 5 in Wädenswil this year.

patient im garten

A patient in a garden that was designed for wheelchair users. (Source:

But how does horticultural therapy improve the patients’ conditions? First of all, the main benefit of HT is its diverse application and benefit for everyone, whether young or old, with or without disabilities. In this article, however, we focus on its benefits for persons with spinal cord injury (SCI).

Studies have shown that HT helps to improve coordination, physical activity tolerance, body posture as well as muscle strength and balance. Furthermore it helps patients to better cope with pain. HT may be a valuable addition to regular rehabilitation therapy.

Finally, note that it is not necessary to have a garden of your own to be able to perform HT – a small vegetable patch or indoor plant work as well. However, in order for the patient to fully benefit from HT, it is necessary that the patient works with an HT therapist throughout the rehabilitation process.

Person in a wheelchair uses TERRAform casing. (Source:

Special products are available on the market that can facilitate the installation of appropriate spaces for HT in hospitals and rehabilitation facilities. One example is TERRAform, a wooden casing specifically designed for persons with limited mobility so that they can take care of their flower or vegetable garden.

What do you think about HT? Have you had any experience with it? Would you try it out this spring?

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