Can gardening play a role in mental health recovery and maintenance? A growing body of evidence and experience is showing strong positive results in getting people to make a closer connection with plants and growing things as part of treatment for a wide variety of conditions. From just taking Alzheimer’s patients on a walk through a garden to a six-month to one year training program in urban horticulture, gardens and gardening are taking a bigger role in health care.
An article from the Guardian in the U.K. discusses the success shown by programs associated with public housing in urban areas. Even a small garden can provide space for residents to learn new skills and “get their hands dirty” giving them a sense of connection to the earth and to the community. Patients with mild to moderate depression are recommended to the garden program and spend from six months to a year learning to plant flowers and vegetables. Results show success comparable to “talking therapies” and a strong emphasis on working with groups and the community that is also a healing process for many.
In the US, “horticultural therapy” has become a promising intervention for working with a range of people and situations: veterans, children, the elderly, and those working through addiction and mental illness issues. Taking care of plants can offer a lot of benefits, from the physical contact with plants and soil to the philosophical realization that dormancy, growth, blooming, fruiting, and moving back are regular stages of natural life.
Even if you only have space for a few potted plants, caring for them and watching them grow can be a great help in stress management and positive outlook, and those who have access to even a small patch of soil can experience the wonder of planting seeds and seeing plants come forth. Working with plants reminds us of our deep ancestral connection with the green world, and encourages us to follow more natural rhythms of life ourselves. Give it a try!