Therapeutic Horticulture for Mental Health

Therapeutic Horticulture for Mental Health

It has long been recognized, that positive mental health is associated with gardening and plants. This has been termed therapeutic horticulture. Cultures worldwide have made this connection for centuries, yet today, less and less time is being spent outdoors and yet more and more time is becoming sedentary. In the video above, I explore this topic, focusing on the evidence-based and research informed use of horticulture.

While therapeutic horticulture is a great coping skill to add to your tool box; it may not be that simply more green equals better mental health. Along with the mindfulness required to care for plants, the research regarding the benefit of therapeutic horticulture sheds light on a depth beyond the color of green alone.

Don’t forget to watch the video above. It’s the most work I’ve put into a video yet, and I think you will like it! Below is a summary of the information provided, you can download a pdf of this summary here: TherapeuticHorticulture Printout

What is Horticulture? 

“Horticulture is the science and art of producing, improving, marketing, and using fruits, vegetables, flowers, and ornamental plants. It differs from botany and other plant sciences in that horticulture incorporates both science and aesthetics.” (American Society for Horticulture Science, N.D.) 

Therapeutic Horticulture: The general use of plants to promote health  Horticulture therapy: The specialized, structured, goal-oriented use of plants by a therapist 
More green can equal better mental health, if used intentionally

How Plants Promote Mental Health 

However you use therapeutic horticulture, the benefit largely stems to purpose. For this reason, its not so much what is wrong with fake plants, but that the greater benefit comes from all the care that real plants require. From an occupational therapy perspective, its the “doing” that’s of value.  Below is a list of example ways you could use horticulture therapeutically. 

Direct Use: Weeding, watering, inspecting plants, harvesting  Indirect Use: Socializing, eating, tea, soup, reading, learning, writing diaries & meditative journaling, and going to a flower show 
Active Use: Sowing, germinating, potting, planting, composing beds, cultivating vegetables, and rooting various cuttings of flowers and herbs.  Passive Use: Walking, sitting near, picking flower/bouquets, watching/listening to birds, insects, butterflies, or weather 
An escape from winter, try an observatory or greenhouse

 Where to Begin 

Consider a change of scenery and get some paperwork done at an observatory or Zoo. Take a stop at your local greenhouse and wander the isles and bring a notebook or Camera.  

Easy Plants: Air Plants, Succulents, Cactus, Aloe Vera, Snake Plant, & Common Ivy   Great Places: Urban greenhouses, community allotments, water bodies, forest/woodland, countryside/farmland, wilderness 


If you want to grow plants, below is a couple great resources to get started!  

www.apartmenttherapy.com9 stylish houseplants (and how to not immediately kill them) Tips for Beginners // Garden Answer

For more information on the mental health topics I promote as an occupational therapist, read What I Teach for Mental Health



American Society for Horticultural Science. (N.D). What is horticulture? Retrieved from 

Bazyk, S. (March, 2012). From the editor. Developmental Disabilities Special Interest Section Quarterly, 35(1), 4. 

Bratman, G. N., Hamilton, J. P., & Daily, G. C. (2012). The impacts of nature experience on human cognitive function and mental health. Ann N Y Acad Sci, 1249, 118-136. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.06400.x. 

Clatworthy, J., Hinds, J., & Camic, P. M. (2013). Gardening as a mental health intervention: A review. Mental Health Review Journal, 18(4), 214-225. doi:10.1108/MHRJ-02-2013-0007 

Cosden M, Ellens J, Schnell J, Yamini-Diouf Y. (2005). Efficacy of a mental health treatment court with assertive community treatment. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 23(2), 199-214.  

Diamant, E., & Waterhouse, A. (2010). Gardening and belonging: reflections on how social and therapeutic horticulture may facilitate health, wellbeing and inclusion. British Journal Of Occupational Therapy, 73(2), 84-88. doi:10.4276/030802210X12658062793924 

Eriksson, T., Westerberg, Y., & Jonsson, H. (2011). Experiences of women with stress-related ill health in a therapeutic gardening program. Canadian Journal Of Occupational Therapy, 78(5), 273-281. doi:10.2182/cjot.2011.78.5.2 

Gonzalez, M. T., Hartig, T., Patil, G. G., Martinsen, E. W., & Kirkevold, M. (2011). A prospective study of group cohesiveness in therapeutic horticulture for clinical depression. International Journal Of Mental Health Nursing, 20(2), 119-129. doi:10.1111/j.1447-0349.2010.00689.x 

Gonzalez, M. T., Hartig, T., Patil, G. G., Martinsen, E. W., & Kirkevold, M. (2011). A prospective study of group cohesiveness in therapeutic horticulture for clinical depression. International Journal Of Mental Health Nursing, 20(2), 119-129. doi:10.1111/j.1447-0349.2010.00689.x 

Parkinson, S., Lowe, C., & Vecsey, T. (2011). The therapeutic benefits of horticulture in a mental health service. The British Journal Of Occupational Therapy, 74(11), 525-534. doi:10.4276/030802211X13204135680901 

Sempik J, Rickhuss C, Beeston A (2014) The effects of social and therapeutic horticulture on aspects of social behaviour. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 77(6), 313–319. 

Sempik, J. (2010). Green care and mental health: gardening and farming as health and social care. Mental Health & Social Inclusion, 14(3), 15-22. doi:10.5042/mhsi.2010.0440 

Wagenfeld, A. (2012, June). Health through HOrTiculture: A natural innovation. Home & Community Health Special Interest Section Quarterly, 19(2), 1–4. 

Wagenfeld, A. (2013). Nature: An Environment for Health. OT Practice 18(15), 15–19. 

Whitham, J., & Hunt, Y. (2010). The green shoots of good health. Mental Health Practice, 14(1), 24-25. 

Coping Skills, Strategies, Methods, Resources, Techniques, or Tools?

Wish you could have seen this picture

The above video is a few of the coping tools I keep with me and use. As a mental health occupational therapist, I find it important to practice what I preach. I will go into the purpose and types of coping skills further in this blog post. 

The Need for Coping Skills 

There is an ever-greater need for mental health services for college students specifically (Watkins et al., 2012). Nearly 1 in 4 experience mental illness in college today (SAMHSA, 2017). Coping skills are in part, an answer to this situation. I explain in the video above, that coping skills are not simply for “dealing with mental illness”, rather they are what should be present in positive mental health.  

Unfortunately, effective strategies to cope with stress among college students today, may not only be lacking, but many of which may actually further contribute to the poor ability to deal with stress (Bland et al., 2012). 

What Coping Skills Are 

Coping Skills is a familiar term, for some it’s a word that means “run away”, yet others may actually want to learn coping skills. Whether the idea of coping skills needs to be rebranded or just approached differently is debatable. What is not debatable, is that we need to use them.  

There are a variety of ways to define and organize coping skills in medical literature (Carver & Conner-Smith, 2010). I believe coping tools are best described in simple terms as actions you can take to deal with negative situations. These actions could simply be in your head like practicing mindfulness or physical items such as writing in a notebook. 

Should have seen these books
My favorite tools come in the form of books

Types of Coping Skills 

Vivek Murphy, a former US Surgeon General, stated in an interview “The second thing we have to do is cultivate emotional well-being. There are tools, and they’re relatively simple. They include sleep, physical activity, contemplative practices like gratitude and meditation, and social connection as well” (“3 Questions”, 2017). Murphy’s list of tools is a great start. 

  • Sleep 
  • Physical Activity 
  • Gratitude 
  • Meditation 
  • Social Connection 

Feeling supported was the number one most positive factor students who deal well with stress report (Bland et al., 2012). The other factors found to be used by students who handle stress well include: 

  • Relaxed 
  • Extra-Curricular Activity 
  • Extra-Curricular Sport 
  • Exercise 
  • Listened to Music 

As an occupational therapist, I often use the senses (sight, smell, etc.) as an approach to coping tools. Mental illness can negatively impact how adults experience the senses (Bailliar & Whigham, 2017). A variety of tools can be used to use are sense to impact our emotions and experience. Examples include: 

  • Fidgets 
  • Stressballs 
  • Ear plugs 
  • Aromatherapy 
  • Weighted blankets 
  • Holding warm/cold items 


I hope these few lists give a good start to coming up with ideas. Each of these topics could have additional lectures of their own, I’m sure you can easily find more information online. I believe there is great room to go into greater detail on types of coping skills. This article is a first step overview. I would be grateful to learn what coping skills you feel should be addressed, what works for you, and what you would do to make it more appealing? 

 For more information, checkout the article: What I Teach for Mental Health



3 Questions. (2017, September). Official Journal of the National Geographic Society, 232(3).  

Bailliar, A. L., & Whigham, S. C. (2017). Centennial Topics – Linking neuroscience, function, and intervention: A scoping review of sensory processing and mental illness. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 71(5), 7105100040. 

Bland, H. W., Melton, B. F., Welle, P., & Bigham, L. (2012). Stress tolerance: New challenges for millennial college students. College Student Journal, 46(2), 362-376. 

Carver, C. S., Connor-Smith, J. (2010). Personality and coping. Annual Review of Psychology. 61: 679–704. PMID 19572784. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.100352

Farb, N. A., Anderson, A. K., & Segal, Z. V. (2012). The mindful brain and emotion regulation in mood disorders. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 57(2), 70-77. 

SAMHSA (2017, Sept 9). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the united states: Results from the 2016 national survey on drug use and health. Retrieved from 

Watkins, D. C., Hunt, J. B., & Eisenberg, D. (2012). Increased demand for mental health services on college campuses: Perspectives from administrators.  Qualitative Social Work,  11(3), 319-337.