Annual report 2015 15 cover
Social and therapeutic horticulture is the process of using plants and gardens to improve physical and mental health, as well as communication and thinking skills.

Gardening is a wonderfully flexible medium that can transform lives and Thrive sees first-hand how gardening can help everyone, regardless of age or disability.

Social and therapeutic horticulture uses the garden as a safe and secure place to develop someone's ability to mix socially, make friends and learn practical skills that will help them to be more independent.

Using gardening tasks and the garden itself, Thrive's horticultural therapists build a set of activities for each gardener to improve their particular health needs and to work on certain goals they want to achieve.

The benefits of a sustained and active interest in gardening include:

  • Better physical health through exercise and learning how to use or strengthen muscles to improve mobility
  • Improved mental health through a sense of purpose and achievement
  • The opportunity to connect with others – reducing feelings of isolation or exclusion
  • Acquiring new skills to improve the chances of finding employment
  • Just feeling better for being outside, in touch with nature and in the 'great outdoors'

The diagram below shows the many benefits of social and therapeutic horticulture with overall health and wellbeing at the centre.

Health and wellbeing
The benefits of social and therapeutic horticulture to health and wellbeing

Therapy and rehabilitation

Social and therapeutic horticulture (STH) can benefit people in a number of ways:

  • It can be part of a person’s rehabilitation process, to help them recover and 'find their feet again' after an illness or a difficult time in their lives
  • It can help people recover from a wide range of conditions
  • It can help people to learn new skills
  • It can help slow down the deterioration seen when someone has a degenerative illness.

Social and therapeutic horticultural also benefits people with many different disabilities, including those recovering from stroke and heart disease, blind and partially sighted people, those in the early stages of dementia and people with physical and learning disabilities.

People can benefit from horticultural therapy:

  • At a garden project, where they are referred and funded by their doctor, social worker or care professional. Others start at a project through their own initiative and their place may be funded by their family and friends.
  • Through gardening at home, perhaps by starting with a simple idea like planting a small container or window box, or growing some herbs on a sunny window sill.

Garden projects Garden projects can be small informal places, perhaps organised and run by volunteers, or they can be more formal, larger organisations and charities, run by permanent staff. Projects may have their own site or they may share facilities, perhaps within a garden centre or nursery. Garden projects are also found in the grounds of prisons or hospitals.

Horticultural therapists Many horticultural therapists working at garden projects in the UK have completed specialist training programmes in social and therapeutic horticulture at Thrive. They may also hold other professional qualifications in areas such as horticulture, health and social care, teaching, occupational therapy or nursing. If you're thinking of studying STH, visit our training section. Alternatively you can email our training team at training@thrive.org.uk or call 0118 988 5688.

Research Thrive is active in researching and promoting the benefits of gardening and horticultural activity. It is important to increase people's understanding of the power that gardening has, so Thrive learns and shares ideas with others to continually improve the ways that we work with disabled people.

Want to know more? If you, or someone you know could benefit from social and therapeutic horticulture, call Thrive on 0118 988 5688 to find out how we can help.

Thrive can also help if you would like to know more about a career in social and therapeutic horticulture or if you would like details of courses, call our Training team on 0118 988 5688, or email us. Thrive can also put you in touch with a garden project in your local area, so if you are interested in volunteering or finding a place for a friend or relative, call us on 0118 988 5688 or email our Information Service.

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