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Horticultural Therapy

Course CodeBHT341
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Combine Your Love of Horticulture with Your Drive to Help Others

Horticultural therapy (also known as ‘social and therapeutic horticulture’) uses the activities associated with horticulture such as gardening, plant propagation, plant care, visits to natural environments and gardens and parks etc. in personal development; to engender a feeling of well-being, improve physical health and encourage social interaction.

Involvement with plants and time spent in gardens has also been used for many years as a viable part of aged care, particularly for patents with dementia and for patients convalescing in hospitals or in care a pleasant view of a landscape and / or garden has proved to significantly reduce the recovery time for patients lucky enough to have a landscape of plants and greenery to look at each day.

Therapy may be used to:

Improve client's capabilities and opportunities for employment 

Provide a pathway to rehabilitation

Develop practical skills

Develop social skills

Rehabilitate from physical or psychological problems

Empower people to develop a sense of worth 

Experience the joys gardening and the natural world

Lesson Structure

There are 9 lessons in this course:

  1. Scope and Nature of Horticultural Therapy
  2. Understanding Disabilities and Communicating with people with disabilities
    • Communication, Teaching and Counselling Skills
  3. Risk Management -Hygiene for vulnerable people, What extra risks are to be considered in a therapy situation.... chemical, physical
  4. Accessibility and Activities for people with Mobility issues (eg. wheelchairs, on crutches,
  5. Enabling the Disabled -with restricted motor skills
  6. Producing Things –Vegetables, Propagation, Fruit, Herbs
  7. Growing in Containers -Vertical gardens, pots, Hydroponics
  8. Creating a Therapeutic Garden
  9. Generating Income

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.

Raised Beds Provides Access for All

Raised beds are a great way to garden and are suited for people of all abilities. Beds should be built so that people in wheelchairs can easily access them from all sides and can also easily reach into the middle of the beds. The most appropriate widths are 500mm for beds with access from one side only or double that for access from both sides (no more than 1.2m wide). Raised beds can be built as boxes and filled with soils and/or organic materials. Or they can be like tables i.e. a shallow box (say 30cm deep) on legs.

The most appropriate heights for raised beds:

  • 600mm for use by wheelchair bound participants (but definitely no less than 450mm)

  • 750–900mm for people that will use them whilst standing.

For a cheaper alternative you could also use barrels, large pots, tyres, old vegetable boxes and so on.

A collection of beds at different heights can be set up to cater for those with different disabilities. Someone working standing up and using garden equipment will need a raised bed of a different height to someone else who may have to work at wheelchair sitting level. Several manufacturers offer the same style of raised bed in different heights which can be adapted to varying needs of clients and also a taller bed can be used near a high fence to bring the plants closer to better light levels for growing and the taller beds can also provide some windbreak and shelter for lower raised beds in front.

There are tools to suit different purposes too with some speciality tool manufacturers designing hoes and forks to be used in a pulling action rather that a push action which can be difficult for some users. Look for smooth handles and also smooth edges to raised garden beds that will not cause cuts and injury, this is an important point to check with raised metal garden beds. Also raised garden beds and tools made from timber need to be well sanded and finished so they are smooth and will not cause splinters.

Hanging baskets and hanging pots lined up at suitable heights for easy access to suit users is another variation on the raised bed, with the planting and growing areas coming down to the correct height for the user to work with. These can be used out in the open and also in greenhouses and polyhouses. Vegetables, fruits and ornamentals can all be used in hanging baskets and pots, provided suitable varieties are chosen that meet the criteria for this type of container growing.

Staged Therapies

Gardening and garden/horticulture therapy offers a wide range of tasks and activities that can be adapted to the individual. For example, picking out seedlings involves use of fine motor skills in a pincer fashion to lift out the seedlings and hold them for potting up. Arms, shoulders and coordination are needed for correct use of hand garden shears to trim shrubs and hedges. Hoeing and raking involve good posture and stepping movements as well as the muscles of the shoulders and hands, while collecting tomatoes and picking bush fruits and flowers can involve bending, squatting and some stretching exercises.

Garden therapy also involves cognitive exercises. Attention and concentration are required in many gardening tasks. Also, there are mental exercises in counting, measuring, weighing, and timing activities. Writing labels and entries in a diary or notebook involves hand-eye co-ordination in holding pens, pencils and writing, or typing records in computer files for planting and sowing, etc. Other skills include reflecting on tasks undertaken, recall, and analysing.

Remember, you may be working with a client group who has poor physical strength, poor muscle tone and/or limited physical ability, so it is important to be aware of the limitations and strength of your client.    Just because a client has poor muscle strength etc, it does not mean that this cannot be improved. Some clients may be coming to you to use horticultural therapy as a way to also exercise and improve their physical self, so do not assume they cannot do something. Your clients may wish to push themselves a bit as well.

But we also have to be careful with this. So ensure that any physical activity or exercise starts off slowly. It should not be too challenging and you should build upon the level of activity, once it is clear that the person is able to complete a task comfortably. For example, a person with limited physical movement in one arm may find it quite a strain to dig at first, but over a period of weeks, the muscle tone in the arm with limited movement may improve and so will the tone in the other arm, so they will be more and more capable of undertaking physical tasks using their arms.

  • It is all about building the strength of the client to perform tasks.   AND

  • To be aware of their current abilities and ensure that they do not push themselves too hard straight away.

If you are not sure, then it is important to seek advice from a medical professional as to the person’s abilities. You may be able to obtain the client’s consent to speak to their doctor, who can then advise you.



Interest in horticultural therapy is increasing at a remakably fast rate. The research that has been done over the past few years has shown that there are definite and measurable benefits.

The benefits of horticulture therapy can be seen in different populations from those rehabilitating from surgery, to prison inmates, to people with mental health disorders. Horticulture therapy provides a means of helping people develop social skills, improve physical mobility, and regain confidence. It is slowly but surely becoming more widely recognised as an efficacious form of therapy.

This course will be of particular interest to people wishing to get involved in either the practical side of therapeutic garden design or in delivering therapy programs. It is suited to people working in:

Horticulture therapy
Landscape gardening
Garden design
Psychotherapy & counselling
Caring roles