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The Caring of the Green: How Horticultural Therapy Heals

August 15, 2018

It can be said without fear of contradiction that horticultural therapy has fully blossomed in recent years, that its many stalks and shoots go in more directions than the eye can see or the mind can imagine.

The benefits of such a practice are physical and psychological, vocational and social. Horticultural therapy allows one to connect with nature and with others. It can serve as a stress reliever and a dementia fighter.

All of that was brought home when Sallie Stutz, a horticultural therapist who doubles as vice director of merchandising at the Brooklyn Museum, visited the Bedford Center on March 20. Then, in June, there was another horticultural event during which residents learned about summer flowers — and afterward they were afforded the opportunity to take one with them.

As noted in one report, horticultural therapy helps seniors transition to facilities like those offered by the Allure Group, since residents often leave a garden behind at home to which they have devoted years of tender-loving care.

That same report listed potential benefits such as improved mood and motor skills, as well as greater interconnectedness — e.g., the chance to grow food for a chef at a facility where a senior might be living or to grow gifts for family members. And about dementia: A 2006 Australian study showed that gardening lowered the risk of that dread disease by some 31 percent.

According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association’s website, Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and a man dubbed “Father of American Psychiatry,” was one of the first people to note the positive impact of HT. Another report insisted the practice went back even further than the 18th century, though there is agreement that it has continued to rise in prominence with each passing year.

The AHTA site noted that it helped soothe World War II veterans in the 1940s and ‘50s, and has come to be used in a variety of settings — psychiatric hospitals, rehab programs, substance-abuse programs, hospice care and correctional facilities among them.

The importance of the connection with nature cannot be overstated; such things as colors and scents have been shown to stimulate the mind. And merely working in a garden can improve such things as muscle tone and balance, while at the same time allowing for independent work and problem-solving.

So many stalks. So many shoots. More than the eye can see, and more than the mind can imagine.

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