Horticulture Therapy: An RT Intervention For All Seasons!

Horticulture Therapy is an amazing intervention that can be used all year long and with any population. You don’t have to be a master gardener or even have a green thumb. It just takes a desire to learn and motivation to get growing! There are many helpful videos on YouTube and loads of gardening groups through Facebook. But sometimes the best help comes from those around you. I recently connected with a therapy aide at the inpatient psychiatric hospital where I work. He saw me gardening with the clients and began giving me advice and extra plants from his house. Over the summer months we spoke more, and he has totally got me intrigued with growing microgreens and sprouts with the clients this winter. We have used aero gardens in the past to grow herbs, lettuce, Bok choy and kale, but now my eyes are opening to a new world, and I am learning and growing again!

My new garden friend has donated seeds, growing materials, a grow light, sprout lids and an extra aero garden to get us started. After getting approval from my supervisor to expand our indoor gardening program and watching more how to videos myself, we are ready to plant. The clients are excited to learn something that is easy and that they can do at home after discharge. Here are the basics of the three horticulture interventions we will be using this winter to keep our garden growing.

Hydroponics- The system I use is an aero garden. It is low maintenance and easy to use. The liquid plant food comes with the kit and is only added every two weeks to the water basin. The lights are on a timer so what could be easier? You can grow herbs, salad greens, flowers and some vegetable in aero gardens. Clients enjoy watching the progress of the plants and reminiscing about gardening.

Microgreens- What are they? Microgreens are young vegetable greens that are 1-3 inches tall. They contain a much more concentrated level of nutrients that often surpasses their adult counter parts. Growing microgreens is a simple process of sprinkling seeds on your growing container in a much higher quantity so that the seeds grow very close together. The whole process of growing microgreens takes about two weeks. Then it is time to harvest. This type of gardening is well suited for any facility that has short term stays.

Sprouts – Sprouts are plant seeds that have germinated successfully and can be considered “baby” plants. There are many different kinds of sprouts that you can grow, each with its own benefits and flavoring. One cup of bean sprouts provides more than the recommended daily intake of vitamin C, and many nutritionists consider broccoli sprouts to be a superfood. To grow sprouts you need a jar, a sprout lid or cheesecloth, seeds and water. Basically, you soak your seeds overnight in a jar, and then rinse and drain the water off. Rinse, drain and repeat daily until the seeds have germinated and the sprouts are to the desired size. They don’t really need light until the very end to produce some greening. You will have edible sprouts in 3-7 days.

The clients love to harvest. It is an opportunity to enjoy the work they have done in the garden and taste something that is naturally delicious. Their eyes light up and they always ask for more. Harvest day is also a chance to discuss topics like perseverance, growth and change, work ethics, positive health habits and so much more.

If you are not ready to dive straight into growing things indoors or your agency won’t approve, there are still many horticulture interventions that you can engage your clients in. Starting small and building interest is a great way to begin. Try some of the following:

How to garden videos
Virtual garden tours from around the world
Floral Arranging
Nature Art
Taste and smell activities with herbs, veggies, edible flowers
Drying flowers
Flower Pressing

Whatever your current gardening skill level is, there is always something more to learn. Check out the SMART CEU’s Hub course “Therapeutic Horticulture as a Recreational Therapy Intervention” by Carolyn Breinich, MA, CTRS/CCLS. This course provides an introduction into the use of horticulture as a therapeutic intervention. Participants will gain an understanding of the history of horticulture and medicine and how to incorporate horticulture into the 6 Domains of RT with specific goals to meet the needs of the client. Participants will learn about the benefits of horticulture, different therapeutic gardens and how to start a therapeutic horticulture program.