Written by Karin Vermeer

What is Horticultural Therapy?

Horticultural therapy is all about using plants to bring about healing or wellness to a person’s life. Whether dealing with the results of growing old, or struggling with a mental disability, or addictions in substance abuse, plants, with the help of a horticultural therapist (HT) can bring about change.

All activities are centered on the client. First, we need to build a relationship so that the client feels safe, non-threatened, and cared for. Once they have that assurance, we can work on focusing their energy on plant related activities. Activities such as taking cuttings from easy to grow tropical plants, planting seeds or vegetable plants to harvest throughout the summer and fall and creating a wreath or flower arrangement from natural seeds, branches, leaves, or pods collected outdoors.

We must always work towards a goal, whether that be the ability to use their hands in the case of a senior struggling with arthritis, or in someone who is depressed to see how caring for a plant gives purpose to their life. The goal would be determined by those involved with the client’s treatment so all can work together to reach the goal of success and wellness.

What are the Benefits?

Some benefits of HT are that we can restore or maintain physical abilities by doing gardening or plant related activities. These types of tasks can also develop fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, exercise, endurance, and strength.

Using plants, we can enjoy these five senses; seeing, smell, taste, touch, and texture, via the perception and recognition of them. Herbs are the perfect plants to grow when demonstrating the five senses. Gardens and growing areas such as greenhouses or sunrooms help to be successful in growing plants and flowers.

Doing seasonal activities helps us identify time of year and season therefore helping with reality awareness.


Activities such as working outside in raised beds can determine their endurance and strength. All gardening activities will challenge the client’s cognitive abilities, how well they understand the task at hand, can they concentrate on it, and do they remember the task from one week to another.

In a positive, safe environment, plant tasks are a great way to develop creativity, self worth, confidence and the sense of nurturing, especially for people who feel that they are not needed anymore or in those who have come through a traumatic experience. So many people lead such busy and stressful lives; plants can play an important role in bringing people back to earth literally! It is such a pleasure working with plants and flowers, watching them grow from a tiny seed into something that brings life and joy to people.

Digging our hands into soil with seniors, brain injured, or children brings us back to basics. Imagine the warm sun on a new garden bed and seeing new plants push their sprouts through the freshly dug soil! That is pure joy!


About the author: Karin Vermeer is a local plant and gardening specialist turned real estate professional! She loves to help with anything home and garden related. Contact her at www.karinvermeer.ca Ginelle Bucher (Karin’s niece) has taken over the horticultural therapy side of Karin’s business. Contact Karin for her information.