The benefits of green space have been known since ancient times. For the Greeks, the garden was a continuation of the temple, a pure place to be worshiped like the gods. For the ancient Romans, gardens were an oasis in which to recreate, away from city hassles. Even before that, lush gardens were the flagship of the Persian civilization.
In the Middle Ages, monastic gardens were used for the cultivation of medicinal plants.
The industrial era, and the consequent depopulation of the countryside, removed man from nature, to the point of rediscovering it in recent years. The increase in pollution and the pathologies connected to it, the stress of city life, on the one hand full of opportunities, on the other lacking in spaces in which to recover their psycho-physical well-being, have slowly but surely convinced many to regain possession of those places once considered unattractive and, today, on the contrary, so contemporary. Who has a balcony full of plants, a small garden in the city or in the countryside, has a treasure. Few, until just a decade ago, would have bet on such a powerful return of the “Green Philosophy”. In particular, vegetable gardens are depopulated, including urban ones. Much more than a fashion, a real “Wellness Movement”.
The United States was the first to study the benefits of a “Green” life, since the 1970s. Research, in particular, focused on Orthotherapy, which has now become an overseas discipline in the Faculties of Medicine.
The American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) describes orthotherapy as: “A process, either active or passive, of purposefully using plants and gardens in therapeutic and rehabilitative activities designed to positively affect a set of defined health outcomes for individuals (e.g., improved mood, improved self-esteem, enhanced social interaction). Horticultural therapy can include hands-on activities, such as potting up plants, or passive involvement such as viewing a garden through an open window and listening to birdsong. The focus is on multisensory experiences and engaging all of the senses. Horticultural therapists are trained professionals who possess knowledge in plant science, human science, and horticultural therapy and are experienced in the application of horticultural therapy practice”.
Recently, the use of Horticultural Therapy as a tool to improve the quality of life, especially of the elderly, has been confirmed in studies that have reported important benefits such as stress relief.
The so-called “natural environments” act as a distraction, reducing anxiety, in favor of well-being. If you think that to obtain these benefits it is necessary to have a large garden or a vegetable garden, you are wrong. Research carried out on hospital patients has shown that it is enough to look at nature through a window to obtain physiological therapeutic and psychological restorative benefits.
Horticultural therapy: practical and beneficial activities
1. Potting of the seedlings;
2. Observations of gardens, plants…;
3. Visit to parks and public gardens;
It is the small daily gestures and actions that make the difference also for psychophysical well-being, as demonstrated by the activities mentioned above. These actions have proved useful within some scientific studies carried out.
Precisely for the purpose of monitoring the therapeutic effects of orthotherapy, on subjects with pathologies, some scientific researches have made use of the so-called “healing gardens”, spaces specially designed for people with dementia with the aim of stimulating the senses, encouraging positive memories and providing a safe place to walk. In medicine, therefore, orthotherapy has been included among the therapies that guide the patient towards physical, mental and cognitive rehabilitation.
Beyond purely sectoral studies, broader objective analyzes have shown that gardening and horticulture activities have a positive influence on the regulation of heartbeats; on blood pressure regulation; on improving blood circulation; on the increase in serotonin and vitamin D.
These benefits are particularly evident in the elderly population for whom garden care becomes a stimulating and motivating activity.
For children, horticultural therapy becomes a reason to approach nature that will make them responsible adults and respectful of the environmental heritage. Horticultural activity promotes the development of motor skills and stimulates creativity. Scientific studies have shown that garden care is a support for hyperactive children, with mental illnesses or physical limitations.
Contact with the open air, with the ground and natural elements, makes children aware of the surrounding world. In addition, the garden educates to collaboration, socialization and not competition: together we work to achieve a goal.
Care of the garden, contact with nature, colors and scents are a cure-all for psychophysical well-being. The body also benefits from it as the movements associated with the activity, if well coordinated, help to firm up muscle and joint tone.
Finally, the work of the garden finds its most gratifying expression in the kitchen when, with the fruits of the garden, healthy and delicious dishes are born.
Socialization; cooperation; self esteem; respect; movement; psychophysical balance, orthotherapy is this and much more. No matter how big your green space is, the important thing is to have an oasis in which to regenerate, confronting nature, getting your hands dirty to find that practical but also metaphorical contact with the earth.
My practical experience on the subject confirms scientific studies every day. The care of a garden, especially a vegetable garden, from which to then get the food to bring to the table is therapeutic, educational, stimulating for the mind and body.
- The profession and practice of horticultural theraphy, R. Haller, K.H. Kennedy, Christine L. Capra, CRC Press, 2019;
- American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA). (2015). Definitions and positions. Retrieved from http://www.ahta.org/
- Relf, P. D. The role of horticulture in human wellbeing and social development. Portland: Timber Press, 1992.
- Yee Tse, M. M. Therapeutic effects of an indoor gardening program for older people living in nursing homes. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 2010.