Horticultural Therapy

There are increasing opportunities to provide health services within the horticulture sector:

Running workshops which inform or educate

Working on community gardens

Offering horticulture therapy with groups or individuals in various settings

Some may work part time but others have full time positions. Many are freelance, but there are an increasing number of permanent positions.




Scope of Work

Horticulture therapy provides support and therapy to cope with or recover from physical or mental issues challenges, for example:

Illness or injury


Low self-esteem, poor social skills, socially under-privileged

Examples of daily work are:

Providing Facilities - Purpose built landscapes, equipment design and manufacture

Therapeutic Services - One-on-one work with clients/patients, rehabilitation after surgery, working with physiotherapists

Delivering Group Activities - Planning  and conducting activities; supervising groups in various settings (hospitals, prisons, sheltered workshops)

Therapists can help mental patients build self-esteem, take on responsibility, enhance social skills, and focus on tasks that subdue negative emotions. They may establish and manage community or hospital gardens, provide gardening activities to prison inmates; or to school children.

Most workers in this field need a general background in horticulture, and some have a background in health. Some garden designers and landscapers specialise in making therapeutic gardens.


What You Need to Learn

Plant knowledge - Plant and turf species & cultivars, identification & cultural characteristics of many different varieties, and weed species

Cultural management techniques - Pruning plants, watering frequency and duration, how to repair & renovate, planting, transplanting, staking, plant health (pest, disease, environmental)

Propagation - Leaf, root, hardwood & softwood cuttings; division, layering, budding, grafting, tissue culture

Environmental control - Ventilation, irrigation & misting, heating & cooling, lighting, carbon dioxide injection

Soils - Potting media & soil structure, chemistry, management techniques e.g. improving soils, aeration, etc.

Site design - Therapeutic landscapes, gardening work areas

Health science - Physical health & illness, mental disorders, counselling skills, running workshops, group therapy

Health & safety - Assessment of risks & hazards, use of personal protective equipment, fire alarms & drills, location of first aid kits, basic first aid procedures  

People skills - Communication (speaking, writing, body language), coaching/counselling, teaching


Starting a Career

Horticultural therapists need to be comfortable with plants and people. A lot of people who end up working as therapists or educators do other things first. Some come into this area of work later in life having had other jobs and careers in horticulture where they may have accumulated specialist knowledge. Pathways into horticulture therapy can be horticulture focussed or health focussed.

Horticulture pathways include:

Working in a garden centre as skilled/non-skilled staff

Working as a garden labourer

Volunteering at a local community garden

Joining a Friends of the Gardens or similar society for your local parks or botanical gardens

Health pathways include:

Transitioning from counselling

Starting out as a nurse or mental health nurse

Working as a carer

It may also be possible to get a start in this area by working as a volunteer for a local gardening club or plant society or maybe by helping out on local revegetation projects or garden restorations. Visiting trade shows and garden events can also be good ways to network and find out about opportunities for work.


Progressing a Career

It is very important to keep your knowledge and skills updated so that you can keep informed of industry changes and innovations but also, perhaps more importantly, so that you can provide the best service possible to your clients.

Those with a background in horticulture may find that they are lacking in knowledge of health sciences. Those coming from health sciences may find they are lacking in knowledge of horticulture. Whether working more as a therapist or more as an educator, there will always be things you can improve on.

To progress your career you can attend seminars and workshops, learn about new research relevant to your industry, changes in laws and regulations, new technology, new therapies, and changes to learning methods and instructional skills.     

Joining trade associations or bodies is a good way to keep up to date with current trends, and networking with like-minded people.

Undertaking further study is also a good means of upgrading skills, especially courses which cover the points listed under ‘things you need to know’ above.

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