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.