Garden therapy is generally understood as the use of participation in gardening activities as well as spending time in gardens as therapeutic exercises. Many different groups are thought to benefit from garden therapy, including patients with Alzheimer's and people with physical disabilities. This type of therapy is only occasionally prescribed individually, but it is often used in institutions where people with various impairments are housed. The mechanism by which garden therapy works is not well understood, but various psychologists attest to the fact that for some people gardening is very therapeutic.
Usually, garden therapy involves simple gardening activities like watering plants, caring for seedlings, and other general horticultural tasks. The plants grown in this type of therapy are usually hardy and easy to maintain in order to decrease the risk of disappointment, but individuals may progress to more advanced gardening activities. Age and type of disability also play a factor in the kinds of gardening activities undertaken. It is important for the success of the therapy that this activity does not prove more of a frustration than a victory.
The reasons that garden therapy is effective vary between individuals. For people with Alzheimer’s and decreased activity due to age, gardening is usually a way to stay active as well as a way to stay in touch with changes over time. Younger people often develop patience and learn skills as a result of this type of therapy. Given that this type of treatment is not well regulated, the goals of any particular program may be different.
Not only is participation in gardening thought to be therapeutic, but simply viewing gardens is known to have positive effects on health as well. In the very least, being out in a garden provides fresh air and possibly exercise. Indoor gardens can provide visual stimulation as well. There is some evidence to suggest that viewing paintings of gardens can improve healing time and that live gardens may have the same effect.
Whether garden therapy is successful because of the type of activity being performed is certainly up for debate, but it is true that for some individuals gardening is highly therapeutic. It is possible, however, that the same mechanism could work for any number of projects that involve interaction and progress over time. For example, taking care of fish in an aquarium might have similar effects, as might needlework or collecting rocks. Even so, there are various gardening organizations devoted to the success of garden therapy, and these organizations often provide much needed attention to people who otherwise would not have many activities.