Keep Going.  Keep Growing! Introducing Therapeutic Horticulture Course.

Keep Going.  Keep Growing! Introducing Therapeutic Horticulture Course.

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June 10, 2020

June 10, 2020

VINCENNES, Ind. –  Digging in the dirt while gardening can be therapy. People putting their hands in the soil or spending time in nature can provide opportunities to connect with others, boost relationship satisfaction, help manage stress, lessen emotional reactivity, and many other healing powers that can transform lives.

Vincennes University is offering a fresh new course that will explore Therapeutic Horticulture in fall 2020.

Jennifer Nettles, VU Professor

"Not only can plants benefit from the microorganisms in the soil, but so can we. Research has shown that putting your hands in soil triggers the release of serotonin in the brain," VU Horticulture/Agriculture Coordinator Jennifer Nettles said.

Horticulture is the art and science of growing flowers, trees, fruits, vegetables, and other types of plants. A therapeutic garden is a plant-dominated environment purposefully designed to facilitate interaction with the healing elements of nature. Therapeutic horticulture has the potential to enhance positive human growth and mental well-being.

“There are very few universities that offer courses in this,” said Nettles, who will teach the Therapeutic Horticulture course. “That’s one of the reasons I thought we should bring this course to VU and see how it goes.”

By understanding how important plants are in our daily lives, students can appreciate plant characteristics and requirements to create successful therapeutic gardens. During the semester, students will do a deep dive into the use of gardens in prisons and how they affect the mental and emotional states of inmates.

In this era of social distancing, spending time in a garden has become a popular method to improve well-being. For example, gardens have become a place of respite for healthcare workers as they battle the coronavirus. Frontline medical workers are spending time in the tranquility of the gardens located on hospital grounds to refresh their spirits, bodies, and minds. Others are planting and tending gardens as a way of encouraging feelings of comfort and happiness.

The subject of healing through plants and gardening is very personal to recent VU horticulture graduate Charles Roberts, who currently works as an intern at Garfield Park Conservatory in Indianapolis.

Charles Roberts, VU Graduate

“Before I got into horticulture, I was very depressed and bullied in middle school. I spent a weekend at my grandma’s and she had me in the garden. Being in the garden surrounded by nature helping to help plants grow and seeing all the life that is in the world, it really changed a lot for me,” he said.

Horticultural therapy is employed for a wide range of therapeutic options.

According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, horticultural therapy/gardening helps improve memory, cognitive abilities, task initiation, language skills, and socialization. In physical rehabilitation, horticultural therapy can help strengthen muscles and improve coordination, balance, and endurance. In vocational horticultural therapy settings, people learn to work independently, problem-solve, and follow directions.

“If someone has a disability like being blind or something like that, they really can’t see flowers, but they can feel the different textures of different plants, which is safe for them, and they can feel more connected to gardening,” said Roberts, who is from Indianapolis.

The impetus behind VU’s course is a current student who is a horticulture major. Autumn Lewis has an interest in horticultural therapy. She approached Nettles about the subject and Nettles went about making the class happen.

Autumn Lewis, VU Student

“I have been aware that horticultural therapy is a thing. I know VU had a good horticulture program, but I figured something could be added to it. So kids like me could benefit,” Lewis said.

Lewis, who is from Dayton, Tennessee, grew up living with an aunt with Down Syndrome and has first-hand knowledge of the benefits of therapeutic gardening.

“My aunt was always scared to go out in the garden, but I started container gardens with her on the back porch and she loved it,” Lewis said. “She could see her efforts were being processed in a real-life way. That’s when I first started to see how cognitively that can grow with someone. I got to watch her grow a little bit as I got to watch some of the plants grow.”

Lewis is excited about taking the course and she is fascinated with the many populations that can benefit from therapeutic gardening, including children, the elderly, and individuals struggling with addiction.

“It’s just like music therapy or art therapy,” she said. “It can help relieve stress. It’s calming. I’ve always gone to gardening and those are some of my earliest memories.”

To learn more about VU’s Horticulture programs and courses, visit