By Amanda Armitage

How do you unwind and de-stress?

For my mum, a day in the garden is her idea of heaven. She loses track of all time. What begins as mum thinking “I’ll just remove a couple of weeds” turns into a few hours of pottering and great joy. My mum can recall all the plants’ names, who gave them to her and when they flower. I love going to my mum’s place, sitting on the verandah, enjoying a chat and cup of tea with her, whilst she admires and points out aspects of her beautiful garden. Recently she has added a fountain and some garden chairs so there is space to sit and be still.

Whilst I did not inherit her love of outdoor gardening, during the recent lockdown I felt the need to nurture something. So I bought my first indoor plant. That one plant has now become 12 indoor varieties, and my son jokes that if I buy any more our backroom will be renamed “the jungle”!

So, what is Therapeutic Horticulture?

  • Therapeutic Horticulture (TH) is “a process in which plants and gardening activities are utilised to improve the body, mind and spirit of those people for all ages, backgrounds and abilities” (Therapeutic Gardens Australia). It is the use of horticulture activities to achieve therapeutic goals.
  • Nature does the work – nature lowers stress, restores attention, improves fitness, restores emotional balance and speeds up recovery. TH brings people together, and whilst some children may prefer to stand back and watch, it allows educators to be mindful of children’s choices
  • TH aids the environment, increases fresh air, fosters individual strengths, and allows families and the community to become a part of the service
Blog Therapeutic Horticulture
Blog Therapeutic Horticulture

What are the benefits of Therapeutic Horticulture for children?

The Approved Learning Frameworks and the National Quality Framework both highlight commitments to the environment and the importance of teaching children to care for the environment.

Gardens, and garden-based activities, have been found to promote physical, mental, and social health, as well as the health of the planet (Therapeutic Horticulture Australia). TH has been shown to reduce children’s stress, increase emotional intelligence, resilience and wellbeing. Whilst it has positive outcomes for children with sensory or inclusion requirements, there are benefits for all children.

These include:

Cognitive – supplies practical, real world examples and is a way to cover topics across the curriculum.

Physical – children are provided with opportunities to develop fine and gross motor skills, knowledge about health and nutrition

Social and emotional – builds self-confidence, patience, responsibility, leadership, teamwork, community and environmental attitudes

Language – utilises both expressive and receptive language

It isn’t just about making a garden, but getting people out amongst them.

What does Therapeutic Horticulture involve?

HT is about creating spaces for children to explore. It not only includes the plants but also provision of places to sit and be still.  Being mindful about plant selection and creating spaces for exploration, stillness, time alone or time together. It may include a sensory garden, an edible garden or a theraputic garden. Your garden may be inside, or outside.

Blog Therapeutic Horticulture
Blog Therapeutic Horticulture

How can we utilise these benefits in our services?

Don’t just go out and buy a raised garden bed, or plants or seedlings without first considering what you are doing and why. Consider the strengths of the educators in the service. If none of you have knowledge and skills or know where to start, ask the families or reach out to the local community. This is a perfect way to develop links within the local community.

You may want to add TH to your Quality Improvement Plan (QIP). If there is a cost factor it may be you start planning so you can add the cost to your budget, or look online for State or community grants. Consider aspects such as:

  • Active vs passive spaces
  • Independence vs supervision
  • Formal vs informal learning
  • Plant features and furniture selection
  • Flexibility of the area
  • How children’s senses will be utilised
  • Safety

Where to next?

Start small and build upon that success. Talk to the children, get them involved. Add some plants to your learning environment that the children can nurture and care for. Who knows, you may be like me and what starts out as a plant to nurture may become an indoor jungle!

Want to know more?

If you want to learn more about Horticulture Therapy, you can watch a free webinar on Therapeutic Horticulture Australia. Whilst it does not entirely focus on early Childhood Settings, the webinar supplies tips for getting started outlines the benefits and principles for HT. It highlights that HT doesn’t mean clearing a large area in your service yard but can start with indoor plants and smaller projects to start with.

Blog Therapeutic Horticulture


Therapeutic Horticulture Australia

Therapeutic Gardens Australia

Gardening for Children – Horticultural Therapy Association of Victoria

The Therapeutic Value of Gardening for Children

Establishing an in-nature pedagogy