There are so many benefits to growing a garden other than the nutritional wholesomeness of fresh produce. So many benefits in fact that people study what is known as “Horticultural Therapy.”
What is horticultural therapy? To begin with, according to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, it is explained as follows, “Horticultural therapy techniques are employed to assist participants to learn new skills or regain those that are lost. Horticultural therapy 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.” And to think it used to be called, “playing in the dirt.”
Gardening as Therapy
Through the years, I have had the opportunity to help bring the therapeutic benefits of gardening to others in several variations. My mission states, “To provide the benefits of gardening to all, regardless of abilities,” and I have been able to assist many groups from day cares, assisted living facilities, group homes, long term care facilities, and many others, not to mention individuals too.
One group I would like to focus on is those with mobility issues. These are limited in their ability to walk, bend, stretch, or stand. They may be in a wheel chair, rely on the use of a scooter or may need assistance from a walker or cane. The requirements of a garden for these folks are three-fold; first, the garden must be of sufficient height to allow those with a wheel chair to be able to access the garden. In my experience, a clear height of 27 inches seems to allow most that needed clearance for their wheel chair. The next requirement is the ability for the seated user to be able to reach the entire garden, and I find that a 3-foot square area does just that. Finally, the garden needs to be sturdy enough to support a person that may need to lean against it or rely on it to provide a stable object that will not move or easily tip. Good bracing, construction, and connects will do a lot to provide this stability.
So, I have a good garden design, what are the benefits for people with mobility issues? Some of these may seem obvious and others maybe not quite so much. Here is a list of some of the benefits gardening can provide to those with mobility issues:
Stretching, being able to reach across the garden bed to tend to the needs of the garden can be quite exhilarating. Think about how good you feel when you take that first get out of bed stretch in the morning, those of us without issues hardly think about it but imagine having to sit in a chair all day, how good would it feel to take a good long stretch. When we stretch, we work our muscles and manipulate our joints, this increases the blood flow in these areas. Also, when we stretch, it can make it easier to breathe and get a good deep breath. Seldom can we move one area of our body and not impact other areas at the same time. Just to reach the center of our garden, we use our arms, shoulders, back, hips, and legs in one way or another. This stretching can also improve our balance, and circulation.
Another benefit from gardening is exposure to the sun, fresh air, and even soil. We want to be sure to protect ourselves from too much sun by wearing sunscreen, a hat, and other precautions. Be sure to keep hydrated by drinking water and know when you have had enough and go back indoors. There are many beneficial organisms in soil that make exposure to it a good thing, maybe that is what this world need more of is exposure to soil. My grandma used to say, “Every kid should eat a peck of dirt.” I am not advocating eating dirt but having exposure to the soil is a good thing. Years ago, I heard mention of “Bonding with Mother Earth” where by having contact with the soil we live on allows us to become closer to our creator and realize the benefits that relationship provides to us.
For more information on horticultural therapy, visit www.ahta.org
For more information on products that help those with mobility issues garden, check out my products page at Square Foot Gardening, and remember that proceeds from these products benefit our brave and loyal veterans through the Semper Fi Fund, and is done so through the Square Foot Gardening Foundation.
Photo by Chris Orth
“Keep Those Fingers Dirty!”
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