Horticulture Therapy: Plant Care as a Means of Dealing with Stress and Trauma?

“It was therapy, and I didn’t know it was therapy” (Wright, n.d., as cited in Chillag, 2018).

Over the past several months, I have been trying out plant care as a means of self-care in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and have noticed a huge difference in my mood, my routines, and overall wellbeing. In addition to traditional forms of therapy and self-care, this experience has shown me that there are a number of other approaches to dealing with stress and trauma that can produce powerful benefits, oftentimes without realizing just how beneficial they are. For example, by placing gardening and plant care into a mental health context and analyzing the results, it becomes clear why so many people choose to take up the hobby.

Plant care, also known as horticulture therapy, is most simply summarized as the use of plants to connect with the self, the community, and nature. Perhaps what makes horticultural therapy so impactful is that “a seed’s journey into a plant parallels the recovery process for those with mental health issues” (Chillag, 2018). Trauma recovery parallels the life of a plant – how plants grow, the patience and care that goes into helping it thrive – it all can be reflected back in the recovery process for individuals.

The discussion surrounding plant care as a means of therapy goes all the way back to the 1800s, and the benefits are extensive (Williams, n.d.). According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, “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.” (Williams, n.d.). It is a form of self-care that can be adjusted to best benefit the participant. For those who are survivors of trauma, plant care can help them “to be more compassionate and empathetic towards those around them” by establishing an easy routine and giving them opportunities to connect with the natural world around them in small ways (DuBois-Maahs, 2019).

Just as it is with our own everyday lives, the realm of criminal justice is not unfamiliar with stress. Within prison and jail populations, there have been noticeably “reduced recidivism rates among inmates who participate in horticultural therapy programs” (Chillag, 2018). The Insight Garden Program was established with a similar goal in mind: to provide inmates with vocational tools, while allowing them to connect with nature and improve their emotional states through plant care (Insight Garden Program, n.d.). The program attempts to reduce some of the pain and trauma that inmates can experience going into and through the prison system, while providing them with the educational and emotional tools to improve their lives when they are released. Through this plant care routine, inmates are given some personal control in their lives in an impactful way that allows them to “engage in healthy lifestyle choices” and that sets them up for a better chance at success in life (Rousseau, 2021).

Starting with tiny plant cuttings that I received from my neighbors, I have been able to grow out vines and beautiful leaves. With each new leaf that unfurls, it feels like a reward for the work that I have put in. With this in mind, for inmates who are given limited time outside, who live under constant stress in a carceral setting, and who are dealing with the impacts of previous trauma in their lives, this use of plant care as a means of regaining control in their lives would be incredibly impactful.

Plants I have grown from cuttings over the past several months.


Chillag, A. (2018, August 3). Gardening becomes healing with horticultural therapy. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/03/health/sw-horticultural-therapy/index.html.

DuBois-Maahs, J. (2019, December 28). What Even Is Plant Therapy? Talkspace. https://www.talkspace.com/blog/plant-therapy/.

Insight Garden Program – Connection through nature. Insight Garden Program. (n.d.). https://insightgardenprogram.org/.

Rousseau, D. (2021). Module 1: Introduction to Trauma [Lecture Notes]. Boston University Metropolitan College.

Williams, S. (n.d.). About Horticultural Therapy. American Horticultural Therapy Association. https://www.ahta.org/what-is-horticultural-therapy.

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