“The gardening enthusiast who comes home from a stressful day at work and hoes in his or her vegetable garden for an hour may be reaping positive mental and emotional results// from that activity — but that’s not the same thing as horticultural therapy,” Airhart explained.
“Horticultural therapy is a clinical process with measurable objectives and outcomes that are closely monitored by a medical team of therapists or rehabilitation professionals,” he said.
Because of his interest and expertise in the field, Airhart is often called on to lead workshops — such as one he led recently at the Memphis Botanic Garden.
Clara Ray, a technical horticultural specialist who’s working on a project in Putnam County’s Dry Valley Alternative School, attended the session.
“The workshop really helped me put in perspective the specific issues of assessing children with behavioral problems, as opposed to children — and even adults — with mental or physical disabilities, who are the clients for many of the other workshop participants,” she said.
“I know plants have had a major impact on my own life, so I will feel good if I can use plants to help just one other person turn their life around,” Ray said.
In addition to addressing a wide range of client issues, horticultural therapy also draws attention to a wide range of environmental aspects, Airhart said, such as the relaxing response people have to the color green.
“What I like best about it is that — at its core — horticultural therapy has the ability to increase self-esteem and self-confidence on both individual and social levels,” he said.
“It can be as simple as taking a cutting from a plant, rooting it in soil, giving it to someone as a gift and seeing them smile, but horticultural therapy teaches people skills they can use to help make themselves and others happy,” Airhart continued.
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