Garden Therapy: the benefits of an outdoor life

Garden Therapy: the benefits of an outdoor life

Spending time in your outdoor space, working in your garden, setting up a small vegetable garden or even just relaxing in nature is a true cure-all for the health of body and mind.

The positive effects of a life outdoors have become increasingly evident in recent years, especially for the most "vulnerable" people in the population like children, the elderly and the disabled.

In 2009 "Nature Deficit Disorder" was added as a modern syndrome in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders". This is why practising garden therapy and gardening activities in general is an important aid to combat anxiety, stress, depression and many other illnesses.

So let's take a look at the health benefits of Garden Therapy and how to practise it.

Garden therapy: what it is and its benefits

Garden therapy or Horticultural Therapy is a rehabilitation and therapeutic process that uses gardening activities and direct contact with nature to improve the physical, psychological and social conditions of the persons involved. The activity is organised by expert and professionally trained personnel, often within gardens specifically designed for this activity (Horticultural Therapy Gardens).

The first examples of greenhouses for therapeutic purposes were found in some American hospitals in the second half of the 19th century, but it wasn't until 1973 that the American Horticultural Therapy Association was officially founded, an organisation committed to promoting garden therapy for caring for people and their discomforts and disabilities.

What are the benefits for those who practise Garden Therapy?

Positive effects of Garden Therapy

As we have already seen, talking about Italians' growing passion for gardening, working in green spaces is a relaxing activity that puts you in a good mood, regenerates you and chases away the stresses of everyday life. Indeed, garden therapy offers numerous therapeutic and social benefits, and for this reason it is often used to help treat illnesses (both physical or psychological) that mainly affect children, the elderly and the disabled.

Children and outdoor education

It's an activity well suited for children thanks to its strong educational potential. In fact, contact with greenery and engagement in activities that involve nature instil a respect for the environment, encourage a sense of responsibility and autonomy and contribute to strengthening self-esteem. Furthermore, they encourage the development of sensory stimuli and social skills, making Garden Therapy particularly suitable for children with autism. One of the most innovative proposals of the last years in the field of pedagogy is outdoor education, a method that involves the use of natural environments outside the classroom; this type of teaching allows children to freely explore the surrounding space, playing and experimenting with the different materials that nature has to offer. Also not to be underestimated is the support that outdoor activities can give to counteract a sedentary lifestyle and educate children to be more active.

Garden Therapy to help the elderly

Working in contact with the earth is a very stimulating activity for the elderly, offering them the satisfaction of seeing something grow that has been cultivated with their own hands, at the same time reawakening their motor and cognitive skills. Garden therapy can also be included among the non-pharmacological remedies available to Alzheimer's patients as it stimulates their capacity for attention and the planning of actions. In fact in 2015 the Forget Me Not Garden, a garden designed by landscape architect Annie Pollock for Alzheimer's patients, was presented at the Scottish National Garden Show.

Garden Therapy and disabilities

Garden therapy is often a therapeutic and rehabilitative tool, also employed to support people with physical or psychophysical disabilities. Working the land, sowing seeds and caring for plants are in fact tasks that foster the development of decision-making autonomy and operational self-sufficiency. For the treatment to be effective, the garden must be designed for the disabled, perhaps with modular systems that facilitate movements and, of course, always under the supervision of qualified personnel.

How to practise Garden Therapy at home and outdoors

As we have seen, garden therapy is a real therapeutic activity. However, everyone can enjoy the benefits of contact with nature and Garden Therapy, regardless of the amount of space available. Let's see how:

  • Vegetable garden - if you're lucky enough to have a sufficiently large outdoor space, you can use a small corner to plant and grow some vegetables. During the winter, with an adequate PVC covering for outdoors you can build an actual greenhouse in your outdoor space.

  • Balcony or window sill garden - you don't have to have a big outdoor space to have the satisfaction of cultivating something. In fact, a few jars on the balcony or on the windowsill are enough to plant everything from aromatic herbs to strawberries, tomatoes and lettuce.

  • Shared garden - to combine the passion for growing things and the desire to spend time with others, the ideal solution is to create a rooftop garden on your apartment building's roof, where you can grow fruit and vegetables to serve at home.

We have seen the benefits of Garden Therapy and the ways that it can also be practised in your outdoor space. And for those who don't have a green thumb, there are numerous solutions that allow you to spend moments of wellness in the open air. For example, why not try to turn your outdoor space into a wonderful Feng Shui garden?

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