It is possible that gardening could contribute to improved mental health and help ease the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Some doctors think so, and their patients and clients would agree.
Horicultural therapy was first introduced by Dr. Benjamin Rush, who used it with patients with mental illnesses back in the 1800s. After World War II, gardening was used as part of the rehabilitation program for hospitalized war veterans, which got people looking at horticulture as therapy in a different light. Since then, therapeutic gardens have gained popularity for both veterans and civilians.
Jullia Falke, co-founder of Boulder Crest Retreat in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Bluemont, Virginia states,“Anyone who has tried their hand at gardening has felt the difference that it can make in their life. We believe in getting veterans into gardening and it is why we built the Wallis Annenberg Heroes Garden, the nation’s second handicapped-accessible walled garden. It provides combat veterans and their families with the chance to engage in a calming and peaceful activity, and focuses them on the subject of healthy eating and nutrition. It’s one small part of what we do, but it makes a significant difference.”
Veteran Eric Grandon found help through a USDA program called Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture. Grandon, a veteran of several wars and peace missions who was struggling with PTSD, seemed an unlikely candidate for the farm life when he met founder James McCormick. McCormick convinced him to try sorghum farming. Grandon agreed, but soon was farming dozens of kinds of vegetables as well, built a greenhouse and a barn, and began raising bees. Grandon even received a grand from the USDA to build a high tunnel system for farming lettuce, which he provides to four county school systems.
The mental health benefits of gardening include a reduction of stress and anxiety, increased sense of community, improvement in alertness/focus and cognitive abilities, sense of fulfillment. Perhaps one of the greatest benefits is that it provides an environment of peace and calm away from a therapeutic, institutional feeling space like an office or hospital.