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Horticulture Therapy

Christine Berkner

This blog post is guest written by CenterLight’s Regional Day Health Center Director, Christine Berkner, BFA, MS.

Growing up in Queens, I was extremely lucky to have an unusually large back yard and a mother with an insatiable love for gardening. After moving out, I missed the beautiful blooms of my mother’s garden and tried my hand at indoor potted gardening. I soon expanded into herbs and vegetables. Now in my work at CenterLight Teamcare, I work to make sure participants enjoy the benefits of horticulture therapy.

What is Horticulture Therapy?

Gardening is a great activity for people of all ages and has many therapeutic benefits. At many of our CenterLight Teamcare PACE centers and ACS locations, participants engage in horticulture therapy by growing and tending indoor houseplants, as well as flowers, vegetables, and herbs in outdoor raised garden beds and containers.

Benefits of horticulture therapy

  • Gardening offers a return to a caregiving role that many seniors miss. As children and grandchildren age and after retirement from careers, gardening is an outlet for seniors to care for living things that grow with their care and dedication.

  • Gardening is a hobby that encourages you to continue learning and dedicate time and energy to. You can research new tips, techniques, plants to grow, and recipes to cook using the herbs or vegetables you grow. You also can make new friends if you participate in a community garden or club.

  • Gardening provides hope as the gardeners anticipate growth of flowers and vegetables.

  • Gardening can support good nutrition. It is exciting to grow your own produce, which may encourage you to eat healthier or add your home grown herbs and veggies. Using freshly grown herbs to meals adds flavor, encouraging better appetite and intake. Growing herbs like mint and adding to a pitcher of water for drinking may motivate people to drink more, staying hydrated in warm weather months.

  • Gardening can strengthen physical status, either on a full body scale if one is gardening in large beds or containers, or fine motor skills. Weeding, pruning, and watering requires exercise of hands, fingers and arms as well as hand and eye coordination.

While it would be wonderful for everyone to have access to green spaces, community gardens, or back yards, gardening is an activity that can bring life to smaller spaces like apartments. Not to mention, starting plants from seed is an inexpensive way to try out gardening, and there are a lot of thrifty ways to repurpose household items! For example, most dollar stores sell small bags of potting soil and seed packets during growing season, as well as gardening gloves and containers. The first step to starting your garden is planting seeds, which can easily be done at home and indoors.

Egg Carton Seed Starters

Egg cartons can be recycled into seed starters for your garden. Try it yourself by following these steps:

  1. Fill each segment with potting soil and planting a few seeds in each space as per the seed packet directions.

  2. Keep the seed starters by a sunny window or use a fluorescent light if you have limited sunlight available.

  3. Water sparingly, only to keep soil damp to the touch. As plants grow, you will notice that some are stronger than others and may want to thin out the seedlings to let stronger stems thrive.

  4. As the plants get larger, transplant to a larger pot. Prune off dried up leaves and spent flowers to encourage new growth.

  5. If your plants are getting tall, give them some support! Any long and thin object in combination with some string can serve as a plant support.

Once you give gardening a try, keep exploring new options! Strawberries, cherry tomatoes, and salad greens grow well indoors. While any kind of herb does well, my favorites to have on hand are cilantro for adding to my homemade salsa and Thai basil for stir fry. Geraniums and zinnias produce beautiful flowers and grow well from seed. Even a mini rose bush can do well indoors. Ironically, even in an apartment garden the sky is the limit – just about anything can be grown indoors!

Tips for Gardening Indoors

  • The sunnier the better, or be sure to use a grow light (fluorescent bulb works well).

  • Room temperature should be mild, so don’t put plants right next to the air conditioner! Temperatures in the 70-75° range are comfortable for plants AND humans!

  • Indoor plants need humidity, so mist them every day, group them close together, or use a humidifier. Humidifiers are good for you and your plants!

  • Use potting soil. Don’t plant indoor plants or seeds with outdoor soil.

  • Find the right amount of watering. Pay attention to your plants to water the right amount. Plants that get too much water will wilt, droop and yellow. Plants that do not have enough water have browned edges and may lose their flowers too soon.

Finally, share your newly found love of gardening with someone: a neighbor, your grandchild, a new friend. For me, sharing my mother’s love of gardening holds a special place in my heart. Her influence is evident in my home, my yard and even in the work that I do. I hope I have inspired you to try your hand at growing a garden and to bringing beauty and life into your home ♥


CenterLight Teamcare is committed to providing accurate information to help individuals live well, stay healthy and make well-informed healthcare and health-related decisions. Information in this material is strictly educational. For information about our program, please call: 1-877-212-8877 (TTY 711), 8AM - 8PM, Monday - Friday. Representatives or message service also available on weekends.


H3329_2019_BLOGHorticultureTherapy Approved 07022019
Last updated June 24, 2019

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