Under the Glass: News from the Greenhouse

Early last fall I wrote about one of our new therapeutic horticulture programs at WBG; this one for UF students with stress and anxiety. We received a grant from the Love IV Lawrence Foundation that enabled us to create this program and based on reports on mental health concerns among college students, the timing was right. At the time of that writing we were just getting started with the program, and now, two semesters later, we are really excited to report that the program was extremely successful.

Students attended the therapeutic horticulture program once per week for a semester and many opted to participate in the research portion as well, which was aimed at measuring stress, anxiety, and resilience before and after attending the program. We partnered with UF’s Counseling and Wellness Center (CWC) and every week we combined a wellness strategy with a hands-on horticulture activity. Our goals were to help students identify areas of concern, learn strategies to address those concerns, build community and support, learn to use plants and nature to increase wellness, and build confidence in caring for plants.

Following the first semester our research found that those students who participated for at least 8 weeks in the fall reported decreased anxiety and increased overall academic resilience, as well as in the sub areas of perseverance and ability to manage negative affect.

Following the second semester with a larger sample size, we found that those students who participated for at least 8 weeks in the spring reported decreased stress, decreased anxiety, increased general resilience, and increased overall academic resilience, as well as in the sub areas of increased perseverance, increased ability to manage negative affect, and increased help seeking behavior. All findings were statistically significant, and I believe we can say that without a doubt, this program had a positive effect on the student’s lives. The numbers speak for themselves, but so do the students, as the two examples below indicate: 

The student wellness group is amazing. In the few months I have been a part of this group, I have watched my sleeping habits improve, my anxiety lessen, and my activity has increased. The combination of working with plants and mindfulness works wonders. Every group meeting is thoughtful and helpful. I have enjoyed this experience immensely, and I think everyone could benefit from it.

This program is a great way to destress and provides an opportunity for self-care. Each week I learn about new and healthy ways to cope with stress and anxiety in a warm and welcoming environment. I look forward to this program every week and I always leave feeling calm and refreshed.

After the positive results of the fall semester, Dean Turner generously supported the program in the spring semester so that we could increase the number of students served. Unfortunately, we do not have funds to continue this program next fall. We know that the burden on the CWC to support students is tremendous and not expected to decrease anytime soon. If we can provide this low cost, non-invasive program to help alleviate the pressure on the CWC and help prevent students from moving into an acute stage of need, then we all win. You can be sure that we will continue to seek funding to keep this program going – don’t hesitate to let us know if you have any ideas!

Happy Summer!

Elizabeth “Leah” Diehl, RLA, HTM

Director of Therapeutic Horticulture
Lecturer, Environmental Horticulture Department
Certificate in Horticultural Therapy