Under the Glass: News from the Greenhouse

It has been quiet in the greenhouse during the past month – because of the heat we stop running therapeutic horticulture (TH) programming in the summer. And although we miss our TH participants, the break allows us to get some much-needed greenhouse cleaning and organization done. Summer is also a time that I use to write, update the HT Certificate courses, and work on grants and research projects.

Speaking of research, our newest project at the greenhouse was a pilot study that we ran this spring with Dr. Mike Sein and Dr. Heather Vincent from UF’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. This feasibility study involved two groups of patients with chronic lower back pain. Traditionally, clinical treatment for back pain includes a combination of physical therapy and pain medication. However, there has been an increased interest from physicians and patients for non-pharmacological treatments. Therapeutic horticulture has the potential to be one of those options by combining both physical and psychological components during the intervention. Our study aimed to 1) determine the effectiveness of a single TH session in reducing pain and improving function in individuals with low back pain, and 2) assess the feasibility of TH as a treatment intervention.

Study participants went through a series of planting and propagation activities incorporating a variety of edible plants. The activities were designed to encourage movement in a way which might be beneficial in helping reduce pain. Although we don’t yet know the results of the pilot study, the participants enjoyed the experience, and we hope the data will illustrate that TH is worth pursuing as a supplemental intervention for people struggling with chronic back pain.

Coincidentally, this spring I was also invited to participate in the new Nature-Based Rehabilitation Medicine Task Force of the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine. We will be presenting a session at this year’s annual conference entitled Nature as Co-Therapist in Rehabilitation. I hope to connect with other physicians interested in exploring the potential of therapeutic horticulture in rehabilitative medicine. This partnership also took me to Kuala Lumpur in March where I spent some time with a rehabilitation physician, physiatrist, and occupational therapist discussing their work with patients and touring the Therapeutic Sensory Stimulation Garden at the University of Malaya Medical Centre. It was exciting, and we hope to partner in a research project in the near future. There is so much we can learn together.

Happy Summer!

Elizabeth “Leah” Diehl, RLA, HTM
Lecturer, Dept. of Environmental Horticulture, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Director of Therapeutic Horticulture, Wilmot Botanical Gardens, College of Medicine