About Therapeutic Horticulture at UF

Therapeutic horticulture participants

Mission of the Therapeutic Horticulture Program

To improve the quality of life of individuals with special needs through gardening and advance empirical research on the value of therapeutic horticulture

The mission of the Therapeutic Horticulture Program at Wilmot Gardens is to improve lives through engaging with horticulture.  The program is situated at the nexus of the gardens’ commitment to patient care, education, and research, drawing on key partnerships with UF’s Department of Environmental Horticulture in the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and UF Health, which includes the Southeast’s largest and most comprehensive academic health center.

Since its inception, the program has served a variety of vulnerable populations with special needs including veterans with spinal cord injury/disease and mental illness, stroke patients, cancer survivors, patients with end stage renal disease, individuals with movement disorders, and young adults with autism. Caregivers of these groups are also included. In addition to educating these individuals about various horticultural techniques, the program promotes several therapeutic benefits, including socialization, intellectual and sensory stimulation, respite and relaxation, stress reduction, increased confidence, improvement in coping skills and restoration from mental fatigue.

The therapeutic horticulture program represents one of the nation’s leading examples of a model demonstration facility, where programming and research are both conducted on site to explore the efficacy and breadth of therapeutic horticulture. Data is collected on many of the program groups through a variety of measurement tools. Wilmot Botanical Gardens will continue to contribute to and shape the field of therapeutic horticulture through rigorous, multidisciplinary research efforts.

These efforts are important because, to date, much of the evidence in support of the benefits of therapeutic horticulture is merely anecdotal. By conducting rigorous research, Wilmot Botanical Gardens can contribute to the growing body of evidence that gardening has measurable and positive impacts on individuals’ stress levels, sense of well-being and self-efficacy, among other benefits, which in turn influence health status and quality of life. It is hoped that evidence-based research will encourage health insurance companies to cover such activities as part of a person’s therapy regimen, like medication, counseling or physical therapy.

“It makes for a comfortable atmosphere, and not all atmospheres are comfortable when you have Parkinson’s.”  ~ Pat Mitchell, program participant

“It’s really calm in here. It’s just a very happy, peaceful building.”  ~ Tom Mitchell, program participant

The Therapeutic Horticulture Program at Wilmot Gardens strives to offer programming to participants free of charge through grant funding and private philanthropy. Past activities have received funding from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, Dialysis Clinic Incorporated and Paralyzed Veterans of America.