top of page

Do It YourSelf-Care DIY-Care Garden Therapy!

Originally posted May 29, 2012.

”Therapeutic horticulture...provides positive distraction and attentional engagement…(which) mediates decline for anxiety and depressive symptoms…” Garcia et al, 2010)

I have been a gardener for most of adult life. Since before I was married, about 25 years now. It’s a pretty intense hobby of mine.

I’ve lived in three houses as an adult.

You gardeners know what that means!

At one house I did mostly container gardening. We had a fenced in yard, no deer eating anything, so I grew lots of tomatoes and other veggies, plus my husband and I did a major basil harvest every year and froze many, many containers of fresh pesto, that was yummy!

My second house was on thirty acres of northeastern hardwood forest. I learned a lot about planting to foil the deer, about wild orchids, mayflower and trillium. I had a giant wisteria vine growing on a large wooden wall in front of the house. We hiked our property all the time, almost every day. There was a fallen tree at the bottom edge of our property. We called it the Grandfather Tree, and my son balanced on it when he was young, walking along its giant trunk.

One day as we walked, there was a tremendous black bear in a clearing in the woods, pulling something out of a hollow in a tree. He looked up at us, right into my eyes. I broke eye contact, took my son’s hand, backed away for a bit, then turned and walked away. I looked over my shoulder. Man, I was scared. He was staring right at us, following us with his eyes, until the forest blocked his vision. I had a lot of scenarios running through my head that day! Whew!

At our home on 30 acres, my son & planted over 300 daffodils over the years. We had a long row of rose-colored peonies which bloomed all at once. Good remembrances for us.

My third house, the one we live in now, is on 2 rocky, hilly acres in Kinnelon, NJ. Gardening is a challenge here, more so than anywhere else. There are lots of deer! While beautiful and peaceful to watch, the deer have cost me a pretty penny in landscaping! Over the years, I have learned to cope with the deer, the rocks, the shade.

We have lived here about 10 years. Because of the challenges, this perennial garden has taken about seven years to mature; my garden is finally starting to look lush and green.

I feel good when I work the soil. I literally feel the healing energy of the trees and bushes.

My big purchase this year was an Itoh Peony. Developed in Japan by Toichi Itoh in 1948, the Itoh Peony is a hybrid of the tree peony and the herbaceous peony; they are also called a intersectional peonies. Mr. Itoh developed a bushy, large plant which produces many large, colorful flowers over a long period of time.

In the 1940’s, Toichi Itoh worked hard, preparing over 20,000 plant crosses, in his quest to hybridize the Itoh Peony. He worked in the shadow of Hiroshima, and his art was healing to him. His last hybridization was successful, it flowered. But he passed away before seeing the first flowering Itoh Peony. But he was successful in his work, and now the beautiful and inspiring Itoh Peonies are widely available.

A joyful addition to our world. Mr. Itoh left the world a better place.

The Itoh Peonies used to be $3,000 and above, affordable only to the wealthy collector, but this year they have come down to about $60 – $100. Max Is Back, my local greenhouse, had some. Cynthia, who works there, has a Master’s in Horticulture from Rutgers University, told me all about the history of Mr. Itoh.

And I am honored to have one in my garden.

I can feel Mr. Itoh’s healing energy emanating from the plant.

Cynthia told me to place a stone Buddha near the plant to enhance its healing energy.

I am in search of this Buddha now.

So what is it about gardens and people? Being a therapist, I can cite research about how garden therapy (horticultural therapy) positively impacts depression and anxiety.

Horticultural therapy provides: an increase in pleasant activity, psychological distance from daily demands, and a pleasant and engaging attentional diversion (meditative-like for the mind). Three months in a gardening program for clinically depressed persons was shown to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression during and for at least three months after ending the program (Garcia et al, 2010).

Being a gardener, I can say from personal experience how pleasant it is to be absorbed in my gardening hobby. How when I am working in my garden or planning my gardening activities, I am removed from my own worries and thoughts about my business, about my clients, about global warming, etc. I also feel a sense of accomplishment when I see the results of long-term efforts (years) come to fruition.

So, if you are feeling lonely, depressed, anxious, having a garden, even a small container garden, has been shown by research to relieve symptoms of depression, reduce stress, provide a source for a meditative escape and expand your emotional repertoire.

It’s just another way to enhance your life = Increase Joy, Decrease Drama. Call it self-help, call it a mindbody practice…it’s just another way to put more joy in your life and help manage emotions!

Do you have a gardening hobby you’d like to share?

Love to see a picture!


Gonzalez, M., Hartig, T., Patil, G., Martinsen, E. W., & Kirkevold, M. (2010). Therapeutic horticulture in clinical depression: a prospective study of active components. Journal Of Advanced Nursing, 66(9), 2002-2013. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2010.05383.x


bottom of page