Horticulture: Therapy for all, a prescription for some By Rita Lynn

Did you ever wonder why so many fabrics used in our homes and for our clothing have plant and flower patterns?  Have you had the opportunity to take advantage of the natural environments that fine hotels build, at great expense, in their indoor public spaces?  Are you right now perusing seed catalogs and yearning for gardening weather to return?  We humans appear to be programmed to enjoy green, living environments.

Shade Garden.JPG

As early as 2000 B.C., stressed monarchs were prescribed walks in their gardens to calm their senses.  Records from around 500 B.C. indicate that Persians created gardens that stimulated all the senses by incorporating visual beauty, appealing fragrances, cooling temperatures, and music in the form of flowing water.  Now leap forward to current times.  We have come to recognize a number of positive effects when we engage in activities related to horticulture.


Gardening keeps us active.  It is easier for many of us to work off the suggested weekly amount of exercise in our gardens than it is to adhere to an aerobics routine.  In fact, we’re likely to spend even more than the suggested amount of time, working both our upper and lower bodies, without even realizing we’re doing so.  In turn, we can lower our blood pressure, burn calories, and address all those other factors that help stave off such modern banes as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.  Meanwhile, we are increasing strength, stamina, and flexibility, and we are out in the sun (being sure to use sunscreen to block harmful rays), allowing our bodies to absorb vitamin D.  We can help children develop a sense of responsibility when we give them seeds and a garden patch, and they will be more likely to try vegetables they have helped grow and harvest, than the ones that just appear on their plates from the grocery store.


We know there are psychological benefits as well.  Although even a few plants on the patio can keep us from being self-centered and self-absorbed, a garden also allows us to escape from the bustle of our lives and rest in the simple beauty and in the soothingly rhythmic qualities of growing things.  In the garden, we can focus on the here and now instead of the worries and stresses of the past and future.  Or we can vent our anger by hoeing, chopping, tamping, and all those more rigorous tasks a garden might require.


Simply breathing outdoor air has been shown to have benefits.  Studies have suggested that bacteria that live in soil, M. vaccae, can produce increased serotonin levels in humans.  Thus, when we stir up these bacteria by “playing in the dirt” of our gardens, or even when we just go outside and breathe the air around us, we might experience reduced anxiety and a lighter mood.


The benefits can go on and on.  Better sleep after our exercise outdoors, increased hand strength, improved self-esteem, better nutrition through eating the healthy produce we harvest and increased social contact are all listed as positive impacts of gardening.  Gardening can also influence the family budget.  The produce raised decreases the food bill, and a pleasantly landscaped lot can increase the value of our homes.

Recently, researchers have worked to quantify the benefits of engaging in horticultural activities.  A 2006 study demonstrated that gardening could lower the risk of dementia, and people with dementia have shown reduced agitation and improved cognition and sleep patterns.  In general, studies in several areas have statistically demonstrated that therapy in horticulture settings can reduce pain and stress, improve attention, decrease the use of medications, and reduce falls.  For example, one study had subjects participate in a stressful activity followed either by 30 minutes of indoor reading or 30 minutes of gardening.  Both groups reported reduced stress, but the group who gardened experienced a significantly greater level of stress relief.



With all these experienced and even statistically supported benefits of gardening, it seems as if it is as good as therapy.  Well, way back in 1812, Dr. Benjamin Rush, often called the father of American Psychiatry, published a book, Medical Inquiries and Observations Upon Diseases of the Mind.  In it, Dr. Rush noted that one of the activities that separated those who recovered from “mania” from those who did not, was “digging in a garden.” (Detweiler et al. article)  Because of that, the hospital grounds provided paths through landscaped areas for patient wandering.  Eventually, psychiatric hospitals all over the United States included horticultural activities for their clients.


Hospitals also found gardening and agricultural activities benefited veterans returning from WWI.  Consequently, occupational and recreational therapists began using horticulture activities as mental health treatment modalities.  Later, in 1959, a greenhouse was built at the Rusk Institute in New York City to go beyond addressing psychiatric issues, to assisting in diagnosis and physical rehabilitation.  Finally, in 1972, the Menninger Foundation and the Horticulture Department at the University of Kansas worked together to train students studying in the mental health field.  This, then, was the first Horticulture Therapy (HT) curriculum in the United States.

Since that time, the use of HT has grown to include treatment for a wide range of diagnoses and has been accepted as an effective therapeutic modality in rehabilitation, vocational and community settings.  HT’s can be found working in a wide range of places.  These include hospitals, programs for people with developmental impairments, adult day treatment facilities, special education schools, programs for at-risk youth, hospice programs, and community and public gardens.


Professionals with degrees in related fields, who have a special interest in horticulture as a modality, can enroll in programs leading to a certificate in HT.  Those who have completed bachelor’s degrees can also work toward registration by the American Horticultural Therapy Association.  Included in the requirements for this recognition is a 480-hour internship in horticultural therapy as a treatment modality.

As you see, there are many reasons why our interest and involvement in gardening and other plant-related pursuits are good for us.  You can legitimately call it therapy!  So pick up those seed catalogs and dream away.  That alone is an act of faith that the world around us will again be green and full of beautiful growing things.



What are the physical and mental benefits of gardening?www.msue.anr.msu.edu/news/what_are_the_physical_and_mental_benefits_of_gardening

5 surprising ways gardening improves your health,” www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/5-surprising-ways-gardening-improves-your-health

What is the evidence to support the use of therapeutic gardens for the elderly?” Mark B. Detweiler et al., www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3372556/

Petal power: why is gardening so goo for our mental health?www.psychologytoday.com/blog/worry-and-panic/2015/petal-power-why-is-gardening-so-goo-for-our-mental-health

Horticultural Therapy,” www.ahta.org/history-of-horticultural-therapy

Professional registration with the American Horticultural Therapy Association,” www.ahta.org/professional-registration

Horticultural therapy as a career,” www.ahta.org/a-career-in-horticultural-therapy

Horticultural therapy careers,” www.htinstitute.org/horticultural-therapy-careers

A History Rewritten-1997 by Paul Kammerdiner



In this photo, the red line shows the area we will begin to develop first. North is to the right on the photo, so Hawkeye is to the West of the site.

We are now establishing our routine and begin the year with what will be known as the annual meeting or the annual retreat, again this year meetings are held at Hawkeye.


  • Annual Retreat

Winter is the time for brainstorming new ideas for the next growing season, to have some fun too!

Last year one element of the Master Plan Phase One-A had been started, the beginning of the Arboretum aspect of the site by planting the Sesquicentennial Forest. This same part of the plan also calls for a nursery, a material storage area/service building, an access road, temporary parking, and a siltation pond. Plans for this year are to complete all of these except the pond.

An ambitious agenda: let’s see how the year unfolded beginning with:


  • Early Clean Up

This would correspond to what we now call “waking up the gardens”, at this time there wasn’t much to wake up. There was, however, a great deal of space to clear.

These are the days before the ordinance that forbade burning and the days before we had a mowing crew and this is how we handled taming the wilderness. We burned the weeds!


Some cleanup is done just by pulling stuff out; notice the entrance in the background of this photo, it still is just a stock gate. The area that looks like it may be crushed asphalt is what was adjacent to the tower and was the first parking area. The service road system to the West did not exist until later in the year.

  • Easter Egg Hunt

This is a repeat event and looks to be popular with the kids


  • Herb Club Picnic

Early on, the Cedar Valley is discovering that the Arboretum is a great place to gather.

  • Winter Fest

Took place over at Hawkeye and was kid oriented and indoors.



  • Storage area/service building; called the Head House


We are still in Phase One-A of the Master Plan. This building was located more to the Southwest in the plan-about where the barn is now. I did not find any documentation that told me why it ended up where it is now, but about in this spot on the Master Plan is a building called the Temporary Visitor’s Center.

Construction began in June. Fundraising was carried out by a committee chaired by Craig Gibleon. They established a fund of $15,000. Tom Walton and the U.S. West Telephone Pioneers volunteered to organize construction.

This national community service organization would contribute many volunteer hours during these early years.

Notice on the image below, the red dot is where the service building was supposed to be. The green dot is the entry road, and the blue dot is where the head house was built.

The completed Head House; notice that there are a few White Spruce trees to the North but no parking lot, or access road.

  • Nursery

This is one more element of the Master Plan and was implemented this year

These berms of mulch formed the first Nursery and it was located to the East of the Head House where the Arrival Garden and the back of the Rose Garden are now.

From photos over the years, it appears that all sorts of plants were grown here

  • Access Road

This Master Plan element was to lead to the temporary parking lot and it did eventually do that. For right now it connects the entrance to the Head House.

  • Tool Sheds

This is not really a Master Plan element but the decision has been made to start on the Community Gardens which are located on the Master Plan up on tower hill.

This location is the red dot on the image below and you can see that they were originally pretty close to that location until they were moved farther West in later years.


An article in the Arboretum newsletter talks about building sheds to keep tools for people to use when working in the Community Gardens. It also talks about these structures being used for shade.

Some lime-gravel walkways were also added in this area.

You can see the little shade seating area in the front

Notice here that there are two sheds, one closer to the tower and one farther North, they are connected with a gravel path. The farthest one has nothing to the North of it except a corn field. This land to the North is part of the Arboretum site but until we were ready to develop it, Hawkeye used it for their Agriculture Classes.


  • Community Gardens

I mentioned these gardens in our previous stop on the timeline and said they are on the Master Plan, the image below shows where they were and we put them fairly close to that spot. (see the red dot)


These plots were laid out last year and are to the East of the tower where the Display Garden is now, they would later be moved over to the West. I didn’t find any photos of this year’s gardens in bloom.


  • Wattle Garden

This year the annuals are decorative Kale and Cabbage


The next images that I found show some new gardens that are planted and I am beginning to speculate again. There is a garden on the master plan called Annual/Arrival Garden. Here is part of the description of the plan: “the arrival garden should be simple, colorful, and change from year to year”

There is a spot on the Master Plan called, Annuals (see the red dot on the image) and I wonder if the next few gardens were an attempt at incorporating some Annual Gardens into the site.


Perhaps, the Wattle Garden falls into this category as well. If so, they were moved farther West, up by the Community Gardens. I should probably make note of the fact that, present day, we have gardens we call Annual Gardens and one we call the Arrival Garden, they are very different from these early ones, but kind of similar. I will make further note of them when we get there on our time journey.


  • Iris Garden


  • Raised Beds Gardens


  • Trial Gardens


  • Wheel Garden


  • Tulip Garden

We received a donation of tulip bulbs from Platts, these were planted up by the Tower.

  • Herb Garden

This is another garden from the master plan; here is how it is described:

“the visitor will venture from the Walled Garden into a warm, sunny garden with stone paving and large pots filled with silver leafed plants reminiscent of sun-drenched Mediterranean gardens. The south wall of the Walled Garden will provide reflected heat and light, making this space a delightful contrast to the shady walk through adjacent gardens. Herbs for cooking, medicine, dye, and fragrance will be grouped in display beds.”

The image below gives us an orientation of where they are talking about from the Master Plan (red dot is the herb garden)


This is the first layout for the Herb Garden, started by the Herb Club: it remains in this same spot, present day, but is farther West from the location on the Master Plan.


  • Green Scene Garden

I mentioned that Green Scene has had gardens at CVABG from the start, this year one of their gardens was a project for the Food Bank.


Delivery of the produce to the Food Bank


Tree Species Number Planted
Black Maple 4
Variegated Norway Maple 1
Silver Queen Maple 1
River Birch 1
Northern Catalpa 6
Techny Arborvitae 2
Redbud 4
Sunburst Locust 1
White Oak 1
Northern Red Oak 5
Bur Oak 7
Scarlet Oak 1
Shingle Oak 2
Pin Oak 2
Ohio Buckeye 2
Horse Chestnut 1
Shagbark Hickory 1
Bitternut Hickory 1
Autumn Purple Ash 2
Lodge Pole Pine 1
Austrian Pine 1
American Basswood 1
Little Leaf Linden 1


I know where many of these trees are so I can tell you that some of them were planted just East of where the annual beds are being planted in 1997, while some of these were planted across the creek toward Hess Road.


Here is the River Birch planted this year- it is over to the West by what is now the Barn, you can also see the ones planted last year.


And the Sesquicentennial Forest has had a year to grow.



The driving force will always be the volunteers. As you have noticed in the photos EVERYTHING is accomplished through the dedicated people that love the CVABG.

1997 was a year of great progress and interest is building within the community!


Back into our time machine and on to 1998.