Do It YourSelf-Care DIY-Care Garden Therapy!


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

Photo: K. Morelli

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

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13 Responses to “Do It YourSelf-Care DIY-Care Garden Therapy!”

  • Kathy, gardening is so therapeutic. Even pulling weeds or watering feels relaxing to me. Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed reading about the struggles and triumphs at each home. So like life, each strafe is full of struggles and triumphs.

  • I love gardening! I’m still trying to navigate which plants and trees are shade-tolerant for Southern Cali, and figure out exactly how many hours of direct sunlight our small front area gets…

    I agree with Barb–even pulling weeds feels like progress at doing something…maybe it’s the earthiness of it all, or feeling at one with the soil, that’s so grounding. I used to do a lot of container gardening–maybe I’ll pick that up again this summer.

    Yes–the therapeutic benefits of gardening are as plentiful as the daffodils your son planted over the years :).

    Thanks for the reminder. On the nightly walk with the “sledders” I’m always admiring others’ gardens. Off to go get some horticulture therapy…
    Linda Esposito recently posted..Why Hope’s a BitchMy Profile

    • Hey Linda – You are so funny! I think looking at gardens is therapeutic too! LOL – no work and lots of deep breathing!
      Californina dry shade is not something I know much about! Only NJ wet shade!
      take care, K

  • I’m a beginning gardener with tentatively beginning with basil, and camomile. My daughter-in-law and granddaughter gave me some rosemary for mother’s day, so I’m adding that to my garden. The more success that I have, the more that I add. Mostly, I’m setting it up in pots. But, I’m adding more pots each year. It’s wonderful to make that homemade pesto sauce. You”ve given me a little more of an incentive.

  • Great post. I know how therapeutic gardening is, and I SO want to love it. But I’m freaked out by bugs. So that kind of ruins the whole experience for me. Thanks for sharing this post with me. Now I’ve gone and shared it on my blog’s Facebook page. 🙂
    Jaime recently posted..Roadtripping with a Toddler…My Profile

    • Hey Jaime – Well, yes, bugs are annoying! I certainly worry about ticks, so I know where you’re coming from! thanks for sharing with us! take care, Kathy

  • This is my first year as a gardener! We bought our house a year ago, and fortunately, the previous owners had already done a lot of great landscaping, so I’ve just had to maintain the flower beds. We have some spots to fill in future years. My excitement this year is having a vegetable garden, in a raised bed constructed by the previous owners. I really enjoy being outside and showing my young daughter the plants and eating the food that we grew. Now, my job is to figure out how to keep the rabbits out!

    Incidentally, my grandparents are farmers, and until recently, my 80+ year-old grandmother has always had a robust vegetable garden. It’s fun to talk with her about gardening woes, and digging in the dirt, I feel connected to my grandparents who live many miles away.

    Thanks, Kathy!
    Rachelle Norman recently posted..“Still a Child” – A Caregiver’s SongMy Profile

    • Hi Rachelle –

      Sounds great! I’d love to have a veggie garden! We would need to build a pretty solid surrounding fence (eight feet high & a foot in the ground) here to do so! and we just dont have the room or the money to sink into this project! Have fun with your garden!

      take care, Kathy

  • Ronald:

    I can practically imagine your place. It must really be a very nice place to live in. Good for you.
    Ronald recently posted..jamplayMy Profile

  • Hi Kathy, Great Post. I am a newbie gardener and loving every minute. I love how it brings me into the present moment and I love how it teaches my kids about nurturing something. Plus it is fun and therapeutic to play in the dirt. Best, Allison
    Allison Andrews recently posted..How Children LearnMy Profile

  • Kathy, this is a favorite activity of mine. Our current garden activity is vegetables–I want the kids to learn about food and where it comes from. It’s amazing how willing they are to eat vegetables that they pick. The house needs the spare money right now, but eventually the landscaping will get its turn too.
    Ann Becker-Schutte recently posted..Sometimes Self-Care is HardMy Profile

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