Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Horticulture Therapy

The fresh air and sight of growing plants are good for the soul.
Behind the greens at one of the arboretum's horticulture therapy classes.

As many runners, golfers and children can attest, there's something different about playing outside. And for others with health ailments, being in nature benefits their well-being, as noted through studies on horticulture therapy.

"Therapeutic horticulture is the purposeful use of plants and plant-related activities to promote health and wellness… [And] one seemingly magical effect of gardening is stress relief,” says Jean Larson, horticultural therapist, in her University of Minnesota Extension report, Accessible Gardening for Therapeutic Horticulture, co-written with Anne Hancheck, former Minnesota extension horticulturalist, and intern Paula Vollmar.

Larson says, “Emotional benefits of gardening may derive in part from the sense of the natural rhythm of life that plants and gardens impart.”

Minnetonka resident Dale Antonson knows just what she means. He explains that being outside helps people keep connected with living things. “It’s a spiritual thing,” says Antonson. “I think it’s more important that people realize.”

Nurturing this connection with nature may sound out there for some, but Antonson explains the benefits he’s seen as a volunteer at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska and at Struthers Parkinson’s Center in Golden Valley. The horticultural therapy programs at these sites gives people with disabilities or limited mobility the chance to be social, breath oxygen-rich air from plants and take care of something living. And, he says, gardening tends to make people stop focusing on their limitations.

Gardens are made accessible to people of all abilities with some smart planning. Raised beds lift plants up to those in wheelchairs. Window boxes bring plants straight to a person’s lap. Hanging baskets sit at eye-level for people to see the powerful impact they have on making things grow.

Horticulture therapy programs have been in practice at the Arboretum since 1992, with a focus on promoting personal control of situations, self awareness of one’s capabilities, and responsibility and hope with every new beginning that comes with a budding plant.

And it’s a win-win situation for participants in the horticulture therapy programs and volunteers, as Antonson says volunteering “really makes you feel worthwhile and makes you feel like you’re giving back.” Plus, he says, things are put into perspective for volunteers who realize that most of our problems are “minimal compared to what others are going through.”

How Antonson got into volunteering for area horticulture therapy programs dates back to before he retired as lieutenant of the St. Louis Park Fire Department in September 2008. Before that 22-year-long career, he was a groundskeeper at Jones-Harrison Residence, the Cedar Lake senior home in Minneapolis. Antonson wanted to keep working outside and give back to the community, so he contacted Larson, program director of the Center for Therapeutic Horticulture at the Arboretum. He enjoys having more time to volunteer now, and by just giving a couple hours a week at the Arboretum and the Parkinson’s center, he logged in 140 hours in 2010.

Give yourself energy and relax by volunteering outside at the Arboretum. Volunteers maintain vegetable gardens, plant seeds, prune and more, while Parkinson’s Center volunteers can do more one-on-one activities, like creating fun treats with what’s grown in the garden as when Antonson made vegetable pizzas, salads and flower cut arrangements. You can become a volunteer at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum by attending a New Volunteer Orientation.


Adding a garden to the home is another great way to reap the benefits of being out in nature. This month, check out these two classes in the Snyder Building at the Arboretum:

Selecting and Using Native Trees, Shrubs and Woodland Wildflowers
May 21  Learn how to create a great oasis to escape from stress. $40, $30 for members. 10 a.m.–12:30 p.m.

Selecting and Using Native Prairie Flowers in the Home Landscape
May 28  Prairie plants look great as a year-round feature in your garden. $40, $30 for members. 10 a.m.–12:30 p.m.

Register online at arboretum.umn.edu or call 952.443.1422.