Last Updated on October 25, 2018 by Dr. Alberto Solà

Believe it or not, getting outside and playing in the dirt can do wonders for your recovery process!  Growing and tending to plants in a garden has a wide variety of benefits that can support you on your journey; while growing flowers and plants and fruits and vegetables and herbs, you will find that you can grow a lot yourself, too.  Quite a powerful parallel can be made between the slow, nurturing growth of plants and the slow, nurturing growth of addiction recovery for the self.  Helping seeds grow into strong plants that produce food or beauty and help you to cultivate these things inside of you as well.  Many lessons can be learned through this passion and art, including patience, compassion, self-worth, self-confidence, and more, and gardening can help alleviate depression, anxiety, and other mental health struggles.  It can improve your physical health, and can even help you to avoid relapse, too!  Read on to learn about the wonders of this centuries-old hobby, and the ways it can help you on your path.

Gardening as Medicine

For many hundreds if not thousands of years, doctors who treated kings, queens, and other royalty understood the mental health benefits of getting outdoors and spending time around things that are growing.   These physicians often recommended walking in gardens to alleviate mental health problems and realized that by doing so, the subject could reduce the intensity and occurrence of anxiety and depression.  As a result, many castles and palaces included vast and well-manicured gardens on the property, and although these gardens were likely tended mostly by staff and servants, it was not uncommon for the very rich to participate in gardening to some extent personally to reap the benefits fully.

Over time, many doctors and gardeners began to see that spending time growing things, watering plants, weeding, digging in the dirt, and encouraging living things to thrive could often create amazing results in the human mind.  People who spend time in nature and working with plants reported feelings of serenity, improvement in social skills, reduced psychiatric symptoms, and strong cognitive abilities as they aged.  Overall, even today, gardening seems to improve personal well being, and although this has been proven in many studies, it is also something that gardeners will often tell others they have experienced on a personal, anecdotal level as well.

In more recent medical and mental health treatment history, the “Father of American Psychiatry,” Dr. Benjamin Rush, noted that mental health patients improved when they engaged in gardening in his work around 1800.  At about that same time, doctors in both the United States and the United Kingdom started using plants in clinical settings and found positive results.   In the 20th century, soldiers wounded in WWI and WWII used garden work as part of their rehabilitation, and soon after, the field of horticultural therapy was born.  Horticultural therapy is the practice of growing and caring for plants specifically for therapeutic purposes, and it has spread widely since it’s humble and informal beginnings.

The first formal degree programs in Horticultural Therapy were offered in the 1950s, and the first masters’ program in the field was developed in 1975.  Today, there is only one major organization that deals with the accreditation of these programs – the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA).  This organization promotes research and education in this field, offers information on their website ( and promotes the expansion and growth of the therapy for different ailments.  Horticultural Therapy continues to grow and become more widespread even today.

Benefits of Gardening for Mental and Physical Health

There are so many mental and physical benefits offered by gardening.  Spending time helping plants grow is good for the mind, body, and soul.  Here are just a few of the ways that gardening can help you grow as a person, and ways that in turn, can help you with your recovery.

  • Gardening boosts Vitamin D levels because gardeners are outside in the sunshine often.
  • Working in a garden is great exercise; raking, hoeing, and digging can be very physically challenging!
  • Caring for another living thing reminds us to care for ourselves.
  • Accountability to a plant can help keep your recovery on track.
  • Exposure to beauty on a daily basis reminds us that life is beautiful and worth living.
  • Successfully growing something healthy that you can consume can greatly boost self-confidence.
  • Gardening gives you access to extremely fresh produce with lots of nutrients that can help you rebuild the immune system you destroyed while using.
  • Working on a project alone can inspire intensive reflection that can be just as powerful as any group therapy.
  • Spending time in a garden can fill the time you used to spend using drugs or drinking; it is a great way to use the extra hours you may find you have in the early stages of recovery.
  • Growing things can be very meditative, giving you time to work through your problems.
  • It is extremely satisfying to experience the fruits of your labor at the end of the growing seasons and share what you have created with loved ones; you will feel a great sense of well-being and purpose.
  • Gardening promotes compassion, and it also helps you to be more creative. It ignites the right side of your brain and helps you feel more connected to others and the greater world.
  • Spending time in nature is good for your mental health. Getting fresh air and being exposed to blue skies and green grass can be very calming.  Digging in the dirt can reduce stress and make you feel more relaxed.

How to Get Started

To reap the benefits of gardening, you certainly do not need to be affiliated with a specific or official Horticultural Therapy program.    There are so many ways to work gardening into your life, even if you live in a city.   If you do live in an urban area, consider starting small inside your home.  You can grow herbs in pots in even the smallest apartment, and there are a wide variety of houseplants available to you at any garden center.   If you have a little more space, you can begin a container garden on a small porch or balcony, and if you have no space at all, it’s likely that with just a little effort you can find space in a local community garden in the springtime.

If you have a yard to work with, you can start your own garden.  Even if growing fruits and vegetables does not appeal to you, you can still enjoy massive benefits simply by planting flowers or other plants nearby.  There are countless resources available to you online, in books, or at the library, and if you are just getting started but don’t know where to begin, perhaps joining a local garden club will be helpful to you.  If you don’t wish to be a part of an organization, you can find the answers to any questions you may have at a local nursery or garden center; the people who work at these types of businesses are usually more than happy to share their knowledge with new or even experienced gardeners.

Gardening is beneficial, and there is absolutely no reason it should not be a part of your life.   Once you get started, you will be able to reap the benefits quickly and you will soon see the many ways this simple hobby and activity can help support your recovery from addiction.   You can do it alone or you can do it with others, but either way, you will find that it is a life changing experience you will want to continue forever.  Enjoy!

At Clear Sky Recovery, we want to help you to take the first steps on your recovery journey.  We realize how important plants can be to human health, and that’s why our program is focused on ibogaine detox therapy.  Ibogaine is created from the iboga tabernanthe plant of central Africa; once ingested it will help you to get to the root of your addiction.  From there, you can start moving forward, free from your addiction, with little to no withdrawal effects.  Please give us a call today to learn more about this amazing plant and to help us help you determine if this is the right treatment for you.  We look forward to hearing from you!