© 2024 WUOT

209 Communications Building
1345 Circle Park Drive
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, TN 37996-0322
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

HealthConnections: Horticultural Therapy


Maintaining stress levels is a pivotal part of keeping good mental and physical health. This week on HealthConnections, Dr. Carole Myers, a professor emeritus in the University of Tennessee College of Nursing, talks to Dr. Derrick Stowell, the education and horticultural therapy program administrator for the University of Tennessee Gardens. Stowell is responsible for directing education programs and horticultural therapy programs for the UT Gardens.

WUOT’s Carole Myers: It’s 2024 and we’re still reviewing lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. An intriguing find is that connecting with nature helped people better cope with pandemic stress. The pandemic prompted us to reflect on our modern lifestyles and our physical and mental health. What did we learn?

Derrick Stowell: Well, we learned a lot. I think that particularly when things were in the beginning stage of the pandemic, we had that shutdown, the world kind of stopped, and people were highly stressed. We had a lot of ‘what’s going on with this disease? What’s happening? We have to stop doing everything we are used to doing’ and what we started noticing was because of that stop people had to start doing things outside. They would meet friends outside because it was safer and they were less likely to get people sick and then people also started gardening again because they had more free time and so people really started connecting with nature. We saw attendance at parks increase. The seed companies said that seed demand grew like 300% that year because people were wanting to do something with nature and take care of plants and grow plants.

So, has that uptick in utilization of green spaces and gardening since we’ve seen the waning days of the pandemic?

I think it has. We definitely see a continued increase in nature. People seem most interested in staying outside. People are interested in how plants can help heal us and make us feel better and help with our stress. You also see, even around the communities, the amount of little boutique plant shops even around Knoxville have grown. People are really interested in house plants and vegetable gardening and just general gardening.

You’ve mentioned that we saw that people who did better were interacting with nature. So, what does the evidence about horticultural therapy tell us about the benefits of the nature connection on our physical and mental health?

There’s research that shows that horticultural therapy and growing plants and being in nature can help reduce stress, can help improve our mood, gives us the ability to increase physical activity and gardening is considered by the CDC as a moderate physical activity and also socialization because, you know, people who like to grow plants like to talk to other people about plants. So, there’s this communication and interaction among people through growing plants. The data shows and the research shows that even as little as 30 minutes of gardening at a time can have an impact on your stress. So, that’s a really significant thing because if we look at how busy our lives are, I think since the pandemic our lives have gotten busier again probably busier than before, but we can take a few minutes out of our time and garden and take care of some plants and that can really help improve our mental health and physical health.

So, what advice do you have for our listeners, maybe I’m not already a gardener or maybe I’ve dabbled but want to get a bit more involved? What would you say to people?

I think what’s important to think about and know is just try. If you’ve never gardened before, start small. Maybe you just want to start growing a tomato plant in your backyard or maybe you get a small houseplant and grow it in your home. You don’t have to think ‘I have to go plant an acre garden in the backyard’. But, simply just caring for a plant and that connection we have through nature is what really provides that therapeutic benefit. What we want to do is just take the time and try something and if you don’t succeed you can learn from that and always start over again.

So it’s not dose specific and what I mean by that is it’s not the number of plants, it’s the time you are intentionally interacting with the plants in some way?

Yes, there’s not a lot of research on dosage or time. We know 30 minutes does have that impact on our stress, but it’s really just being able to interact with, looking at the plant, looking at it, watering it, weeding it. Those are the interactions that we have and those are what provide some of that connection to nature in particular and that therapeutic benefit.

This transcript has been lightly edited for content.

Greg joined WUOT in 2007, first as operations director and now as assistant director/director of programming. His duties range from analyzing audience data to helping clear WUOT’s satellite dish of snow and ice. Greg started in public radio in 2000 in Shreveport, La., at Red River Radio and was, prior to coming WUOT, at WYSO in Dayton, Ohio, where he also was director of programming and operations.