Gardens that Heal: Two Botanical Gardens Reach Out To Their Communities

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “All my hurts my garden spade can heal.”  Two extraordinary Botanical Gardens are using this idea to make a big difference in their communities.  They have created programs using nature related activities to improve the well being of those that need it most, and have inspired other organizations to partner with them so that people of all ages and abilities can blossom within a garden.

 Toledo Botanical Gardens: Toledo GROWs

If you ever visit Northwest Ohio, you’ll notice the beautiful lakes and may perhaps sample some of the local Midwest food.  But many do not plan on running into any of the 50-plus community gardens organized by Toledo Botanical Gardens of Toledo, Ohio.  TBG hosts Toledo GROWs, a community outreach program with an aim of offering organizational resources and technical assistance that help cultivate and sustain community gardening projects all throughout Northwestern Ohio.

You may know that community gardens help beautify neighborhoods and provide nutritious food for its members.  What also makes this organization so special are the partnerships that have formed to help sustain each of these local gardens.  Toledo GROWs has created a safe haven and therapeutic experience for at-risk youth, seniors, those with disabilities and families who want to provide a valuable service for their neighborhood.

A shining example of this is when Toledo GROWs partnered with the Lucas County Juvenile Justice System, and provided 100 adjudicated youth with paid employment, a place to learn new skills and gain work experience, and the chance to connect with positive mentors. Other youth-centered farms organized by Toledo GROWs are equipped with greenhouses, chicken coops, orchards, rain gardens, beekeeping and training centers, and are sustained with the help of children and teens.

 Tucson Botanical Gardens: Horticulture Therapy Program

Located in Southern Arizona, Tucson Botanical Gardens was once a charming family home with an extraordinary garden in the late 1920’s.  It is now an organization that offers more than just the beauty of its 5 acres of varying gardens and exhibits.  Juliet, the Horticulture Therapist along with trained docents and volunteers have worked with more than 40 different schools and agencies to serve seniors and children with disabilities throughout Tucson. Once a program started by a docent in 1983, the Horticulture Therapy Program maintains the belief that “persons working in the garden and greenhouse become calmer and more focused, need less medication and are more receptive to therapy” after becoming involved in horticulture therapy.

Members of the program work onsite at the Botanical Gardens performing seasonal maintenance duties from planting to harvesting the gardens’ fruits, vegetables and herbs.  Furthermore, high school students have opportunities to earn internships offsite at neighboring farms and gardens to further their gardening knowledge and provide a service for their community.  Juliet feels that there is a real need for these types of programs in her community, as those with special needs not only learn about gardening, but are also taught invaluable skills like responsibility and proper socialization.  When she sees children with behavioral issues switch gears and maintain a clear focus and excitement for building and maintaining a garden, it’s certain that the healing powers of the garden is something difficult to replicate.

 Do you feel your own garden has served you or others in a therapeutic way? Share your experience! 


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  1. Three years ago my oldest son (33 yoa) died tragically, 6 months later one of my sisters died and six months after that my lovely Grandmother died. I was devastated.
    I had already started a Memorial Garden plan for my son and have found that working outside in the sun, seeing the beauty of nature at my fingertips and being a part of regenerating a lot that was overgrown into place of respite has truly aided in my healing. There is something about the smell of the soil, the fresh air and sunshine that always lifts my spirit. It feels like such a natural thing to spend time with God and his creatures. I highly reccomend gardening for everyone.

  2. Hi, I was looking at the picture you have at the top of the post. These would be prefect for my garden beds! Is there directions on how to make those ‘cages’ someplace? I did look briefly on the websites provided, but didn’t find any. Of course they do look easy enough to figure out, but if I had something to follow it would be super.


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