The Gen XY Lifestyle

How Green Spaces Spark Joy and Can Be Healing During Chaos?

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Hortherapeutics was formed to bring sensory and therapeutic elements of green spaces indoors, especially for people with special needs.

The average person spends 85-90% of their time indoors, but perhaps more so because of COVID-19. It is no surprise that the forced lockdown might have made a lot of people plant parents and see the value of green spaces overnight.

Studies have also found a connection between indoor plants and mental health. People who spend extended lengths of time around plants tend to have better relationships with others.

In a busy and hectic society such as Singapore, the added pressure from the daily grind may lead to that feeling of being cut off from the natural world, but therapeutic horticulture can help fill that void.

Hortherapeutics was set up in less than a year and the founders have been involved in therapeutic garden projects in nursing homes and public parks, such as Ren Ci Nursing Home, St. Andrew’s Nursing Home, as well as Tiong Bahru Park and Choa Chu Kang Park.

Green Spaces
Therapeutic Garden at Chua Chu Kang Park

Co-founders Jun Xiang, Xin Kai and Jason share the importance of plant therapy and their passion for therapeutic horticulture activities.

What’s the story behind Hortherapeutics and what inspired you to start this?

Hortherapeutics came about during our work when we realised that there was a lack of green spaces in Singapore where the elderly, including those with dementia, and other people with special mental health and physical needs can safely enjoy without constant supervision.

We are also concerned about issues with the ageing society, including rising dementia cases and more recently, mental health issues due to COVID-19 in Singapore. We believe more can be done to help alleviate these problems.

Therefore, we set ourselves the goal of creating therapeutic gardens and providing horticulture programmes to encourage interactions within the gardens. We believe that user-specific, purpose-built and plant-dominated environments can benefit the physical, psychological, social and mental needs of people.

Could you tell us how Hortherapeutics can provide relief for those suffering from mental health illnesses?

Stress, anxiety, and depression can be common in the context of a pandemic and they appear in a variety of psychological, emotional, and behavioral symptoms.

Horticultural therapy mainly involves interacting with plants which can bring about well-being, and this could be derived from sensory experiences in a rich setting.

The fragrance, texture, sounds and taste are all important parts of creating a gradual mental transition from a calming and restorative experience into one which stimulates the mind.

At Hortherapeutics, we focus on collaborating with healthcare and educational institutions to research best practices in the design of therapeutic gardens and therapeutic horticultural services.

In our design process for therapeutic gardens, we conduct a series of participatory design meetings with our clients and other stakeholders to map their needs and concerns for the garden development. This is especially important for healthcare settings where the gardens may be used specifically by a certain group of patients or residents, for example, those with dementia or other conditions.

What kind of therapeutic horticulture activities can improve one’s mental health?

We conduct therapeutic horticulture activities for clients to benefit from the healing and rehabilitative effects of plant-based activities. All activities are specifically designed to the needs of the client group.

An example would be the ‘Seed Mandala’ where participants are tasked to arrange seeds and spices of different shapes and sizes to form a work of art.

In doing so, they get to practice their eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills. In addition, in the process of creating the art pieces, we encourage them to feel and smell the different spices which help to stimulate their senses. This may trigger memories of the past when they might recall using the spices in their cooking or other cultural purposes. Usually, they will share these past experiences with their fellow participants and facilitators

How have you gone about in educating people about the health benefits of therapeutic horticulture programming?

Education is a tenet of our brand. The therapeutic horticulture space is new to a lot of people but there is a lot of science in it that can help improve people’s vitality and give them added energy.

We still have some challenges on the state of awareness among the public on the design of therapeutic gardens. There is still a lot of misinformation about what constitutes a Therapeutic Garden (TG) and Therapeutic Horticulture (TH) and how they are different from general garden design or gardening in general.

We found the need to reach out to more people to educate them about TG and TH before we can even convince potential clients to engage us for our services. But we see this as an essential step of our enterprise hence outreach plays an important role currently.

Green Spaces
Therapeutic Garden at Tiong Bahru Park

How should organisations foster a therapeutic environment for their people?

There are specific considerations when designing for different users, whether it is the frail or elderly person or people and children with special needs. According to American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA), there are a few overarching design considerations that can be applied to all types.

For instance, for benign and supportive conditions, the gardens should allow for safe and conducive settings for users, with ample shade and flourishing plants free from hazardous chemicals. The protective nature of the gardens also offers personal comfort and refuge to the users.

For recognisable placemaking, the gardens need to have simple and comprehensible spaces, with various zones and themes, based on the needs of the user groups. There are also easily recognisable features like signs, sculptures and water features to allow easy orientation within the gardens.

For a more universal design, the gardens can be designed for the convenience of people with the widest range of conditions, to maximise a variety of people-plant interactions and experiences as much as possible within its enclosures.

These are just a few of the examples, but more needs to be considered such as well-defined perimeters, a profusion of plants and people-plant interactions and certain garden features modified to improve accessibility.

What do you want people to know about the effects of green spaces and a therapeutic garden?

Having a garden for people with special needs is like therapy. It is like having the best of both worlds – fresh air and dirt!

By engaging in basic horticultural activities such as gardening, people can improve their physical and mental well-being. Therapeutic gardens are specific outdoor spaces that when designed intentionally for people with special needs to encourage plant-people interactions (passive or active) and keep them engaged and on their toes!

Hortherapeutics hopes to empower people in making alternative, and altogether, more positive choices when it comes to healing the body and mind. Inspired by the power of plants, we are committed to share nature’s wisdom with the world.