This week and next my master gardener’s class is on hiatus as our instructor is on vacation. So the lull in my educational endeavors will allow me to digress a little and write about a related topic, though one of my own making.

I am working on a magazine article to be published later this year. The topic is on horticultural therapy and the work of Mike Maddox, the Master Gardener Program Director for the University of Wisconsin Extension Services. This week’s message, then, is a brief preview of that article and what I am learning about this distinct approach for using our gardening knowledge as therapy for people with special needs.

Horticultural as a single topic is about the art and science of producing, using, and maintaining ornamental plants, fruits and vegetables. We do this often for our own enjoyment and the enrichment which comes from actually managing a small part of nature for the rewards that stem from creating beautiful, living ornamentation and/or growing the food we eat.

Horticultural Therapy (HT) is about utilizing such gardening techniques to provide an intervention program, whereby people undergoing some form of crisis are provided with an outlet for managing their fears and frustrations through cultivating the growth of various garden variety plants. Mike has initiated programs with hospitals, homeless shelters, prisons and even a tribal council to help their respective staffs care for people, whose personal challenges entail suicide prevention, alcohol and drug rehabilitation, the development of self-esteem in abused children, and the acquisition of certain life skills that help us all safely function within our society.

Mike’s HT training program is actually designed for the existing master gardener volunteers, who are already regarded as educators in the art and science of horticulture.  His goal is to establish a core group of volunteers who will go beyond the usual places where gardening is taught, such as classrooms and libraries, in order to assist professional therapeutic staff in the treatment of their respective patients.

Gardening, as many of us already know, is great for stress reduction despite our constant battle with pests of various kinds. It is also good for developing the type of discipline needed to establish and maintain a garden landscape of any size and design. It is also wonderful for creating a thing of beauty to be savored both by sight and by taste. So putting this type of experience into the hands of those who are struggling with demonic internal issues provides the type of therapy offered by the HT program in cooperation with the more specialized care of doctors, nurses and guidance counselors. And as a result the benefit seems to flow equally between the gardening caregiver and the recipient of their compassionate attention.

This summer Mike will be offering HT seminars at various locations around the state. His schedule can be found by accessing the Events link on the Master Gardener website, This is an opportunity to learn more about the Master Gardener program in general and Mike’s HT program in greater detail. You can ultimately learn to make your own Eden and extend its therapeutic wonders to others as well.

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