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Health & Social Care

Horticultural Therapist

Job Description

If you’ve seen The Karate Kid, you’ll know that Mr Miyagi was incredibly confident about the therapeutic effects of tending to a bonsai tree. Clearly somebody was listening because horticulture is now considered a highly effective form of therapy. Keep reading and find out more!

Horticultural therapists conduct treatment programmes that help disabled people and patients with mental and physical health problems. These unconventional methods of rehabilitation are designed using horticulture as a foundation.

This form of green-fingered therapy is based on the principal that planting, pruning and growing flowers, shrubs, miniature trees and other plants provides people with emotional and mental satisfaction, as well as improving their physical fitness and overall health.

Essentially, horticultural therapy is akin to other alternative forms of therapy, such as art therapy, drama therapy, dance therapy and music therapy, but with more digging, clipping and planting involved.

As a horticultural therapist, you’ll interact with patients on one-to-one basis or in group sessions, providing the necessary training and support for them to become competent gardeners.

Simultaneously, you’ll also provide encouragement, enabling patients to recognise their self-worth, gain self-confidence and improve their social skills. Furthermore, your patients will be learning practical skills that can even lead to a viable occupation.

Horticultural therapy jobs are offered by charities, community welfare services, care facilities, schools, hospitals and clinics, prisons, parks, nurseries (plants not infants) and community gardening projects.

Salary & benefits

Horticultural therapists in the early stages of their careers tend to earn around £17,000 to £25,000, while senior therapists can earn up to £32,000 per annum.

A substantial percentage of the institutions and organisations that are engaged in this field depend on public funding and grants. Therefore, employment is usually offered on the basis of fixed–term contracts.

Working hours

Working hours are fairly standard, but you will frequently be required to work evenings and weekends to fit around service users’ schedules and availability.

The job is mainly field-based and only around 30% of your time will be spent doing administrative and reporting tasks.

Entry

If you plan to break into this line of work, it would be advisable to obtain a degree or foundation degree in a subject such as botanical sciences, horticulture, horticulture leadership, education, nursing, social work, landscape design, educational psychology or occupational therapy. A few institutions across the UK even offer horticultural therapy-specific courses.

You don’t necessarily need a degree to work in this area, though! Indeed, you may be able to secure an entry-level position with plenty of horticultural work experience and a relevant vocational qualification under your belt. 

Training & progression

Training is mainly facilitated through gaining hands-on practical experience. However, short courses and training programmes are also offered by Thrive and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).

Career progression usually involves promotion to supervisory and managerial positions, though these are quite limited and may require you to relocate elsewhere in the UK.

Freelance work for a range of different clients is another viable option, though a very small percentage of professionals are presently working in this capacity.

Alternatively, you could even move away from the therapy side of things and focus your efforts on academic research in horticulture.

Overseas career opportunities are mainly in the USA, where horticultural therapy is an established field.