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Gardening can bring therapeutic benefits

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    Volunteer Jackie Ingram waters a raised bed used for therapy at the UH Urban Garden Center in Pearl City.

Gardening can spark connections to the land and to living things. The simple act of planting a seed sparks anticipation and imagination, teaches patience and ultimately brings a sense of pride and satisfaction.

Studies have shown that gardens provide for our need for physical activity and a safe place to explore personal growth. Horticultural therapy involves creating garden spaces that accommodate people with a wide range of abilities and provide activities that meet physical and curative needs. According to the internationally known Horticultural Therapy Institute (, horticultural therapists might work with people in virtually any type of health care or social service setting, such as physical rehabilitation, mental health, vocation services, long-term care, hospice, corrections, special education and youth services.

Components of a therapy garden might include simply a safe place for all ages to freely explore, building a raised bed for easy access to maintaining and harvesting plants, or incorporating activities that target mental, physical or social development.

According to the American Horticultural Therapy Society (, when constructing a therapy garden in the form of a raised bed in your backyard, considerations include site selection, soil amendments and careful thought to height and width for access. For most tropical plants and edible crops, you might consider facing the raised bed in a north-south orientation allowing full sun to penetrate the entire bed. In Hawaii, soil amendments are available from green-waste recycling centers that contain a blend of fine compost and chicken or steer manure. For a raised bed, we recommend combining one part backyard soil to two parts a blend of compost and manure.

Materials such as redwood boards are a naturally rot-resistant hardwood that would be good for the construction of a raised bed. The Environmental Protection Agency advises against use of treated wood for edible crops. If you’re not sure about the wood or recycled wood you’ve chosen, lining the bed with heavy plastic is a good practice.

Make sure to drill holes through the bottom surface for good drainage. Other materials that can be used include hollow tiles, bricks or synthetic lumber made of recycled plastic.

To accommodate someone in a sitting position, the bed should be raised at least two feet or higher. Constructing the bed to be no wider than three to six feet will allow a person to sit comfortably from any side and still reach the center of the raised bed.

To see demonstrations of raised beds, visit the Urban Garden Center in Pearl City on Saturday, when University of Hawaii Master Gardeners and center volunteers will be hosting Senior Day, featuring activities in horticultural therapy from 9 a.m. to noon. Classes on ergonomic gardening will take place at 9:30 and 11 a.m. The cost is $5 at the door. For more information or for directions, visit or call 453-6055 or 453-6050.

Jayme Grzebik is an urban horticulturalist with the University of Hawaii’s Cooperative Extension Service, part of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. Email her at


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