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K-State a leader in horticultural therapy since 1971

By Erinn Barcomb-Peterson


Call the gardens "healing" or "restorative," the horticulture "adaptive" or "amenity," and Kansas State University is still one of the leading training grounds for people who believe the ultimate reason for gardening is not growing plants but rather the cultivation and perfection of people.hort hands

Horticultural therapy is increasingly offered elsewhere at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and a few botanical gardens offer certificate programs. But K-State is the only university offering horticultural therapy in bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees.

"Employment opportunities are excellent, and there is increasing demand for horticultural therapy consultants," said Richard H. Mattson, K-State professor of horticulture, forestry and recreation resources. Mattson leads K-State's horticultural therapy program.

Begun in 1971 in cooperation with the Menninger Clinic, a renowned private psychiatric hospital previously located in Topeka, the program combines courses in traditional agriculture and horticulture with social and behavioral sciences. Students take classes like Horticulture for Special Populations, Horticultural Therapy Case Management and Horticultural Therapy Field Techniques.

Mattson said undergraduates can study a complimentary field like gerontology, vocational rehabilitation, mental health, corrections, special education or community-based programs.

He said an important part of K-State's horticultural therapy program is the six-month internship requirement.

"Initially, all students interned at Menninger," Mattson said. "But today, students are completing this requirement at sites throughout the United States and at international sites."

Horticultural therapists use people-plant relationships to improve various ailments and situations. For instance, children can benefit from a garden in different ways: Those who struggle with weight may find gardening an easy transition to exercise, and children with anger issues can blow off steam by cutting down weeds.

To demonstrate the power horticulture can have on people's lives, Mattson looks to Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner who established the Green Belt movement that planted more than 30 million trees in Kenya.

"This plant-related activity has improved social, economic and environmental conditions in east Africa," Mattson said. "Although she is not a horticultural therapist, Dr. Maathai's achievements provide evidence of the potential accomplishments of future horticultural therapists."

More information about K-State's horticultural therapy program is available online at http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/horttherapy/


Image: Clutched in the hand bearing the "I love you" sign language message is a handful of native wildflowers from the Kansas prairies. This symbol represents the essence of horticultural therapy. Image courtesy Richard Mattson.


Winter 2005