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The Power of Therapeutic Horticulture with Hilda Krus of The Horticultural Society of New York, Ep 185



Have you ever thought about the healing power of plants beyond just their aesthetic appeal? As plant parents, we know how much fun it is to take care of our plants, but did you know that therapeutic horticulture is a practice being used in hospitals, retirement homes, and even correctional facilities? Today, we're exploring the concept of therapeutic horticulture with the guidance of expert teacher Hilda Krus, who has been a horticultural therapist for over two decades, working with inmates at Rikers Island, New York's largest jail. Let’s dive in!


Check out the upcoming Therapeutic Horticulture Summer Intensive at NYBG


In this episode, we learn:

  • [08:16] How Hilda Krus became a therapeutic horticulture expert
  • [17:06] What is AHDA?
  • [21:07] Is horticultural therapy the same as therapeutic horticulture?
  • [24:34] Need a plant-based meal delivery system that eases bloat and boosts energy?
  • [27:41] How creating a comfortable and easy space in a garden requires intentional work
  • [31:53] What lessons did Hilda learn after working at Rikers Island for 20 years?
  • [42:15] How can horticultural therapy programs get government funding?
  • [49:09] Hilda describes her routine and a student's typical day at Rikers
  • [51:21] What is the layout of the garden at Rikers Island?
  • [53:46] How is the food they grow on-site at Rikers Island being used?
  • [56:26] Did any of Hilda's students choose to work in horticulture after finishing her class?
  • [59:14] Are you looking to create a spa-like ambiance in your home with beautiful chimes? 
  • [01:01:37] Inspiring stories in Rikers' therapeutic horticultural program
  • [01:03:56] What is the Horticultural Society of New York?
  • [01:11:03] What classes does Hilda teach at NYBG?
  • [01:12:13] Hilda’s recommended horticultural books!


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Who is Hilda Krus?

Hilda Krus is a registered horticultural therapist and an expert in the field of therapeutic horticulture. She has devoted her career to exploring the benefits of horticulture, gardening, and plant-based activities in improving the physical, emotional, and mental health of individuals across all age groups!

Following her career in social work, Hilda discovered the field of horticultural therapy and started exploring how she could incorporate her love for gardening into her profession. She received training in horticultural therapy in the U.S. and has been practicing as a registered horticultural therapist for over 20 years.


Therapeutic Horticulture vs. Horticultural Therapy

Gardening has long been recognized as a therapeutic activity that can enhance our well-being. Two terms that are often used interchangeably in this context are Therapeutic Horticulture and Horticultural Therapy. Although these two terms are used to describe similar activities, they differ in several significant ways, plant friends!

Here are some key differences between Therapeutic Horticulture and Horticultural Therapy:

Therapeutic Horticulture:

  • Uses gardening activities as part of a treatment, rehabilitation, or vocational plan
  • Facilitated by a trained horticulturalists or other professionals (doesn’t have to be registered)
  • Focuses on the process itself, rather than the end product
  • Flexible in terms of the facilitator's registration requirements and the structure of the program

Horticultural Therapy:

  • A formal, structured treatment process that uses gardening activities
  • Facilitated by a registered horticultural therapist
  • Geared towards specific treatment goals and outcomes
  • Has specific treatment goals and measurable outcomes


The Importance of Intentional Planning

Therapeutic horticulture is truly an amazing and intentional process that can positively impact people's lives! It's not just about enjoying the beauty of a garden, but it involves a carefully planned approach that considers each participant's unique needs and abilities. 

Hilda's emphasis on understanding the goals and plans is crucial to making the most of the therapeutic process. It's inspiring to hear that practitioners need to have the necessary hard skills to think critically and intentionally about how to use these plans and goals to benefit their clients.

The key term “intentional” highlights the importance of purposefully supporting individuals through horticultural activities, and it's exciting to know that there are professionals out there who are dedicated to making a difference in people's lives through this process!


Therapeutic Horticulture at Rikers Island

Rikers Island, a place known for its concrete and steel structures, has a surprising hidden gem: a thriving green oasis created by the gardening program! This program features several green spaces, including a three-acre garden and a courtyard garden, which provide a welcome escape for inmates and staff alike.

A Focus on Ornamentals and Food Production

The gardening program at Rikers Island is not just about growing food. It's also about creating a sensory experience that includes plants that smell good, rustle in the wind, and respond to touch. The program has a dual focus on both ornamentals and food production, offering a broad view of what horticulture can be.

Meal Community: Sharing Food and Culture

The food grown in the Rikers Island garden is not only for sustenance. It's also a means of fostering community and exchanging culture. The program's curriculum includes discussions on nutrition, how to grow food, and how to prepare it. Recipes are shared, and meal community is encouraged. In a correctional facility where meals can be quick and solitary, the gardening program offers a space for sharing food and conversation.

As we head into the spring and summer months, let's remember the therapeutic benefits of gardening and take some time to connect with nature, nourish our minds and bodies, and engage in the restorative practice of therapeutic horticulture.


Check out the upcoming Therapeutic Horticulture Summer Intensive at NYBG


Mentioned in our conversation:


Thank you to our episode sponsors:


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