Health and well being - Turning to horticultural therapy

The healing benefits of horticulture offer a different direction for job seekers in reaching out to vulnerable groups, explains Bethan Norris.

Charities and local councils champion horticulture to help vulnerable groups - image: Thrive
Charities and local councils champion horticulture to help vulnerable groups - image: Thrive

Horticultural therapy programmes are designed to improve the lives of vulnerable members of society, including the elderly, those with mental or other health problems, young offenders and young people. Job opportunities include working in community or school gardens, in stroke rehabilitation or even in prisons.

What's on offer?

The levels of roles in this sector vary from volunteers who may provide their services for a limited period of time to paid helpers, fully-fledged gardeners and, at the top end of the scale, garden or service managers.

Main employers include local councils and charities such as Thrive, based in Reading, which champions the benefits of gardening in promoting mobility and reducing feelings of isolation or exclusion. In Perth, Trellis provide a similar service across Scotland, while in Gwynedd, Cultivations helps the disadvantaged and elderly in Wales.

The BTCV has roles available working with vulnerable adults as volunteer officers co-ordinated via the organisation's 84 UK offices. Employees in this sector may visit different sites during their working week or work at one garden that is visited by a number of local groups.

Workers in the therapy sector need to have some horticultural skills as their job will entail helping others to plant, care for and maintain gardens and demonstrating the use of tools for different purposes. They may also have to design specific programmes for those they work with, as well as assessing the progress of individuals, maintaining daily records and managing budgets.

What are employers looking for?

Due to the nature of the people using therapeutic services, applicants for any jobs in this arena will have to undergo background checks and Criminal Records Bureau vetting. A basic qualification in horticulture would be a distinct advantage but the most important attribute of anyone wanting to work in this sector is the ability to get on with a mix of different people with varying abilities.

Employers will be looking for a commitment to help others and experience in working with vulnerable members of society, so evidence of volunteering would be an advantage. Those already working in a caring profession may want to gain training in therapeutic horticulture to enrich the lives of those they already help.

Thrive offers practical one-day workshops entitled Step into Social and Therapeutic Horticulture that offer participants who may be new to the sector an opportunity to gain an insight into what is involved along with practical skills and advice.

How do I move on?

On-the-job training is the most common way of progressing to roles with more responsibility in this sector although there are some professional development qualifications available. The national short course programme offered by Thrive delivers training across the South, Midlands, North and London regions looking at the practice of social and therapeutic horticulture through specific client groups. Professionals can also use Thrive training days to support their continuous professional development requirements.

The organisation also offers a professional development diploma in social and therapeutic horticulture as a distance learning course in conjunction with Coventry University for those already working in the sector. The course modules are taught at the university, Warwickshire College's Moreton Morrell Centre and Thrive's head office. Bespoke training for groups can also be provided.

A certificate in higher education in social and therapeutic horticulture has recently been introduced at Askham Bryan College in York. The part-time course is to run over two years for those wanting to work or already working in the sector. Students on the course will cover practical modules such as plant propagation and plant knowledge and are expected to develop skills that will make them effective managers of a social and therapeutic horticulture unit.

How much will I be paid?

The sector is not hugely well paid and those wanting to work in therapeutic horticulture generally do it for the love of the job rather than the financial rewards.

Salaries range from £12,000 to £20,000 for therapists, depending on the number of people they look after and the particular situation. Higher level managers can earn up to £25,000.

Job conditions are typically 35 hours a week. Horticultural support workers have been recently advertised for at £18,500 a year.


Cultivations - W:, T: 01738 624348

Thrive - W:, T: 0118 988 5688

Trellis - W:, T: 01738 624348


FdSc Social and Therapeutic Horticulture: EeWr

BSc (Hons) Social and Therapeutic Horticulture: EeWr

Professional Development Diploma in Social and Therapeutic Horticulture: WmMm YkAb.

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