Healing Through Nature: Studying Therapeutic Horticulture

Horticulture Therapy

While studying in Botswana in southern Africa as a pre-veterinary medicine major, Ranann Blatter remembers her host family's insistence on the importance of working with family.

"This made me wonder—I had always planned on helping with the family business of horticulture, so why am I not going to school for it?" she said.

The "family business" is the 25 year old Portland, Oregon nursery Cornell Farm, located in the southwest hills of the city.

When she came back to OSU from Botswana, she switched her major to Horticulture and began looking at all the degree options. Blatter was looking for a different career path from horticultural production. She wanted to work with the plants that her family has grown and sold for years, but she also had a soft spot for working with people.

"Therapeutic Horticulture is the use of plants and gardening activities to promote health and wellness," she explains.  "And it's effective and beneficial for people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities."

Blatter will be graduating in the spring of 2013 with a B.S. in Horticulture and an option in Therapeutic Horticulture and will be the first Oregon State University graduate in the newly-developed program.

Students focusing on Therapeutic Horticulture take most of their core and upper-level courses at OSU as well as six  courses at Portland Community College. These hands-on courses are taught at Legacy Health by Teresia Hazen, an internationally-recognized Horticultural Therapist. These courses expand on the OSU core of the Therapeutic Horticulture program and allow students to gain firsthand experience.

Blatter also completed an internship with Legacy Health, a health care company in Portland made up of six area hospitals. Legacy features award-winning therapy gardens and has programs aimed towards children, seniors, and individuals battling cancer.

"My internship gave me valuable experience," she explained. "As well as learning to work with different populations, I'm also working towards the 480 clinical hours that I'm required to complete to become a registered Horticultural Therapist (HT-R)." An HT-R accreditation holder is recognized as a professional in the field of horticulture therapy.

Blatter has worked on a number of programs for Legacy as a Therapeutic Horticulture intern. She has led nature stations at Randall Children's Hospital at Legacy Emanuel for pediatric patients and their families. The goal was to get children involved with plant materials and the outdoors, even if they couldn't go outside.

Volunteering at an assisted living facility also gave Blatter some firsthand horticultural therapy experience. She worked one-on-one with residents and ran the garden club.

"Working in the facility's gardens gives the residents meaningful activity and a sense of pride," she explained.

After graduating in June, Blatter plans to create a series of courses at her family's nursery. The horticulture classes at Cornell Farm will be focused on specific populations such as children, seniors, those with specials needs, and at-risk youth.

"We'll offer a series of nature-based activities aimed at getting people outside and involved with plants and the natural world."

Blatter is excited about the setting for the class series at Cornell Farm. The nursery has recently repurposed her grandparents' home on the property into an event space that will be used for these classes and other special events.

Learn more about the Therapeutic Horticulture option »