Horticultural Therapy Program Helps Community Members Thrive

Deupree residents Joan Maechling and Nancy Holterhoff with Robert Evans, who leads the Horticultural Therapy Program.


A growing body of evidence attests to the many benefits of gardening for older adults. Enter the Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS) Horticultural Therapy Program. Aimed at helping ERS community members remain healthy and independent, it is a natural extension of the organization’s commitment to the six dimensions of wellness and positive aging.

Here’s a closer look at why horticultural therapy matters, along with how ERS is putting it to work in the Deupree House community:


The Benefits of Horticultural Therapy

Anyone who has ever worked in a garden knows it’s a great form of exercise. Gardening may also be a remarkable defense against Alzheimer’s. Recent studies suggest it could cut older adults’ dementia risk in half by improving brain volume as well as boosting memory and cognition. For people already living with Alzheimer’s, gardening may help manage their symptoms.

Even older adults with limited mobility can reap the benefits of gardening by being in nature. Research has shown that as little as 10 to 15 minutes of daily exposure to fresh air and sunshine lead to significant health benefits in older adults. That’s because sunshine increases vitamin D production, which helps build bones and muscles, prevents rickets, and decreases the risk of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Daylight can also regulate the body’s internal clock, supporting better sleep at night.

Gardening can also be an excellent opportunity to form social connections. Simply watching and enjoying the activity of others, as well as observing the changes of light, shade, sun and clouds and the growth of plants and wildlife are uniquely stimulating and engaging.

When it comes to boosting health and well-being through activities for seniors, horticultural therapy is a powerful strategy.


Horticultural Therapy at Deupree House

While there’s no denying that older adults benefit from gardening, many remain disconnected from nature and therefore miss out. ERS’ Horticultural Therapy Program was conceived to bridge this gap. First launched as a pilot program at the Deupree Cottages, it then expanded to Marjorie P. Lee’s Memory Support households and, most recently, to Deupree House.

“The goal of the program is to help those individuals who may or may not be able to get out into nature be more connected to it,” explains AARROWOOD Plants & Flowers, President Robert Evans, who developed the Horticultural Therapy Program in partnership with ERS staff and now runs the classes at Deupree House. “This is achieved by working with individuals or groups in horticulturally related projects.

“We use seasonal potted plants and fresh cut flowers in our sessions,” Evans continues. “Sometimes we use supplemental videos of gardens. The approach is to focus on mindfulness and become as aware as we can of our sensations during our projects. Often it brings up memories that are shared with the group. It also provides an awareness of the changing of seasons. The program is always changing based on the needs of the participants.”

According to Tarrah Pickard, Director of Life Enrichment at Deupree House, the Horticultural Therapy Program is a perfect fit for the Deupree House community. “The residents have particularly loved Robert’s class. They love getting their hands dirty and like being able to take something home with them for their patio or balcony.”

Horticultural therapy is restoring mind, body, and spirit for our residents. To ensure the continuation of this impactful program, consider volunteering or making a donation.


Episcopal Retirement Services, Inc., is located at 3870 Virginia Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45227. For more information, call 513.271.9610 or visit www.epsicopalretirement.com.