Social and therapeutic horticulture for palliative care

Categories: Education.

Social and therapeutic horticulture (STH) for palliative care promotes wellbeing and quality of life for people affected by life-limiting illness through active or passive gardening, horticulture or accessing nature.

But everyone who has links with hospices or services which provide palliative care – staff, patients and their families, volunteers – can benefit from the presence of the ‘natural environment’ which our gardens have to offer.

Research shows that horticulture, gardening and access to nature, whether through active or passive participation, improves wellbeing and quality of life.

Benefits include restoration of energy and attention, recovery from stress, improved confidence and person identity, adjustment and normalisation.

Patients affected by life-limiting illness often feel that their gardening days are over. Time is taken up with hospital appointments, coping with disease progression and loss, and managing symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety and pain. Opportunities to enjoy gardening or appreciate nature lessen.

STH for palliative care is about holistically managing symptoms while empowering individuals to achieve their personal preferences and goals.

A patient working in one of our hospice allotment projects commented: “I love working with plants, just to come out and be with plants, to nurture them. I feel plants understand…”

Indoor table top gardening sessions (for example) meet high standards of person-centred care and offer meaningful and valuable occupation. Each participant is enabled to undertake tasks within their capability and energy levels, restoring skills, enabling adjustment and acceptance. Outcomes indicate that distress levels decrease.

One patient commented after attending an STH session: “I went home elated. I never thought I would ever do gardening again.”

Our STH for palliative care interest group, which now has over 40 members, was established by a social and therapeutic horticulturist and occupational therapists. But other professionals are also members, and anyone interested in STH for palliative and end of life care is welcome to join.

The group is hosting its second study day next month, offering an opportunity for all those interested in palliative and end of life care to consider the therapeutic benefits of nature, gardens and gardening for hospices.

The study day draws on the long-established evidence base (1,2) and will see relevant research which will be tailored to palliative care. The day will also provide an experiential platform for best practice and networking. The aim is to unlock precious resources already available in palliative care settings.

The study day is being held at Marie Curie Hospice, West Midlands, on Saturday 19 September, 10am to 4pm. Please see the study day programme for further details and contact me at with any other questions about the day or the group.


  1. Kaplan S. The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 1995; 15(3):169-182.
  2. Cimprich B. Development of an intervention to restore attention in persons with cancer. Cancer Nursing. 1993; 16(2):83-92.

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