Gardening as Occupational Therapy

By Master Gardener Puja Gellerman
Therapeutic Gardening by Phyllis Turner, PhD, RN, Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Bedford County, VAGardening, as a purposeful and meaningful activity, has been cited as far back as 1932 in Occupational Therapy literature (Wagenfeld & Atchison, 2014, p. 1). At that time, Occupational Therapists (OTs) worked primarily in hospitals to support a patient’s engagement in hobbies and leisure activities through active participation. This year Occupational Therapy turns 100 and OTs everywhere are proud to be working not only in hospitals, but schools, adult day centers, correctional facilities, private homes, and many other settings – including gardens.

Quander Road School Garden Center.

Quander Road School Garden Center. Photo © 2017 Puja Gellerman

The type of work we do varies greatly depending on the population we are serving. For me it is the communities around me that inspire me most. One example is that I am working as an instructional assistant at Quander Road School.  I actually started out as a volunteer! But as an Occupational Therapist, I have the skillset to enhance student achievement of life skills such as organization, social participation, volunteer exploration, gross/fine motor skills, and/or sustained attention. The potential skills list is infinite and completely dependent on the individuals and their unique needs, values and interests (AOTA, 2014). And this is all on top of the amazing work the faculty has been doing to date.

Sugar snap peas started indoors.

Plenty of natural sunlight for these sugar snap peas. Photo © 2017 Puja Gellerman

There are students currently volunteering to do various steps in the process of maintaining the garden. Some have already submitted soil samples to Virginia Tech to test the pH; others are currently designing signage for vegetables and native plants; seeds have been sowed; the compost heaps will get turned.  Since this is my first year at the school, I am quite curious to learn more from the students and explore how the garden can support them in addressing their individualized goals.

A publication that provides information on ergonomic gardening tips from Occupational Therapists is available at:

I also hope you enjoy reading Therapeutic Gardening by Phyllis Turner, PhD, RN, of Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Bedford County, VA. She includes strategies to adapt your home or community garden, exercises to keep you active in the garden, and considerations for modified tools, all to serve your needs better while participating in a meaningful occupation.


American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process (3rd ed.) American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68. (Suppl. 1), S1– S48.

Wagenfeld, Amy and Ben Atchison. (2014) “Putting the Occupation Back in Occupational Therapy: A Survey of Occupational Therapy Practitioners’ Use of Gardening as an Intervention,” The Open Journal of Occupational Therapy: Vol. 2: Iss. 4, Article 4.

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