Horticultural Therapy

Horticultural Therapy can be defined as ‘The use of plants by a trained professional as a medium through which certain clinically defined goals can be met.’

Anna Baker Cresswell brought Horticultural Therapy to the military in the UK when she started the charity Gardening Leave in 2007 and HighGround now provides the Horticultural Therapy service for the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre (DMRC) at Headley Court in Surrey.

Horticultural Therapy is now being used by DMRC as part of their rehabilitation programme for injured soldiers, sailors and airmen and all patients who come to Horticultural Therapy are referred by their Occupational Therapist as part of an individual rehabilitation programme. All the patients at DMRC are still serving their Country.

Carol Sales is our Horticultural Therapist at Headley Court. She runs the service and in her first year which started in February 2014, she delivered 1,285 sessions of HT to 141 patients at Headley Court.

Following the successful delivery of a 3 year pilot at Headley Court supported by the Soldiers’ Charity and other generous funders, Horticultural Therapy has now been integrated into the range of rehab options available for clinicians to treat injured serving personnel.

In a recent letter to Anna the Surgeon General, the defence authority for healthcare in the Defence Medical Services Department said:

“ HighGround offers Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre (DMRC) patients a unique opportunity in providing a space beyond formal therapy to engage in a physical activity in an outside environment. Horticultural Therapy is integrated into the patient’s individual rehabilitation programmes allowing them to participate in different aspects of horticulture, dependent on their physical limitations and particular gardening interest. Its benefits are well known, with evidence that it can improve both physical and psychological wellbeing. Moreover, patients are able to see the benefit of their hard work, resulting in them being more engaged and motivated in their rehabilitation. Horticultural Therapy is now recognised as a valuable component of the holistic care package that the DMRC delivers to its patients.”


It costs HighGround £92 to deliver one session of Horticultural Therapy (HT), and patients are referred by the Occupational Therapist (OT) as many times during their admission the OT feels that an intervention of HT can contribute to their rehab programme (some patients keep coming back for several years until they are mended).

Reasons for referral for Complex Trauma (amputee) patients include standing tolerance and balance, and diversion from pain. For Neuro Patients, improving fine motor skills and cognitive processing are the most common reason for referral and for Force Generation (joints and spines), patients planning and sequencing, encouraging social interaction and improving self-confidence and self-esteem feature in most referrals.

The HT service operates for 50 weeks of the year and follows the gardening year in all weathers.

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A day in the life of Headley Court
Home thoughts from abroad

Peace and relaxation. The ability to do something simple whilst producing tangible results and a chance to reflect on what is important to me. Identify what is going to maintain a positive mood.Happier. More open minded.

HC Patient at Headley Court

I could use my injured hand without even knowing it. It is a calming environment where not only do you feel relaxed but good about yourself.

HC Patient at Headley Court

I’ve learnt something new at every session and I will take this new found knowledge with me, be it in the future as a new career after completion of my time in the Military.

HC Patient at Headley Court

I have found Horticultural Therapy physically, emotionally and spiritually helpful. I now feel content.

HC Patient at Headley Court

Horticultural Therapy has given me the confidence in completing activities whilst standing. I enjoyed the peaceful environment.

HC Patient at Headley Court