How to become a horticultural therapist

As a horticultural therapist, you would use gardening as a means of improving your clients’ health and wellbeing. You could work with a wide range of clients, including:

  • people with physical disabilities, mental health problems and learning difficulties
  • elderly people
  • offenders and ex-offenders
  • people recovering from drug or alcohol abuse, major injuries or illnesses.

Your work would vary depending on your client group, but could include:

  • developing clients’ practical or social skills, confidence or self-esteem
  • adapting projects to the needs of individual clients
  • helping clients to learn or re-learn basic skills, including numeracy and literacy
  • providing supportive outdoor activity and exercise to restore strength and mobility after an accident or illness
  • supporting and encouraging clients, and monitoring their progress
  • supporting clients in gaining horticultural qualifications or going on to employment
  • working closely with other professionals like psychologists and social workers.

Your work would also include managing staff and volunteers, drawing up proposals for projects, and applying for funding.

What qualifications and experience will employers look for?

If you have qualifications and experience in horticulture or in jobs such as social work, occupational therapy, nursing or teaching, you can gain skills in horticultural therapy by:

  • attending short courses and volunteering on social and therapeutic horticulture projects, or
  • completing a course leading to a qualification in social and therapeutic horticulture – available at a small number of colleges.

Short courses
You can attend a variety of short courses run by the national charity, Thrive. You can complete Thrive courses both as a new entrant and once you have experience.

Voluntary opportunities are available with Thrive if you live within travelling distance of their gardens in Hackney (North London), Battersea (South London), Beech Hill (near Reading), Rotherham (South Yorkshire) and Perth (Scotland). Thrive also has details of other projects around the UK.

You can find out about other volunteering opportunities in your area by visiting


Courses leading to qualifications in social and therapeutic horticulture include:

  • Professional Development Certificate and Diploma in Social and Therapeutic Horticulture at Coventry University
  • Professional Development Diploma in Social and Therapeutic Horticulture at Askham Bryan College, York
  • Social and Therapeutic Horticulture foundation degree at Writtle College
  • BSc (Hons) in Horticulture and Environmental Management at the University of Reading – includes a unit in Horticultural Therapy
  • Diploma and MSc in Horticulture at the University of Reading – with the option to specialise in social and therapeutic horticulture.

You may be accepted on some of these courses without qualifications in horticulture, social care, health care or teaching if you have experience in one of these areas, perhaps gained through volunteering. Please check with individual colleges or universities for details of entry requirements.

  • Coventry University
  • Askham Bryan College
  • Writtle College
  • University of Reading

As you will be working with vulnerable people, you will need Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) clearance before you start a course or job.

  • Criminal Records Bureau

See the Thrive website for information on courses, volunteering opportunities and working in social and therapeutic horticulture.

What further training and development can I do?

Once you are employed as a horticultural therapist, you may receive on-the-job training.

You could also develop your skills by attending short courses (such as those run by Thrive), or by working towards qualifications in horticulture, like the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Diploma in Horticulture. Visit the Thrive and RHS websites to find out about courses and qualifications.

  • Thrive
  • Royal Horticultural Society

Written by admin

Founder and editor of, a mother of two wonderful children, wife and journalist.