Hope Blooms for Mental Health: How This Millennial Is Designing Therapeutic Gardens, Lifestyle News


Over the past two years, growing houseplants has grown from a post-retirement activity to a popular pastime among housebound Millennials. But for 34-year-old Tham Xin Kai, working with plants is more than just a hobby: it’s his career.

No, he is not a florist, a “plant influencer”, or the owner of a nursery. Xin Kai is a landscape architect who designs therapeutic gardens in community and health facilities. He also plans nature-based activities, such as workshops, for schoolchildren, the elderly, people with dementia and other special needs.

In other words, “herbal therapy” is for him much more than self-care – it is a calling and a way to bring joy and purpose to others.

“I remember during one of the sessions that I led [at HortPark], an elderly lady joined the session without much interaction with the group, ”he told us via email.

“But once we started to walk around the garden and talk about the different plants and their uses, she suddenly started talking with a lot of enthusiasm, shared with us how much she loved the scent of the blossom. jasmine (Jasminium samblac) and collected the flower to make jasmine water to drink from time to time.

This shows that plants can greatly benefit people, especially the elderly, with fond memories. It is one of the many wonders that shows how contact with nature can improve the psychological well-being of people.


While young, Xin Kai has nearly a decade of experience in the field. After graduating in Landscape Architecture from the University of Western Australia, Xin Kai worked at the National Parks Board (NParks) for 6 years, where he had the opportunity to design therapeutic gardens located in public parks. , as in Tiong Bahru Park, Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park and Choa Chu Kang Park.

Today he works as a design director for Hortian Consultancy, the team behind Orthotherapeutic, a company that designs landscapes and programs for healing and therapy. Today, he is obtaining a certificate in horticultural therapy from the University of Florida.

“Having witnessed how herbal activities can benefit the physical and mental well-being of people, especially the elderly and people with dementia, I am convinced that more needs to be done to advocate in favor of the professional practice of horticultural therapy, ”he said. .

Love plants and love people? Here is what Xin Kai had to share on how you can marry these two interests to help our “city in a garden” bloom with mental wellness benefits.

Becoming a ‘plant parent’ has become very trendy with Millennials amid Covid-19 blockages. Do you keep plants at home?

I’m happy that more and more people, including Millennials, are starting to make gardening a hobby. Gardening has a therapeutic effect on people in general and may well be one of the many ways people can cope with current limitations due to Covid-19 situations.

Did you know that contact with the ground can help reduce stress? According to Matthews, DM and Jenks, SM (2013), Mycobacterium vaccae, a bacteria commonly found in soil, triggers the release of serotonin, a hormone that decreases anxiety and depression, improves mood, and improves cognitive function.

For my part, I currently deal with common houseplants like Money Plant (Epipremnum aureum) and Blue Club Moss (Selaginella willdenowii), as well as edibles like Lemon Basil (Ocimum americanum ‘Lemonette’) and Eggplant (Solanum melongena) which unfortunately have not yet been fruitful.

Is there a difference between therapeutic horticulture and horticultural therapy?


HT is the active use of plants or herbal activities to aid in the treatment, rehabilitation or vocational training of individuals or groups with established goals and objectives. HT is performed by a professional horticulturist registered with professional HT bodies in countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and Japan.

Therapeutic Horticulture (HT) also uses plants and herbal activities to facilitate the well-being of individuals or groups but does not require a set of documentation of the process. Activities can be active, i.e. hands-on gardening, or passive, i.e. a walk in the garden, and can be carried out either by a licensed horticulturalist or by other professionals.

This means that a person practicing the profession of horticulturalist can effectively work alongside other medical professions such as occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech therapists, etc., to treat patients, using herbal activities or of plants.

In Singapore, we do not yet have this practice. In places like the US, UK, Canada, South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong, there are HT associations that certify horticulturalists to serve customers with dementia, chronic disease, and dementia. other special needs.

Tell us about the process of designing a therapeutic garden.


The design process involves understanding the needs and requirements of the customer and other stakeholders…. The length of time to design a therapeutic garden will vary depending on the size of the garden, the condition of the site, and the scope of the project. Depending on these factors, the design process can take anywhere from three months to a year or more, before construction of the garden begins.

Once the garden is completed, a post-occupancy assessment will be conducted to gather feedback on the effective use of the garden, including the conduct of HT / HT activities.

Similar to the overall design layout, the selection of facility types depends on the design intent and specific user groups. Therefore, the plant breeding requirements for a garden for the elderly and people with dementia will be different from those for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or other health conditions.

For the elderly and people with dementia, plants are usually selected based on their sensory and cognitive stimulation, such as the use of fragrant plants, brightly colored plants, edibles, including herbs and dementia. spices, as well as culturally important plants that can bring memories, especially to people with dementia.

In contrast, plants selected for a garden for children with autism spectrum disorders should be cautious, as they are more sensitive to sensory interactions.

What advice would you give to someone interested in a career in therapeutic horticulture? What are some of the requirements – and where is a good place to start?


I think to start, to have a passion for plants and to improve the well-being of people! Currently in Singapore, the NParks Center for Urban Greenery and Ecology (CUGE) offers a Certificate in Therapeutic Horticulture.

For the full HT program, the University of Florida and Boston Horticultural Therapy Institutes offer online courses. Both courses are certified by the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA), but there are additional requirements to be a registered HT under the AHTA. For more information, do visit their website.

This article first appeared in Wonderwall.sg.


About Author

Leave A Reply