What does it mean to be a horticultural therapist in Europe these days? What does it imply in terms of knowledge, skills, training, salary, recognition?
This is what we will discuss today, thanks to an exchange I had a few weeks ago with Leila Alcalde, a Spanish native, who trained in the United Kingdom at the University of Coventry, on this emerging profession in Europe. Thank you Leila for participating in this little game of questions and answers, which should interest a lot of people here.
In the United Kingdoms, despite an active sensitization for more than 40 years already, made by the THRIVE association and the setting up of training of practitioners, the profession and the very practice of horticotherapy as a complementary activity to classical therapies, still remain little known.
Many gardening projects exist in classical and specialized schools, in hospitals, mental health institutions, retirement homes … however these are most often managed by volunteers!
The English seem more aware of the benefits of nature and gardening in particular, than of the interest of having a professional as a companion to this complementary therapy.
« This is a concern for practitioners like me who are trained and want to be able to practice professionally in this field. «
Leila was also able to work in Hamburg and at a meeting of horticultural therapists in Germany, she was surprised to find that the majority of the country’s practitioners were actually working in the hospital sector. This was quite remarkable.
However, as everywhere in Europe today, the profession remains little known in the sense that few know the exact role of a horticultural therapist and all the means at their disposal to improve the care of those who need it.
Associations exist, as in Germany with IGGT, practitioners seem to be well organized, find jobs in the health sector and train practitioners beyond the country as in Austria and Switzerland, but nothing is done, the profession is still struggling to make itself known.
Qualities and skills of a horticultural therapist
I completely agree with Leila on the qualities and skills that a horticultural therapist should have and this is more or less what I was able to put in my book (due out in 2021, ed. Terre Vivante).
The practitioner must not only have specific human qualities such as :
- adaptability, flexibility, resilience, problem-solving ability
- a sense of humour
- communicative being
- be innovative
- be able to encourage others
In order to be able to carry out a project:
- be able to plan
possess an ability to organize
- be a good communicator
- know the administrative procedures to follow
- be able to anticipate risks
- have some computer knowledge
Compared to the users of the garden, the horticultural thrapist must :
- have knowledge about pathologies, and the care of people who use the garden as a medium for therapy.
- be familiar with the character traits and abilities of each participant in the garden activity.
Finally, in a general, yet fundamental way, to possess at the same time :
- horticultural skills
- knowledge in relation to plants
- even minimal skills in the design, conception and maintenance of landscaped spaces
- the ability to organise sessions in the garden in a structured and adapted manner for each audience received, throughout the year.
Where's the money in all this?
A subject that is still quite taboo (in France anyway), I was able to talk more with Leila about money issues. Currently quite a few people would like to live in care gardens. Many dream about it, few talk about it in terms of numbers and unfortunately the reality is far from corresponding to the aspirations of each one.
Can we live off the healing gardens?
To the question : Can we live today in France of the care gardens I would answer this:
No, no one today can say in France that they live exclusively off the care gardens:
Whether he’s a horticultural therapist or a landscape designer… Very often, for still very few landscape professionals, it is only a tiny part of their order book. As far as the profession of horticulturalist is concerned, let’s forget about it right away.
ONE : there is currently no diploma certifying this competence.
TWO: the animators, who can be related to the profession, find it difficult to find enough paid contracts to make it a main and exclusive activity.
Even for the creators of short (non-degree) training courses, this is not enough to generate sufficient income for the company.
All the people in the field that I have been able to meet, or with whom I have been able to exchange ideas, generally do another activity as a complement or have a relative who makes up for the loss of financial income.
As an example, in England, where a diploma exists, a horticultural therapist can envisage earning a little less than €19,000 per year at the beginning and a little less than €33,500 after several years of experience, for a 35 to 39 hour work week.
If and only, if! The latter finds a full-time job !
A position that is still quite rare. Just imagine what it can represent at the moment in France, without a diploma, nor big means allocated to the creation of projects!
For Leila, there is still a lot to do in order to get a real recognition, the positions and the salary that goes with it:
« As professionals we must invest ourselves in this task, in order to one day become as popular as art therapists, pet therapists or even sylvotherapists. »
Development of horticultural therapy in Spain
Leila doesn’t intend to be complacent. In 2018, she co-founded the Asociacion Espanola de Horticultura y Jardineria Social y Terapeutica. The objectives of the Spanish association are first and foremost to raise awareness about horticulture and horticulture therapy, so that the work of horticultural therapists is more widely recognised in the Spanish-speaking community.
Indeed, in terms of research and public health, the majority of documents remain in English, thus depriving a large number of people of their contents, for those who do not master the language of Shakespeare.
In 2020, the fledgling association organised short courses (20 hours) in collaboration with the Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of Zaragoza. The desire for the coming years is to be able to increase this training time.
A great deal of communication work is being carried out, particularly through social networks and with former students of this first 20-hour training course, in order to keep them informed about the profession of horticultural therapist.
Communication also extends to other professionals through exchanges and conferences.
The Covid 19 pandemic has also made it possible to set up collaboration with other Spanish-speaking countries, such as Peru, Clombia, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Guatemala and Puerto Rico. An online course database was also made available.
The association hopes to be able to continue this work of training, book writing and research, all in Spanish of course. This will certainly lead to talk about all this in future articles on More Green less Concrete.
Tell us about yourself...
Do you live today fully from your activity in the care gardens?
Do you have experience in Europe ?
Feel free to share your experience in the comments below this article.
To go further
Spanish Association (that of Leila): AEHJST
Leila’s Blog in Spanish: Vitamina Verde Terapia Horticola
German Association: Internationale Gesellschaft Garten Therapie (IGGT)
French Federation for Nature and Health Gardens: FFJNS
English association : THRIVE
Site of the British government : Salary scale of a hortitherapist in the United Kingdom