The Therapeutic Dozen: Part 2

12 Women leading the way in restorative green-scape connection

Part 2 – by EWHA member Sandra Schwarz

In June, we met 6 women working in the broader field of Environmental Psychology and Restorative green-spaces, all based in either the UK or USA. Much of the literature (beyond purely academia) originates from these parts of the world. The UK and USA could also be considered the general leaders (most established professional systems) in Horticultural and Social Therapy. This field is called Therapeutic Horticulture in Australia, due to the fact that it is, at present, a non-registered field / profession and therefore focussed on horticulture rather than formal therapies.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to the women working in Nature-based interventions and therapies from Scandinavia and then here at home, in Australia. (Note: If this is a field that is of interest, please check out Therapeutic Horticulture Australia, a national body for this field since 2018. I am a member of their Education sub-committee and excited to see this industry grow – we catch up casually and regularly in Melbourne if you would like to know more or see what it is all about.)


Dr Anna María Palsdóttír (ISL/SWE)

Senior Lecturer (Assistant Professor) in Environmental Psychology, Anna Maria is a Horticulturalist and Researcher at the Department of People and Society, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in Alnarp, southern Sweden – which is where I met her. She travelled to Melbourne in 2022 to speak at the Therapeutic Horticulture Australia Conference about her work in Nature-Based Interventions. Until its recent closure (unfortunately due to lack of funding) her work was based at the Alnarp Rehabilitation Garden, where Anna Maria and her team worked with diverse participants including people recovering from Stroke, living with Parkinson’s and most recently migrants. Anna Maria has a very holistic and practical approach to her work, also showing a distinct interest in the senses of smell and sound on people’s experiences in gardens and the outdoors. [Research Gate provides a range of her research results to peruse.]


Prof Ulrika Stigsdotter (DK)

Ulrika is a Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Copenhagen, specialising in Health Design, after doing her PhD at SLU Alnarp. She is the driving force behind the Therapy Forest Garden Nacadia, located at the Hørsholm Arboretum on the outskirts of Copenhagen, which I had the pleasure to visit in 2018. Inspired by the Alnarp Rehab Garden, Nacadia is a site for Nature-based Therapies, particularly catering for people dealing with chronic stress. It is somewhat of a ‘living lab’ in that the work there is utilised for research, which then informs policy and provides an evidence base for new programs. The site, and Scandinavian Nature-Based interventions in general have a warm and gentle feel or manner to experiencing the outdoors, with a common ritual being to sit around an outside fire-pit with a hot drink to share ideas, thoughts and experiences. Nacadia Therapy Forest is well described in this paper:

If you prefer to watch rather than read, this video is a quick (3 min) overview of the site and key Researchers, including Ulrika: (In English – plus subtitles)

Or if you would like to hear the perspective of a participant, this c. 5min video goes into the processes practiced at Nacadia a little more (In Danish with subtitles)


Märit Jansson (SWE)

Märit is an Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), where I met her as part of a subject called People & Environment. Her specialisation in the study of ‘children-friendly’ places focussed on urban planning (public open space) through the lens of children – who will climb anything and tend to approach the world with curiosity. (I recall bike-riding to campus in snow during my studies in Sweden and seeing Kindergarten kids rugged up in ski-suits going for a walk to explore the neighbourhood, such is the Scandinavian connection to the outdoors.) Much of Märit’s work has focussed on children, adolescents and the elderly, embracing the 8 80 City concept offered by Gil Penalosa (cities aimed for ages 8-80). Collaborations with schools in southern Sweden allowed for the greening of school yards and their playgrounds, embracing nature play and adventure playgrounds much in the same way as we are currently seeing in Australia (thankfully). In her own words, Märit’s research is related to “…how urban green spaces can become better adapted to the needs of their users through management…(including)…green space management from a child perspective, green school ground development and perceived safety in urban woodlands.” (Source: Märit’s ResearchGate Profile)


Dr Kate Neale (AUS)

[Funnily enough, Märit and Kate somehow remind me of each other (despite being half-a-world apart) and both focus much of their work on children.] Kate, of Southern Cross University, specialises in childhood and disability studies. She brings a sociological perspective to her research, investigating the benefits of green spaces, food growing and the “role therapeutic horticulture has in fostering a sense of belonging and inclusion at a social or community level” ( Until recently, Kate was also the Vice President of Therapeutic Horticulture Australia (THA) and spoke at their 2022 Conference about her most recent work with vulnerable women and their babies. Aside from the joyful fact that Kate almost always has a big smile on her face and laughs easily, she shares her passion for the benefits of greenery with other readily. She connects deeply with people of all ages, but her focus and nurturing of mothers, babies and children demonstrate the great benefits that being outside and growing your own food can provide. You can hear her speak on the Southern Cross Uni Podcast:


Dr Pauline Marsh (AUS)

Pauline is a Researcher and ‘Health Geographer’ at the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre (University of Tasmania). I have met Pauline through both THA and as a speaker within the greater Therapeutic Horticulture realm, where she gives generously of her knowledge and research. Focussing on the outdoor and gardening needs of people with cognitive, emotional and physical health challenges, she is a co-founder of DIGnity Supported Community Gardening (not-for-profit organisation – some videos of the programs there are available ). Pauline’s work collaborates with other fields such as agriculture / urban agriculture and care farming, with a focus on rural settings. She has investigated changes in gardening habits, benefits and experiences during Covid-19 lockdowns and also focussed on community-based end-of-life care. Whilst somewhat concentrated on older demographics, all of her work demonstrates a deep connection to community and helping people through gardens / gardening.


Dr Theresa Scott (AUS)

Theresa is a Research Psychologist at the University of Queensland (School of Psychology), with a specialisation in work around dementia and aging. While her most recent work relates to supporting people with dementia driving / ceasing to drive cars, the benefits of gardening activities consistently underpin her research. Theresa has focussed on the interventions and environments that support people living with dementia, as well as their carers and families. While there is a clear focus on the green environments offered through therapeutic horticulture, she has also researched related complementary therapies, such as music and animal assisted therapies. Similar to some of the work by Pauline Marsh, Theresa’s work has looked into the benefits of community gardening and she has spoken generously at related events such as past THA Conferences.


I hope this 2-part article has provided an introduction into the field of Therapeutic Horticulture and some of the amazing women working within it. It is an exciting, emerging field that consistently demonstrates the great benefits humans gain from being connected to the soil, plants and the outdoors. Wishing everyone at EWHA a very happy Spring and lots of sunny days in your own gardens and green spaces.


Image credit Gabriel Jimenez

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