Family sharing a Discovery Garden

Family sharing a Discovery Garden

Welcome to the first post of Sociohorticulture.com, a blog devoted to the ways that gardening and nature can help improve anyone’s quality of life. I’m Joe Novak, a semi-retired professor of horticulture, and I’ll be using this blog to share the power of sociohorticulture with you.

What is sociohorticulture? I coined this term in 1971, when I began exploring horticulture, the study of garden plants, from its social aspects. We all know gardening produces food, but it also has an incredible social impact on people. Sociohorticulture looks at how gardens benefit individuals both physically and mentally. It also looks at how gardens and natural spaces can benefit entire communities, becoming a focal point for neighbors to gather together and work on a common goal.

Vegetable garden

Backyard vegetable garden

Sociohorticulture has been my area of interest for many years. Growing up on a family farm in Ohio, I didn’t fully appreciate how fortunate I was to live fully engaged with nature. At first I steered my education to learn how to improve the quality of the crops we grew. My view changed while I was in a special two-year program helping farmers in the Philippines, however. The farmers were poor, but they strongly felt the connection between their work, their community, and the natural beauty around them. It seemed as though they were in touch with something the US was losing with the advent of corporate agriculture. That journey inspired me to study how contact with gardens and nature can create social benefits at every level, from individuals to special populations to entire communities.

Garden with curving paths and views

Garden designed for people with Alzheimer’s disease

In this blog, I hope to help people learn to use horticulture as a tool to achieve social benefits. Few Americans rely on gardens as their main source of food; we all enjoy the convenience of the grocery store. However, there are still many ways that sociohorticulture can benefit us today. It’s an enormous topic that I’ll approach from many different angles, such as: gardens for neighborhood rejuvenation, tools for gardeners with physical disabilities, and backyard gardens used as private retreats for contemplation and restoration of body and mind. Along the way, I’ll offer tips on gardening because effective use of sociohorticulture depends on effective use of horticulture.

Neighbors work together on a community garden

Neighbors work together on a community garden