Rhea R. McCandliss 1967 Speech

A reflection on our past, a glimpse into the future.

Submitted by: Derrick Stowell, AHTA Immediate Past President

In October 1967, Rhea R. McCandliss gave a talk at the professional staff meeting of Menninger Memorial Hospital located at the time in Topeka, KS. Rhea was instrumental in the development of the horticultural therapy profession. She was instrumental in the founding of the National Council for Therapy and Rehabilitation through Horticulture in 1973, now called the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA). She also conducted a valuable national study of hospitals using horticulture as therapy 1968 (Relf, 2019). Over the years the AHTA has collected publications and writings of those in the profession. I recently read McCandliss’ essay, I felt that the words spoken in 1967 are still important for our profession today. One statement in this speech clarified the difference between simply gardening and horticultural therapy:

Can horticulture be called therapeutic? How do we justify it as one of the adjunctive therapies here at the Meminger Foundation? To me it seems obvious, that unless we have a broad understanding of the plant world, we cannot provide the patient with an awareness of the environment in which he must live. He cannot understand one plant unless he can understand the relationship of that plant to other plants, and the life processes to which not only that plant but he himself is related. If better mental health includes being concerned about the world around us, then a part of improving the health of our patients should include an understanding of the ecological systems and our place in them and responsibilities toward them.

From this viewpoint perhaps it will not sound strange to you when I say that I do not think of the greenhouse as a place where we teach people to grow plants. To me that is quite incidental to the benefit patients should get from having spent some time there while in the hospital. If a patient needs only to learn to grow plants, he could read a book or join a garden club or attend a class. And he would find it much cheaper and less painful than coming into the hospital. Or if his goal is a beautiful garden, he could hire a landscape architect to plan and produce it, and labor to maintain it.

If our goals are not to develop gardeners, what are they?

We hope that a patient's working in a group, learning to adjust to and consider others; learning to be responsible for living plants dependent upon him; learning and understanding his dependency on nature and plant life; developing a greater appreciation and enjoyment in the plant world which surrounds him, no matter where he may live; being able to accept the disappointment that inevitably come when working with living perishable materials; developing a tolerance to the frustrations of a partnership with nature (and thus to other disappointments.) --we hope that these things are therapeutic. (McCandliss, 1967)

When I think about the work we do as therapists, this helps me to put into perspective what I do versus simply gardening. The therapy is key. We hope to provide therapy using plants for our clients or participants based on their assessed needs and goals. Members can review a complete copy of Rhea McCandliss’ speech in our member center.


McCandliss, R. R. (1967). The Plant – Man – The Environment. Menninger Memorial Hospital Professional Staff Meeting. October 3, 1967

Relf, D. (2019). Perspective: Purpose and History of a New Profession. In R. L. Haller, K.L. Kennedy & C. .L. Capra (Eds.). The Profession and Practice of Horticultural Therapy (pp. 13-15). CRC Press



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