Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event such as combat, an act of terrorism or a violent assault. Many people experiencing PTSD may also have problems with depression and anxiety. PTSD can make it difficult to hold down a job or maintain interpersonal relationships. PTSD can happen to anyone. It’s not a sign of weakness or failure. Nearly 30 percent of the 834,463 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been treated for PTSD by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. It’s important to note that the majority of combat veterans will not experience PTSD.     

Horticultural therapy is a garden-focused rehabilitation modality. In 1972, the Menninger Clinic and the Department of Horticulture at Kansas State University established the first horticultural therapy curriculum in the U.S. Horticultural therapists work in collaboration with other health care professionals. 

Therapeutic gardens are specifically designed to serve the psychological and physical needs of the clients who use them. Being outdoors can have a positive effect on our sense of well-being. The concept isn’t new. Florence Nightingale recognized the beneficial relationship between nature and healing and the importance of fresh air and sunshine. Gardens have been important adjuncts to healing for hundreds of years. Therapeutic gardens engage clients in every aspect of hands-on gardening, from planting and harvesting to participation in farmer’s markets.

Therapy gardens are more than just a space for quiet contemplation. They’re designed to stimulate the mind, increase social interaction and promote exercise. People with PTSD can feel frightened even when they’re no longer in danger. Increased physical activity can distract from these disturbing thoughts and emotions. The Stress Disorders Treatment Program at the Topeka VA Medical Center established a vegetable garden as one of its therapeutic activities in the spring of 2016. 

The pursuit of healing can take us to places we never imagined. It was just by chance that I ran across the story of the Ivan tomato. The name caught my attention and my curiosity took over. The Ivan is a heirloom variety that had been grown by the Schuerenberg family near Ashland, Missouri. By the 1980s, the tomato was all but lost. No one was interested in growing the tomato except for one last relative. Jerry Schuerenberg served as a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War from 1967 to 1968. Although he was troubled by his wartime experiences, he seldom spoke about them. According to his family, he tended to internalize his feelings. On the advice of his doctor, he took up a hobby to distract from the memories of his wartime trauma. He found peace in the humid space of his greenhouses. With the last of the surviving Ivan seeds, he started the Heartland Nursery. They sold plants, flowers and many heirloom species from the Columbia, Missouri, farmers market.  The Ivan tomato was the centerpiece of their family’s thriving business. For Mr. Schuerenberg, agricultural therapy helped heal the wounds of war. If you’d like to grow the Ivan tomato, contact the Ivan Tomato Rescue Project on Facebook. Ten percent of their proceeds are donated to programs that offer agricultural therapy.           

Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at