Doing Time in the Garden: Horticultural Therapy Offers Prisoners Seeds of Opportunity

July 16, 2009 by


One of the outreach programs of The Horticultural Society of New York, GreenHouse, based on Rikers Island, is dedicated to reducing the recidivism rate by offering men and women who are incarcerated an innovative jail-to-street program using horticultural therapy as a tool to prepare them for reentry.

Since 1996, GreenHouse has grown to encompass an educational setting on Rikers Island that includes a greenhouse, a classroom and over two and a half acres of landscaped and productive gardens, designed and built by inmates.

GreenHouse provides remedial education, skill development and vocational training in horticulture. Hands-on experience includes designing, installing and maintaining the multi-use gardens, and the design and construction of garden fixtures (benches, trellises, planters, etc.) Upon graduating from the program on their release, they have the option to join the GreenTeam, our vocational internship program.

GreenTeam is HSNY’s internship program to help newly-released men and women who participated in the GreenHouse program transition back into their communities. GreenTeam provides vocational training in horticulture, transitional work, job search skills, and job placement, and aftercare services.  GreenTeam also provides training and placement opportunities to at-risk youth through partnerships with other social service organizations including young adults court-appointed to join vocational training programs and adolescents aging out of the foster care system.

GreenTeam members can be found working all around the five boroughs of New York. Examples of GreenTeam projects include:

  • Basic maintenance of a garden or installing custom planters made at the GreenHouse
  • Constructing and installing an environmental green roof or an on-site healing garden for one of our partner non-profit organizations
  • Landscaping a section of a New York City park or the grounds of a newly constructed building
  • Planting trees along neighborhood streets that will naturally relieve the oppressive summer heat on the sidewalks

The men, women, and young adults who participate in the GreenTeam are learning more than just professional horticulture: they’re receiving vital training in the life skills needed to turn their lives in a new, positive direction.

Among their many projects, the GreenTeam provides affordable and quality landscaping services within the five boroughs of New York City. They have a proven track record of quality work and experience in many different garden settings. Any organization can request the services of the GreenTeam to help beautify their public or private space.

By (and buy) the Book


In 2006, New Village Press published The Horticultural Society’s book Doing Time in the Garden, an account of the GreenHouse program, by James Jiler, former GreenHouse director. The book is widely read in classrooms and by professionals across the country in fields including horticultural therapy, vocational training in corrections facilities, and reentry preparation.

For a free GreenTeam estimate, fill out the HSNY online request form or call John Cannizzo, GreenTeam program director, at (917) 886-8123.

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