The small urban gardens for horticultural purposes are widespread in Europe and all over the world. Urban gardens have similar origins everywhere. In Europe, they were a result of people migration from rural territories to urban areas during the industrial revolution during 19th century. Workers and their families lived in poverty, social alienation and malnutrition, hence the so called migrant gardens or poors’ gardens were useful tools to limit these negative side-effects of industrialization and urbanization. Those gardens rose in lands belonging to local administrations, factories or religious communities. The availability of vegetables and farmyard livestock from those gardens became even more important in the first half of the 20th century, especially during the world wars, when towns were isolated from the countryside and food deficiency occurred. The evolution of economic and socio-cultural conditions after the II World War shifted the original food production function of the community and allotment gardens toward ecological-environmental, recreational, educational, social and therapeutic functions. However, nowadays the increasing food insecurity in the urban areas due to the economic crisis has raised again the food production function. The ecological-environmental function of urban horticulture can be mainly due to the effects of the “urban heat island” mitigation, urban wastes recycling, transformation of city-owned vacant lots, urban requalification and promotion of urban-rural linkage. The social and educational functions are related to all the activities carried out with senior citizens and children in the allotment, community and school gardens aimed, besides to the improvement of food security, to establish contacts and overcome loneliness, to have an opportunity of self-fulfillment during the period of retirement, to increase knowledge, skills and positive attitude towards nature and environment; moreover horticultural training can improves job prospects and sense of well-being and decreases recidivism for prison inmates. The psychological and health-related benefits of people-plant interactions are well-known since centuries but only in the last decades Horticultural Therapy has been developed as one discipline of the several Plant- Assisted Therapies in order to study and apply the effects of the horticultural activities on human health and well-being. The paper reviewed origins, spread and aims of allotment and community gardens, horticultural therapy, horticulture activities for children education, inmates and senior citizens with a particular attention to the Italian situation.
Keywords: allotment and community gardens, horticultural therapy, elderly, children, inmates