Have you ever noticed feeling calmer and more relaxed or in a better mood while spending time outside? You may have been involved in a gardening activity at some point in time that made you feel more connected to the world around you. As society pulls us humans away from nature, it is important for us to spend more time immersed in the outdoors to remind us of who we really are. The restorative feelings we often feel while spending time in nature can be described as therapeutic gardening, a term that broadly expresses how nature and gardening activities are used to help deepen the connection between people and plants by strengthening the body, mind, and spirit. Connection.
During my time as an intern at the NC Cooperative Extension’s Ability Garden located in the New Hanover County Arboretum, I was often asked what major led me to this internship. I noticed confused faces when I answered, “General health.” During public health coursework through the University of North Carolina Wilmington, I learned about the impact gardening can have on the community around me.
This semester, I worked with Lake Forest Academy, an alternative-pattern school where elementary and middle school children may be placed for a variety of reasons, including behavioral problems, mental health problems, or victims of abuse or neglect. Ability Garden works with the Garden Club of Lake Forest to educate students about gardening, offer therapeutic benefits, and guide students to develop a relationship with nature. From a public health perspective, students engage in ways to help increase mental health outcomes, increase physical activity while working in the garden, and increase knowledge of the different food crops grown in the garden.
Transitions for Young Adults visits Al Qudra Park every two months to improve social, occupational, and general well-being. This is a group of students ages 18 to 22 who remain in the New Hanover County school district for a variety of reasons, including cognitive disabilities, learning disabilities, or physical limitations. The group travels to the New Hanover County Arboretum via public transportation, picnics within the park for lunch, and then joins the Power Garden for several planting, seeding, or other gardening activities.
I noticed the need for movement between lunch and gardening, so I usually tried to take a walk around the garden, and we did some yoga and breathing exercises together. From a public health perspective, gardening benefits this group by improving focus, staying on task, and completing tasks. These skills may translate to society by helping students get jobs. A walk in the park increases the amount of time spent participating in physical activity and improves mental health.
I was also able to apply public health skills such as leadership, planning and communication throughout the training period. I believe nature and gardening play a major role in public health and preventive health measures as well as healing health outcomes. I encourage you to make time this week to get outside, go for a walk barefoot, do yoga in the garden, or work on a gardening project to get some of the many benefits of therapeutic gardening.
Natalie Noftsger is a University of North Carolina Wilmington Public Health Intern with Garden Ability at the NC Cooperative Extension – New Hanover County Arboretum, 6206 Oleander Drive in Wilmington. The gardens are free and open daily from 8 am to 5 pm. Contact her at email@example.com or 704-607-6468.