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Arboretum & NCSU Extension Service

Posted on: July 27, 2023

Gardening can improve your overall health

Plant pot with anole inside

Have you ever been on a walk and saw a flower so pretty you had to stop and look at it for a moment? Ever since I was little, I have found myself stopping to look at varieties of flowers with amazement for how unique they are. Growing up in Massachusetts, I spent my summers in Cape Cod where vibrant hydrangeas bloom for miles. In a world where humans are constantly working hard and combating stress, it’s important to remind ourselves to slow down and notice the nature around us. 

Therapeutic horticulture is a term that describes how nature and gardening activities can be applied to strengthen the connection between humans and plants by deepening the body, mind, and spirit connection. The Ability Garden recognizes the importance of nature being a part of our lives, offering nature-based interventions and cultivating plants. During my internship with the N.C. Cooperative Extension’s Ability Garden housed at the New Hanover County Arboretum, I’ve had the pleasure of working with individuals as they participated in therapeutic horticulture activities.  

hydrangea plant

This summer, I worked with Lake Forest Academy, an alternative style school where elementary and middle school students may be placed for mental health problems, behavioral problems, or victims of abuse/neglect. The Ability Garden has been working with Lake Forest to provide therapeutic horticulture and educates students on gardening. This program provides opportunities for young students to better their mental health, increase physical activity, and increase their knowledge of the natural world around them. As a public health intern, I have witnessed benefits of interacting with nature and how it can improve one’s quality of life. 

I was able to apply my public health coursework through the University of North Carolina Wilmington to implement a program with Special Olympics New Hanover County. I taught three groups of athletes about types of microgreens, how to grow them, and their nutritional benefits. Each athlete successfully planted and took home their microgreens after receiving a tour of The Ability Garden guided by the Master gardeners. As a future health educator, my goal is to promote wellness, provide opportunities for those in need, and to create ways to improve the well-being of the community around me.  

blueberry plant

Many people ask why I chose public health, and my reason is the desire to give back to the community. N.C. Cooperative Extension organizes an annual blueberry gleaning at the Castle Hayne Research Station, one of the premier research facilities for the production of blueberries. I had the pleasure of attending this year’s third gleaning where we picked buckets of blueberries donated to the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina. I believe that nature and gardening are key components in public health and in achieving desired health outcomes. 

Victoria McDonough - Ability Garden intern

Victoria McDonough is an intern with The Ability Garden at the N.C. Cooperative Extension Center for New Hanover County, located at the arboretum at 6206 Oleander Drive in Wilmington. The gardens are free and open daily 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Reach McDonough at or 413-433-7691. 

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