On Saturday, Nov. 5, at the healing garden behind Cobb House, the St. Mary’s Arboretum Association hosted a two-part event centered on the reviving powers of nature called “The Healing Powers of Gardens.” The first part was an informal lecture by Mary-Jeanne “MJ” Raleigh, the director of Counseling Services here at St. Mary’s about her personal investigations into the effects of the environment on the human psyche. The second section was an hour-long Tai Chi class led by Tai Chi practitioner Alex Kampf.
Senior Jessica Ditillo, the primary force in creating the healing garden, started the event by talking about the goals of the Arboretum Association and what they had hoped to accomplish by planting the garden. She said that the project, conceived in Fall 2010, aimed to improve the acreage of the college and create “a place where trees and plants are cared for.”
After Ditillo welcomed the visitors, Raleigh began her lecture. In her 25 years of therapy work, she has discovered that nature has a powerful restorative power that affects people of all ages. Children ages eight to ten that spend ten or more hours outside per week have significantly lower anxiety levels than children who do not. This is because children find refuge and safe spaces while outside.
There has been a radical increase in anxiety levels across cohorts, or generations. Eighteen year-olds today have 50 times more anxiety than children hospitalized for anxiety at the beginning of the 20th century. This is partially due to children spending more time inside because of television and video games.
Raleigh emphasized the importance of getting children and adults outside as often as possible. “Being outside stops the ‘white noise’ in our heads,” said Raleigh. “An outside restorative space is more powerful than sleep.”
The healing garden is part of an effort to give people a place to escape and enjoy the curative effects of the environment. A therapeutic garden must have several key features, according to Raleigh: a sense of being away, a sense of mystery, connectedness to nature and others, and quiet. After the plants around the healing garden have had several seasons to grow, the garden will provide this for students and members of the community.
There were not any students at the event, but it was well received by community members.