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Health & Well Being

Achieve Greatness in Health & Wellbeing




Getting Started is Easy!

Read the Workbook to learn the goals, key performance indicators, outcomes, and strategies.

Fill out the Self-Assessment and get a baseline of where your garden is on Health & Wellbeing and gain access to peer support. Download the Assessment Questions here to work offline/share with others.

Gain Recognition 

Demonstrate garden achievements on Health & Wellbeing and receive Excellence in Health & Wellbeing recognition.


A wide range of best practices set the standard to minimize water consumption and promote surface and groundwater quality. Goals, Strategies, Resources, and a Network of Peer Support help your garden meet Key Performance Indicators and Achieve Outcomes.

What Recognition for Your Garden Means 

A Garden Profile on your garden’s unique achievement of Excellence in Health & Wellbeing featured on the Association website and in communication platforms. 

Excellence in Health & Wellbeing badge of recognition will be awarded for your garden’s use.



With the rapid growth of urbanization and the human population, public gardens offer refuge from the noise, pollution, and stress often associated with urban human activity. Natural environments affect human health and well-being both directly and indirectly. Public gardens provide opportunities for physical activity and stress relief and are spaces for social interaction amongst communities that might not otherwise take place. Chronic stress, physical inactivity, and lack of social cohesion are three major risk factors for non-communicable diseases, and therefore public gardens are an important asset for health promotion. Gardens have a unique way of reorienting us to the beauty of life and provide us with inspiration and tools for making positive changes.

Ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being for all at all ages is essential to sustainable development. The Health and Well-Being Attribute focuses on how public gardens can make significant strides to eradicate a wide range of diseases and address many different persistent and emerging health issues. The evidence around the effects of natural environments on health and well-being is steadily increasing, such as health services through functional ecosystems, early life exposure to biodiverse microbiota, which is important for immune-system development, and sensory exposure, which has direct neurobiological impact supporting cognitive development and stress resilience. Research also shows lower mortality rates and prevalence of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, healthier pregnancy outcomes, reduced health inequalities, and improved mental health in urban areas with greater amounts of green and blue space.




Research has proven that being around plants makes people feel calmer and more relaxed. Psychologist Michael Perlman has written of the psychological power of trees, as evidenced by mythology, dreams, and self-reported emotional responses. The concept that plants have a role in mental health is well established. Hospitals, for example, have traditionally had gardens as an adjunct to recuperation and healing. Perhaps this time-honored practice reflects a recognition that proximity to plants may in some circumstances enhance health. Due to the lack of access to large tracks of public land and open space often found in rural and less densely populated areas, many people visit public gardens for the immersive experience in nature (sometimes for the first time for children that have grown up in an urban environment). The mere presence of a garden in these areas is viewed as therapeutic and an aspect of health and well-being for visitors whose daily work environment is in an office setting. Fostering a sense of belonging in the landscape and taking better care of the environment can also incentivize people to value nature for their own health and well-being, as people recognize the mutually beneficial relationship to their natural environment. Establishing thoughtful health and well-being programming in a public garden setting can also leverage a discussion on sustainability: By taking care of our environment, our quality of life can improve.




The present disconnect between children and nature threatens the health of children and the places they live. The average North American child currently spends seven to ten hours each day staring at screens, and mere minutes engaged in unstructured outdoor play, a dramatic transformation within the past generation. As a result, rates of obesity, ADHD, heart disease, and depression among children have been skyrocketing. Numerous studies now demonstrate the critical importance of unstructured nature play and the power of hands-on, place-based learning in natural settings for growing minds and bodies. In addition, the urban and regional environments that sustain us are also at risk. The creation of ecologically sustainable communities depends on people caring about where they live. We learn to care by spending time outdoors: building and nurturing emotional and intellectual connections.


The following are goals that public gardens should strive to achieve in order to address the Health and Well-being Attribute:


Goal 1: Promote and educate visitors on the physical and mental health benefits that gardens provide.

Goal 2: Promote and educate visitors on healthy regional food produce to grow at home.

Goal 3: Ensure garden programming on health and well-being is also reflected in food offerings at retail stores, cafés, restaurants, and other for sale food options.

Goal 4: Provide direct services to the community internally and externally for therapeutic horticulture design, education, and professional development.

Goal 5: Implement a health and wellness policy internally to establish a pervasive culture of inclusion, diversity, and safety across all departments.


The following UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are aligned with this attribute:


SDG 2-Zero Hunger:

Efforts to combat hunger and malnutrition have advanced significantly since 2000. Ending hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition for all, however, will require continued and focused efforts. More investments in agriculture, including government spending and aid, are needed to increase capacity for agricultural productivity.

  • In 2016, an estimated 52 million children under 5 years of age worldwide suffered from wasting (with a low weight for their height, usually the result of an acute and significant food shortage and/or disease). The global wasting rate in 2016 was 7.7 per cent, with the highest rate (15.4 per cent) in Southern Asia. At the other end of the spectrum, overweight and obesity affected 41 million children under 5 years of age worldwide (6 per cent) in 2016.

  • Ending hunger demands sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices. One aspect of that effort is maintaining the genetic diversity of plants and animals, which is crucial for agriculture and food production. In 2016, 4.7 million samples of seeds and other plant genetic material for food and agriculture were preserved in 602 gene banks throughout 82 countries and 14 regional and international centres — a 2 per cent increase since 2014. Animal genetic material has been cryoconserved, but only for 15 per cent of national breed populations, according to information obtained from 128 countries. The stored genetic material is sufficient to reconstitute only 7 per cent of national breed populations should they become extinct. As of February 2017, 20 per cent of local breeds were classified as at risk.


SDG 3-Good Health and Well-Being:

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. 

Since 2000, impressive advancements have been made on many health fronts. However, to meet the Sustainable Development Goals health targets by 2030, progress must be accelerated, in particular in regions with the highest burden of disease. Gardens can do a lot to align their policies with this goal and combat health concerns like the following:


  • Indoor and ambient air pollution is the greatest environmental health risk. Globally in 2012, household air pollution from cooking with unclean fuels or inefficient technologies led to an estimated 4.3 million deaths, while ambient air pollution from traffic, industrial sources, waste burning or residential fuel combustion resulted in an estimated 3 million deaths.

  • In addition, mental disorders such as depression can lead to suicide. Nearly 800,000 suicides occurred worldwide in 2015.  






"Human and environmental health are so inextricably connected. I think we tend to speak about these things as 2 separate entities. We’ve put each in their own box, their own silo. I think that’s really wrong to be thinking about them separately. Our health is directly tied to the health of the environment. So, as public garden officials, I know many of us are concerned about the environment, and we have a lot of initiatives on conservation, and loss of biodiversity, but it’s all connected."

~Executive Director, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens


"Cultural institutions have a loud voice, and tend to be very trusted by families, so I think they have the ability to reach them with a lot of messages. Given the rates of childhood obesity, and the rates of adult obesity and chronic disease, programs at gardens can go a long way in terms of health, if they’re able to equip guests with the skills and knowledge about how to be healthy."

~Let’s Move Pittsburgh Program Director


"One of the great parts about these programs is it gets kids out of their neighborhood to a part of the city they’ve never been; they find themselves in the middle of a forest preserve or on a farm outside the city, it’s their first real connection with nature and with other people outside their community. It then gives them confidence as they work with others to accomplish a goal and in that sense helps with their mental health. They become less dependent on what is just a few blocks from them and realize there is much more going on outside their community that they can contribute to."

~Associate Vice President, Urban Agriculture/Windy City Harvest



1. Investigate and Establish a Baseline 

2. Identify Stakeholders 

3. Data Collection/Resources

4. Develop and Implement a Plan of Action 

5. Evaluate and Maintain Success 

6. Report, Communicate, Educate

7. Resources and Case Studies 




1. Investigate and Establish a Baseline


Use the Health and Well-being Self-audit Worksheet for the self-audit and use it to further track your planning decisions (see Develop and Implement a Plan of Action section below).


Gathering information about what your garden is currently doing to address health and well-being helps establish a roadmap of where you need to go next when planning for the future. This may encompass a general audit of existing programs, policies, or practices that are known to be in place which are meeting or striving to meet Attribute goals. This step helps identify gaps in knowledge, aspects of health and well-being not previously considered, and ways you can begin to build a shared vision to address health challenges internally and externally.  The following questions should be considered as part of an initial self-audit.




  • Has your garden established a health and well-being committee with representation from as many departments as possible (e.g., green team for health)? 

  • Does your gardens leadership staff across departments participate in health and well-being activities and programs?  

  • Does your garden regularly communicate health and well-being related classes or events (races, challenges, yoga, social gatherings-holiday parties, etc.) to all employees?

  • Has your garden reached out to all staff to see who has an interest or skills (e.g., certification, etc.) in health and wellness and might want to lead an activity for their colleagues?

  • Does your garden follow guidelines and assessments established by nationally accredited wellness programs like the American Heart Association and the Center for Disease Prevention?

  • Has your garden made a commitment to a set of best practices in exchange for recognition from your local health department?

  • Has your garden invested and allotted spaces for yoga, exercise, or other physical and mental activities inside or outside?

  • Does your garden provide incentives to employees for participating in or reaching a milestone in a health and well-being challenge (e.g., step challenge, etc.)?

  • Does the culture of your garden foster a sense of open dialogue about mental and physical health challenges ensuring employees feel safe to take breaks, a day off, or discuss health issues with leadership staff?




  • Has your garden identified specific health challenges (physical or mental) in your community (e.g., high suicide rates, obesity, heart disease, etc.)?

  • Has your garden met with local public health agencies and research centers to identify the main public health challenges in your community?

  • Does your gardens mission statement, strategic plan, vision, or goals include any language that mentions health and well-being?

  • Does the garden provide an opportunity for people to commemorate or mourn lost friends and family (e.g., memorial trees, benches, plaques, buildings, sculptures, etc.)?

  • Does the garden address any of the following through partnerships, programs, activities, events, classes/workshops (Look for multiple “YES” answers)?

    • Physical health (e.g., running, walking, hiking on natural lands trails/garden pathways or through educational plant exploration, interpretive programming, Let’s Move, etc.)
    • Mental health (e.g., yoga, meditation, observation and reflection in nature, etc.)
    • Spiritual/religious connections to nature (e.g., Tai-Chi, Buddhism, etc.) 
    • Healthy and sustainable food (importance of nutrition, where food comes from, Dirty Dozen, Clean 15, etc.)
    • Ethnobotany (e.g., regional plant selection and culture)
    • Cooking (culinary programs such as demonstrations, tastings, how to prepare healthy meals, etc.)
  • Does your garden target any of the following demographics for health and well-being initiatives (Look for multiple “YES” answers)?

    • Elderly
    • Children
    • Adults
    • Families  
    • Veterans
    • At-risk youth
    • People with special needs and disabilities
    • People in rehabilitation programs of varying kinds
  • Does your garden have ADA (American Disabilities Act) approved areas and enabling garden areas that allow those with differing abilities to more easily access and enjoy plant collections?  

  • Does your garden offer training or resources for staff and volunteers on welcoming and interacting with visitors of differing abilities?

  • Has your garden reached out to all potential audiences that might benefit from health and well-being programming ensuring accessibility and inclusiveness are core to the success of these programs?

  • Does your garden provide direct services to external facilities such as a hospital, elderly community center, city parks, etc.?

  • Does your garden have or contribute to therapeutic horticulture programming, horticulture therapy, or social horticulture groups?

  • Does your garden welcome and provide resources for volunteers with differing abilities?




  • Does your garden offer classes for high school or college students to learn and experience the health benefits plants provide in your region (e.g., interconnectedness of the environment and human health)?

  • Does your garden have events, workshops, classes, or lectures featuring an expert in public health (e.g., graduate student, professor, external organization in public health, etc.)?

  • Does your garden offer educational health and wellness programs (e.g., culinary, sustainable agriculture, art, music, certifications, etc.) that do not require membership and payment and are targeted at diverse demographics?

  • Does your garden stay consistent in both its offerings and messaging so that health and sustainability are reflected within displays, panels, signage, and also cafes, restaurants, and retail stores? 

  • Does your garden conduct and provide research and educational information on horticultural therapy, therapeutic horticulture, environmental psychology, or biophilia?

  • Has your garden started or promoted any biophilia networks?

  • Has your garden partnered with or assessed any educational programming (especially nature play programs) from the following (Look for multiple “YES” answers):

    • Zoos
    • Natural history museums
    • Other botanical gardens
    • Aquariums
    • Farms 
    • Wilderness outfitters 
    • Environmental education non-profits.
  • Does your garden offer a certificate of merit in healthcare garden design or horticultural therapy?

  • Does your garden offer a school or community garden support program?

  • Does your garden offer educational offerings such as workshops for teachers and continuing education for healthcare providers?

  • Does your garden have a thorough vetting process for volunteers and staff who are interested in working with groups of varying special needs and veterans?




  • Has your garden targeted communities are in need of healthy food sources and have a desire to learn how to grow their own food (identifying the counties and specific communities where there are food deserts)? 

  • Does your garden provide expertise in growing regional vegetables and fruits in classes, workshops, or programs so visitors understand the value of nutrition and plant seasonality?

  • Does your garden partner with local sustainable farms or grow its own produce to teach visitors about best growing practices such as differences between organic and non-organic produce, GMOs, plant selection and culture, soil amendments, and regional growth patterns based on season? 

  • Does your garden have a sustainable agriculture demonstration garden?

  • Does your garden have a culinary program designed to teach visitors how to cook and prepare healthy meals at home?

  • Does your garden have a sustainable agriculture purchasing policy that aligns with the mission of healthy and local food production?

  • Does your garden have partners or sponsors that can help host or execute an event on or off site geared toward promoting one or all of the following: sustainable agriculture, healthy eating, physical exercise, or mental health?

  • Does your garden have signage or publicly available documents that indicate sources of food products at your café/restaurant?

  • Does your garden have a contract with a catering company that is willing to offer healthy and locally sourced food?

  • Does your garden offer vegetarian and other healthy food options at staff and volunteer events?

  • Does your garden have a process for reviewing, assessing, and evaluating catering company menu offerings at your café/restaurant to ensure food and beverage options align with your mission?

  • Is your garden café or restaurant certified by The Green Restaurant Association?

  • Has your garden promoted making healthier more nutritious meal choices in online communications? 

  • Does your garden include educational information on organic versus non-organic foods and residual pesticides (e.g., Dirty Dozen, Clean 15, etc.)?


2. Identify Stakeholders


Every garden should strive to create a culture where employees and visitors feel comfortable discussing and addressing health and well-being challenges. To do this requires broad support from leadership staff and identifying external partners that are knowledgeable about local public health challenges. Open discussion of physical and mental health challenges gives all stakeholders the opportunity to better understand problems in your community and build a team with a shared vision to tackle them. Consider these questions when identifying stakeholders:


  • Does your garden collaborate with students studying public health and dietetics or rehabilitative sciences (physical therapy, occupational therapy, health science, etc.) at your local college/university for workshops, trainings, and educational sessions?  

  • Does your garden work with any K-12 schools or early child care centers to educate parents about the impact of vegetable gardening and healthy eating habits?

  • Does your garden partner with a local government agency or public health agency for grant funding geared toward a specific health and well-being issue?

  • Does your garden work with external consultants to evaluate how to improve health and well-being programming internally (employees) and externally (visitors)?

  • Does your garden collaborate with any local universities/colleges for class projects, educational field trip activities, and other educational opportunities where students can immerse themselves in nature (e.g., classes in landscape architecture, drawing, painting, photography, restoration ecology, etc.)?

  • Does your garden collaborate with any local university/college clubs (e.g., outdoors club, etc.) to provide an avenue of nature immersion to students for relaxation and recreation?

  • Has your garden partnered with any local university/college gardens to establish a mutually beneficial local food source to your cafés/restaurants?

  • Does your garden have a strong internal vetting process for finding the right external partners and corporate sponsors to advocate for health and wellness?

  • Does your garden employ a registered horticultural therapist (HTR) or staff that have a background in design consultation, enabling gardens, internal and external direct services to healthcare providers?

  • Has your garden contacted American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) to get approval for an accredited certificate training program?

  • Does your garden have a contract with any health and human service agencies?

  • Does your garden work closely with any medical schools to establish internships?



3. Data Collection/Resources


After investigating and establishing baseline information on health and well-being programming, the next step is to gather and manage data to inform future decisions. It’s important to create metrics that you can use to determine the success or failure of the activities, classes, and programs you implement. Surveying visitors and employees and meeting with employees regularly to get feedback is vital to achieving careful analysis of health and well-being offerings. Collecting data on participation and different targeted demographics will help inform where your organization needs to improve.


  • Has your garden collected data from local public health agencies and research centers to determine percentage of adults or children suffering from specific health challenges (such as heart disease, obesity, depression, etc.)?

  • Has your garden issued a guest survey to gauge the visitor experience in terms of health and well-being offerings?

  • Does your garden use social media presence to gauge if people are buying into your health and well-being programming (PTAT)?

  • Does your garden track health and well-being participation at events, activities, and classes internally and externally?

  • Does your garden share and compile up to date data from the United States Department of Agriculture on food production trends (e.g., organic versus non-organic produce, pesticides, etc.)?  

  • Does your garden track how many grant proposals/RFPs were submitted toward health and well-being related causes annually?

  • Does your garden track how much funding was committed toward health and well-being related causes annually (e.g., grants awarded)? 



4. Develop and Implement a Plan of Action



After assessing how your garden addresses physical and mental health in the previous steps and once you have a firm grasp of what you are offering, figure out how to assess other components and tie programming together to formulate a plan of action. When developing and implementing your plan of action look at everything through the lens of your mission statement values, goals, and what the messages are you want to communicate to the public. Consider how to continue to cultivate buy-in and demonstrated engagement from the most influential staff members and external partners who have been part of all steps in the process.


  • Form a health and well-being committee that includes a few or all departments that can regularly meet to discuss health and well-being programming for visitors and staff. Determine what classes and activities can be offered for employees only and visitors only. For example, a yoga session once a week before the garden opens for employees. Ensure your HR department regularly surveys staff to improve health and well-being at the workplace or that leaders with in your committee get feedback from their departments. Survey annually due to turnover and new staff and to see what has worked well and what needs improvement.

  • Once you have surveyed and gotten feedback, determine best times for health and well-being activities to maximize participation. All department employees have different work schedules and work habits so it’s important to understand what each department values and when they may be available. Leadership staff needs to be invested in communicating health and well-being offerings to employees and be a role model in attending and evaluating some of these programs.  Having more targeted classes, activities, or programs for certain departments is important to foster a sense of inclusiveness and provides equal opportunity to participate. Consistently e-blast challenges to members and employees to build engagement and excitement. People who participate in the challenge can complete a survey, or give feedback of their experience (e.g., a more traditional type of challenge would be a step challenge-log steps every day and see who walks the most).

  • Continuously record and assess attendance and repeat attendees (retention) for employee and visitor health and well-being programs to determine if you are meeting your goals for targeted demographics and other health indicators and assessment criteria.

  • Formulate a health and well-being policy or integrate improving quality of life into your goals, vision, or mission.  If you haven’t gone back to your core documents and made sure that health and well-being language is part of strategic planning processes than you won’t be able to evaluate whether or not you are addressing the issue at all.

  • For university/college gardens that are part of a larger institution that has its own mission, prove your relevance to the student population and that you can align your mission with the institution you represent. Meet with outdoor recreation, gardening, and sustainable agriculture clubs. Gather data and information from the student body on specific health and well-being challenges and times of year that you might be able to offer stress relief related to finals and classwork (See Morton Arboretums ESCAPE initiative under Resources and Case Studies). Use social media campaigns to get students outside and raise awareness of health and well-being programming.

  • Implement culinary programs to attract new demographics and expose them to plants in new ways. This also exposes them to other programs your institution offers. Make your culinary programs as affordable and inclusive as possible, by offering free tastings and discussions (drop in programs), not always making it a catered and must pay for event. These programs should strive to make the connection between the importance of plant conservation and how that addresses starvation, sustenance, and the health of a community. Ensure the content of the programming is aligned with the overall mission of your organization. Survey visitor’s pre and post health and well-being offerings to assess any lifestyle changes made after attending a program (see Exploring Culinary Arts Programs at Public Horticulture Institutions, Table 10, in Resources and Case Studies section). 

  • Create a health and wellness policy that guides all of your work, particularly in finding the right external partners and in thinking about how plant conservation interacts with and benefits human health. Having a health and wellness policy on paper helps keep everyone on the same page and with disseminating messaging to employees and staff.

  • Hire an external consultant or consult with a healthcare provider to perform a cost-benefit analysis of wellness programming on productivity and absenteeism (e.g., less sick days, higher productivity, better work-life balance, etc.).

  • Meet with public health agencies in your area that are aware of the main public health challenges whether it’s the local health department or a research center who’s really looking at population level health. Use these resources to collect data on local health challenges and where you might be able to fulfill a need in your community. Be targeted in your approach by first meeting with and gathering information and data from professionals in the public health sphere and then getting feedback from your visitors, members, employees on what they would like to see offered or what is offered that can be changed to have greater impact. Form partnerships with some of these local government and public health agencies to continuously inform your garden through data, learn about new programs and challenges, and to fulfill the desired outcome of some of your programs.  

  • Utilize existing toolkits and assessments from national level organizations like The American Heart Association and the Center for Disease Prevention to see where your organization stands in regards to health and well-being.

  • Participate in local government work site wellness programs. For example, apply to be recognized by your local health department by making a commitment to practicing certain health standards at your work place in exchange for recognition from the city or county government. NashVitality (see Resources and Case Studies) has a platform where your organization has a portal and you can log in and do your assessment, set goals, and you get points and incentives from the city for reaching a certain level of certification.

  • Implement monthly programs that tackle different health and well-being issues, whether that is obesity or mental health. Promote this in your monthly or weekly newsletter, highlighting stories and programs that are making an impact. Include in all external messaging information about these specific health challenges and what your community and your garden is doing to address them. 

  • Collaborate with a local university/college that have departments devoted to rehabilitative sciences, behavior sciences, special-needs, dietetics, public health, mental health, etc. Get students involved so they can come give a presentation to educate visitors and employees about nutrition. This also gives students the opportunity to learn about certain health and well-being programs through meeting with various department leaders and gives them evaluative skills needed in future professions. These partnerships can potentially lead to mutually beneficial relationships through internships or research projects exploring a student’s interest in new emerging topics and fields like horticulture therapy.

  • Apply for and look into opportunities at a local college/university within public health departments as an option for students who need to get a certain amount of hours of evaluation experience. Students can then help build evaluation programs and provide qualitative research that is mutually beneficial to both the garden and the college/university. 

  • For internal staff wellness programs invite external organizations and guests to give trainings, certifications, and lectures on the importance of exercising and eating healthy food.

  • Reach out to staff to inquire who might have an interest or skill in leading health and wellness programs (certifications, yoga training, etc.). Employees might be more inclined to attend a health and well-being activity held by a colleague.

  • Partner with organizations that can help coordinate a community event, locate speakers who have expertise in mental health, offer peer and family supports, and provide general information on mental health as well as treatment, and available services for mental health issues.

  • Learn who your community is, what their challenges are, what prevents them from not being able to be more physically active at their school, parks, etc.  Do they not have a place to play outside? Is it not safe? Explore what their reality is and get their feedback on what they want to do before implementing a health program.

  • Develop some qualitative interview questions to use with kids and teachers, especially through educational programs that involve field trips with local preschoolers and middle schoolers. Survey and interview kids and teachers to better understand their knowledge, attitudes, and awareness of nutrition and physical activity. Compare pre and post interviews/surveys to see if their habits have changed.  

  • If your garden has a relationship with a local restaurant or catering company partner with them to hold a plant-themed dinner at the restaurant or at your garden and highlight or feature a specific plant with an educational component about healthy meal preparation and the value of nutrition.

  • Implement an edible plant exploration and educational program to visitors tailored to both adults and children so that interpretation, communication, and messaging aren’t specific to non-edible plants (See Play Farmer’s Market in Resources and Case Studies section).

  • Find a food service provider that is willing to adhere to your gardens mission of offering sustainable and healthy food. Traditional business models typically involve the garden taking a percentage of the food service provider profits with no say on what is provided since that provider is responsible for all financial losses. Alternatively, your garden should strive to find a food service provider where you can pay them a percentage, but dictate what is sold. That business model allows your garden to be able to say no more fried food, no more soda, and no more bottled water. While you might incur financial losses at the outset, it’s a great opportunity to make healthy food and sustainable agriculture part of your mission by providing your café/restaurant with capital. It also ensures that your café/restaurant follow the guidelines you create for identifying, purchasing, and preparing healthy local food.  

  • If part of external health programming is focused on nutrition. Utilize traditional family recipes and adapt them so they become a healthier and more culturally appropriate version. This is a more powerful way to get kids and adults invested into nutritional eating habits.  

  • Develop a community partner handbook from the outset that youth and adults have to sign to demonstrate their commitment to a health program. This establishes an understanding that if they do not follow guidelines or adhere to rules then interns, staff, volunteers can report back violations.

  • Have a programmatic focus. If your garden has limited financial resources and can only commit so much time and effort, identify where you can have the greatest impact. Once you have identified a health concern off site, such as obesity amongst youth/lack of nutrition, develop a plan that targets that instead of trying to tackle several programmatic areas. 

  • Reach out to other regional gardens that have documents and policies relating to health and well-being and see how you can tailor that to what your garden offers.  

  • Provide career advancement opportunities and continuing education opportunities to healthcare providers/educators through certificate programs, trainings, and workshops. Here are a few examples of existing certificate of merit programs your garden should consider offering to healthcare providers/educators:

    • Horticultural Therapy uses plants and gardens to help clients reduce stress and engage in therapy. Horticultural therapists practice in hospitals, rehabilitation and vocational facilities, nursing homes, senior centers, community gardens, and other settings. The Horticultural Therapy Certificate program is a professional-development opportunity, enabling you to integrate horticultural therapy effectively into your therapeutic practice or educational program.

    • Healthcare Garden Design is an emerging area of specialization in which several professions converge to create environments of care. This will help interested professionals learn to design garden environments of care that maximize the effectiveness of clinical treatments for illness and disabilities, and to create passive garden experiences that significantly reduce staff stress and absenteeism, improve patient health, increase client satisfaction, and strengthen the bottom line.




5. Evaluate/Revise/Monitor and Maintain Success


Evaluation tools should be determined by effectiveness and available resources (including personnel time). This section helps your garden determine what is best for the site, providing guidance where goals were not achieved in order to revise the plan, research, and take further action.

  • Evaluate and assess participation in health and well-being programming and targeted demographics.

  • Establish a number of benchmarks or health indicators to use as evaluation criteria.

  • Use existing evaluation toolkits and assessments that can be found at nationally recognized organizations like the American Heart Association, Center for Disease Prevention, and National Alliance on Mental Health.

  • Revise your health and wellness policy as new health challenges and research emerge.

  • Assess external partnerships and external event success, ensuring that those events are accessible to different communities and your mission is aligned.

  • Evaluate overall health and well-being programming ensuring not all programs are member-based, high cost, and exclusive to select demographics.

  • If grants are part of funding health-related programming, utilize their strict reporting requirements for internal evaluation and documentation.  

  • Monitor progress through worksite wellness scorecards (see Resources and Case Studies section).

  • Track and monitor number of certifications provided to healthcare providers and professionals in the public healthcare field.

  • Track through web analytics and surveying how visitors found out about health and well-being offerings.    



6. Report Communicate and Educate


When gardens identify meaningful accomplishments, they must determine how and what to share in an internal capacity with stakeholders and in an external capacity with the public/target audiences or on a national scale (such as through our Association’s network).


  • Promote and communicate to all external audiences events like Mental Health Month and Suicide Prevention Awareness Month to raise awareness.

  • Regularly communicate to all staff health and well-being events, classes, activities.

  • Advertise and disseminate internally and externally emerging research and studies that demonstrate the critical importance of nature play and the power of hands-on, place-based learning in natural settings for growing minds and bodies.

  • During busy times of year and especially around national holidays, communicate across departments an appreciation for each other and the work you have accomplished. It’s important to communicate to all employees how vital they are to sustaining the level of accomplishment at your institution.

  • Ensure that leadership staff communicates to their employees an open door policy when physical or mental health concerns arise.

  • Ensure that your garden website and social media platforms mention health and well-being offerings to visitors and share powerful stories and accomplishments achieved internally or externally.  

  • Include in communications channels a “request a garden staff member and/or trained volunteer to come to your facility for an engaging nature based program” on your website and social media, providing the right staff member(s) to contact for external services at schools, hospitals, etc. 

  • Highlight and announce through e-blasts and online when your garden is accredited for health and well-being programing such as a Horticultural Therapy Certificate Program that was approved as an accredited certificate training program at AHTA.

  • Highlight in newsletters and online communications when your garden completes therapeutic garden-related projects. List your contributions and expertise to specific institutions. For example, we have contributed our expertise to: meditation gardens, enabling gardens, rehabilitation gardens, vocational gardens, school gardens, and healthcare gardens.

  • Communicate through job sites and your own website, internships, jobs, and volunteer offerings for medical students, healthcare providers (those working on their dietetic license, occupational therapists, physical therapists, etc.). These can be low cost, high reward options for finding instructors and leaders of these programs and can help cast a wider net. Many students in the health science departments are eager to get leadership and evaluation experience, for example, Chicago Botanic Garden works with the University of Chicago Medicine to find students interested in doing cooking demonstrations and providing information about healthy eating habits at some of their sites. 

  • Alumni speakers - sharing career pathway and personal growth stories. 




7. Resources and Case Studies 


Association Resources:


Veteran specific programming:


List of gardens with accredited health and well-being programming/certificates:


Biophilia Network and Children’s Play at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens:


UN Sustainable Development Goal 3:


Recent research articles and publications on Urban Forestry, Urban Greening, and the Environmental Benefits to Human Health:


American Horticultural Therapy Association:


Therapeutic Landscape Network:


Worksite Wellness Scorecards and Resources:



Examples of City/Local Worksite Wellness Certifications:


Oxford Research Encyclopedias Environment and Human Health:



Gardening for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Special Educational Needs, Natasha Etherington

Accessible Gardening for People with Physical Disabilities, Janeen R. Adil

No Greatness Without Goodness, Randy Lewis

Power of Trees Reforesting Soul, Michael Perlman

Nature Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv

Rebuilding the Unity of Health and the Environment: A New Vision of Environmental Health for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press:

Biophilia, Edward O. Wilson

Enabling Garden: Creating Barrier-Free Gardens, Gene Rothert


BGCI Report by Kerry Waylen-Biodiversity improving human well-being:


Environmental Phycology Resource:


National Scientific Council on the Developing Child:


Example Wellness Vendor Decision Guide:


The Green Restaurant Association:




American Heart Association:

The American Heart Association’s Workplace Health Solutions offers a suite of science-based, evidence-informed tools to help you build and maximize an effective workplace culture of health:


Connecting to College/University Students:


Take It Outside and NatureRX at Cornell (innovative programming):


Culinary Program Resources:


Information about ADA:


Biocultural Approaches to Well-being and Sustainability Indicators Across Scales:


Mental Health Resources:


French Fries and the Food System:


Thrive Manual for Social Emotional Learning:


Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at U of C Santa Cruz:


Roots of Success: 

Health Food & Agriculture Module, The Fundamentals of Environmental Literacy (Introduction) Module, Water Module


USDA SNAP Ed-Cooking and Nutrition Lessons:


Healthy Schools Program: Framework of Best Practices:


Office of Community Engagement and Neighborhood Health Partnerships:


American College Health Association:


The Public Gardens Sustainability Index Working Group is made up of diverse field-wide professionals. Does your expertise lie within an Attribute area? Help us build content for Principles and Best Practices. Have success stories? Let us collect your Case Studies. Contact Tommy Rosenbluth:


Case Study 


Quiet Equipment 

Many gardens pride themselves on being places of peace and tranquility for their guests. However, while motorized maintenance is necessary in almost all gardens, loud equipment not only disrupts garden atmosphere for guests but also poses a safety risk for garden employees.

For Brooklyn Botanic Garden, this challenge has been even greater, as most garden maintenance occurs while the garden is open--garden staff start at the same time the gates open in the morning, and the garden is only closed one day a week. In addition, BBG is in a very urban area and subject to noise complaints from its many neighbors. To combat this, and to add to the hearing health of their employees, Brooklyn Botanic Garden has gradually started using more quiet equipment in their daily work routines. Many employees now use work tricycles and bicycles instead of motorized vehicles. Small electric vehicles are also used where possible, although standard trucks are still need for jobs with heavier payloads. Unfortunately, noise from some of the loudest equipment (like leaf blowers) is still unavoidable because electric motors don’t have the power that gas motors do. Even small changes can make a difference though--have you ever noticed how disruptive pushing a cart across an uneven surface can be? BBG has also been creative in how it thinks about this kind of noise, and has switched to low-rumble push carts and garbage cans for their catering service. BBG’s latest and largest addition to their quiet equipment collection has been a safer, lower-noise tub grinder. Not only does this large piece of equipment help towards their zero-waste goal, but it also has been a huge step towards employee safety. To facilitate this shift towards quiet equipment, BBG has been working with Quiet Communities, a nonprofit that helps client organizations test equipment and reach out to suppliers.

For Longwood Gardens, mowers are often the greatest offender when it comes to noise pollution. However, mowers provide interesting challenges when it comes to finding safer and quieter alternatives. For example, there is no industry-wide standardized decibel rating for mowers. Decibel measurements differ depending on where you are in relation to the mower--a decibel reading from the seat can be drastically different from standing next to the blades or behind the motor. Because of this, decibel measurements differ from brand to brand, and potentially even between models, making it difficult to definitively say one type is quieter than another. To complicate things further, staff at Longwood tested mowers with low-noise engines only to discover that most noise actually comes from the blades. The Longwood turf team now switches out louder summer mulching blades for quieter blades in the fall, when grass is softer and easier to cut.

Overall, there are many considerations when choosing quieter equipment, but making the switch in the end can both improve guest experience and increase standards for employee safety and hearing health.


Missouri Botanic Garden 

Missouri Botanic Garden is committed to working with St. Louis restaurants to reduce their environmental impact. "Plants – People – Planet" signs posted in the café and around the Ridgway Visitor Center offer points of awareness to visitors and staff about the Garden's commitments to sustainable practices and ways everyone can reduce our impact on Earth's resources. In 2008 their café, Sassafras became the first restaurant in Missouri to be certified by the Green Restaurant Association, a process that grounded many current sustainability measures in ongoing awareness and commitments from the Garden and their distinguished service provider, Catering St. Louis. Garden staff have shared resources gained through their Green Restaurant Certification process with local restaurants and other botanical gardens and universities. Here are just some of things that Missouri Botanic Garden has done to prove its commitment to healthier food service:

  • Conversion of cooking equipment from fryers to grills has improved the menu with healthier items like personal pizzas, pasta dishes and grilled sandwiches – while eliminating use of cooking grease.
  • Sassafras serves only Fair Trade™ certified coffees and teas, ensuring that growers of these products are paid fair wages in healthy working conditions.
  • Hand soap used in the restroom is Green Seal™ certified, dispensed from auto-portion dispensers which minimize product waste and clean-up.
  • Restroom cleaning products are all Green Seal™ certified, to safeguard health of our employees and guests.
  • Regular and special menus feature local foods, including seasonal produce, breads, mushrooms and other items.


Chicago Botanic Garden

The Buehler Enabling Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden is a hands-on teaching garden that promotes universal garden design, tools, equipment, and techniques that engage people of all abilities and ages in gardening. Since its beginning, the Garden's Horticultural Therapy Services has contracted with hundreds of health and human service agencies. Because of the welcoming accessibility and the breadth of experience of the horticultural therapy staff, the Buehler Enabling Garden is a model site for programs that foster a direct experience with nature. This garden also is the focus for the on-site portion of the Horticultural Therapy Certificate through the Joseph Regenstein, Jr., School of the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Additional educational offerings at the Garden include portions of the Healthcare Garden Design Certificate, intensive study tours, workshops for special-education teachers, and continuing education for healthcare providers. Garden planting and maintenance is provided by the Garden coordinator and a host of volunteers, groups with varying special needs, veterans participating in stress-reduction programs, and more.


The Garden View Café 

The Garden View Café at Chicago Botanic Garden takes pride in using only products that are in season, all natural, and free of trans fats. Their chefs purchase local and organically grown food whenever possible, and also use produce harvested at Garden. You can see a list of their providers that support their mission. 


Bloedel Reserve 

Strolls for Well-Being is a free seasonal program offered at Bloedel Reserve. If not already a member, participants are given a temporary membership to allow them unlimited access (during open hours) to the gardens. This self-guided program uses the gardens of Bloedel as a place for inspiration and reflection. With a workbook in hand, participants explore themes such as forgiveness, gratitude, and awareness in old growth forest areas.

Participants are required to attend three meetings – an orientation meeting, a check-in meeting, and a closing meeting. The 12 walks outlined in the Strolls book are self-guided – participants have access to Bloedel during all regular open hours to complete the walks.

This innovative program is sponsored by the Peninsula Cancer Center and Bainbridge Community Foundation. Learn more by watching this video on how this program came to fruition.