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NMCCL Stories

News | March 26, 2024

Intrepid Warrior Garden offers innovative, nature therapy option for service members

By Riley Eversull

For military members seeking treatment for brain health, therapy options are growing – literally! The new Intrepid Warrior Garden can be found blossoming behind the Intrepid Spirit Center (ISC) at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The space behind the clinic has transformed into an oasis for service members to connect with nature and promote healing.

Conceptualization for the Intrepid Warrior Garden began in the spring of 2022 when several beneficiaries asked staff if they could volunteer to help with groundskeeping around the clinic. This planted the seed for the future garden. Could a nature-based activity be another avenue for therapy?

“Gardening is a means to teach a patient to be completely present in the moment,” explained Moira Maus, occupational therapist for ISC. “All senses are engaged. We are using it as another tool to teach our patients how to calm their nervous systems which, over time, typically leads to better sleep, improved mood, and increased cognitive functioning.”

Maus, along with ISC Camp Lejeune’s Neurologist Dr. Tom Johnson and prior clinic manager U.S. Navy Captain Diana Fu, coordinated with Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune (NMCCL) and the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund to bring the vision of the garden retreat to life.

The area features raised beds for vegetables and herbs, a Japanese pond and hill garden, teakwood swings, and butterfly garden. According to Maus, most of the work for the Intrepid Warrior Garden has been done by volunteers with ISC Camp Lejeune staff rolling up their sleeves to help shovel or weed. Volunteers have included spouses, two Master Gardeners, and Marines from several units including the Marine Corps Engineer School.

“Our 'nature-based activities' started this January with our five-week cohorts. We will be expanding the activities to our 12-week patients in April,” Maus said. “The nature-based therapy activities complement the established therapy activities our patients currently are engaged in at the clinic.”

In an online article published in 20202 entitled “Nurtured by Nature,” the American Psychological Association wrote, “exposure to nature has been linked to a host of benefits, including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation.”

Maus is actively enrolled in classes for certification in therapeutic horticulture. For her, the benefit of the garden is evergreen.

“Work started in August 2023 is still ongoing, and as most gardeners soon learn, gardens are evolving spaces, and are never completed.”

Patients will have several chances to take advantage of nature therapy at the Intrepid Warrior Garden. Present and future projects include a labyrinth, greenhouse, gazebo, and Japanese sand garden.

ISC Camp Lejeune provides holistic, patient-centered interdisciplinary traumatic brain injury (TBI) and brain health care, research, and education for Department of Defense beneficiaries.
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