By Rebecca Huska

Each intern in the Nature Academy internship program at Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum chooses a summer project to research and report on. The project culminates in a poster displayed in Matthaei’s public indoor spaces. Interns also write a blog post about their project concept or the research they’ve conducted.

Jens Jensen

Jens Jensen. (Photo

Jens Jensen was a landscape architect who immigrated to America from Denmark at the age of 24 in 1884. Jensen designed parks across Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana.1,2 What is exceptional about Jensen is his deep commitment to creating beautiful spaces where people from all backgrounds could connect to nature. Jensen felt deeply that people, in cities especially, needed to have park spaces where they could interact with the natural world and native plants. Jensen’s views and the mission of Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum stress the importance of increased accessibility to nature. Interacting with nature is fundamental to humanity and it is unknown what adverse effects the loss of connection could have on our social, physical, and mental health.3 Matthaei-Nichols provides access to display gardens and natural areas as gathering and learning spaces.

Council rings are found at the gardens and the arboretum and were inspired by the designs of Jens Jensen. They were vital to Jensen’s projects and typically included fire rings in the centers. They were traditionally used as a place for telling stories, playing music, and engaging in discussions, with people seated in a circle at the same level.2 The council ring in Heathdale will be renovated with new oak bench tops that will be milled from fallen trees in the Arb and installed this fall after my internship is over. As the Heathdale intern it’s been amazing to work in this part of the Arb and learn about its plants and the role and background of the council ring in Heathdale.


A wide-angle view of the wood council ring in the Heathdale section of Nichols Arboretum. The ring will be getting new oak bench tops soon.

Research suggests that spending time immersed in nature can greatly benefit both physical and mental health. According to Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989, “People with access to nearby natural settings have been found to be healthier overall than other individuals. The longer-term, indirect impacts (of ‘nearby nature’) also include increased levels of satisfaction with one’s home, one’s job and with life in general.”3 Additionally, research has found that having views of nature reduces stress while driving and in the workplace.Some research also supports the premise that rates of healing can be increased when hospital patients have views of natural, rather than urban, landscapes.All of these examples show how important access to nature can be for personal and public health. By offering places like Matthaei and Nichols Arboretum and features like council rings, where people can gather and experience the natural world, we help to improve the social, physical and mental health of the community.

Tops of council ring
Close up of council ring top

Rebecca Huska is the Heathdale intern at Nichols Arboretum. She is studying Program in the Environment through the School of Environment and Sustainability. She is excited to spend time outdoors and acquire many skills and woody plants knowledge. Rebecca’s internship was made possible by gifts from the Helen and Norris Post family to help care for the growth and health of the Julie Norris Post Heathdale Collection in Nichols Arboretum.

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Photo of Jens Jensen: