By Lily Johns

The Nature Academy is focused on training a new generation of environmental leaders in sustainability, conservation, and ecological restoration. As part of the Nature Academy program, each intern writes a blog post and develops a project. The project provides an opportunity to take on responsibility in an area of interest, contribute to the goals of their team, and develop a skill or area of knowledge that can be added to the intern’s portfolio. The post may reflect the project or be a nature-related topic of personal interest to the intern.

Nichols Arboretum, so close to the University of Michigan hospital complex, is a natural choice for many families seeking sanctuary as their loved ones undergo treatment a few hundred feet away. In the Arb, nature and the outdoors offer peace and reflection for patients and families and help relieve the stress of the hospital environment.

Bench in the Arb

There’s a well-studied connection between nature and human wellness.[1] In fact, exposure to nature has been shown to improve our mental health. University of Michigan psychology faculty Rachel and Stephen Kaplan have pioneered some of this research, citing that nature and the outdoors are restorative environmentsfor patients in the health system and for people in general. According to the Kaplans, the average person, especially in the workplace, may suffer from “directed attention fatigue.” Directed attention fatigue happens when the part of the brain that allows us to concentrate even in the middle of multiple distractions becomes fatigued. Taking a break in nature, the Kaplan research finds, activates the “fascination” type of attention, which relieves the mind from that fatigue and therefore helps relieve stress.

With my intern project this summer, I wanted to further explore the idea of nature and mental health through journaling. For me, journaling is an important life practice that helps me manage mental health issues, major or minor. It has also been proven to boost mood, relieve stress, and improve emotional regulation.[2] To help facilitate the reflective benefits of journaling, I installed an outdoor journaling medium adjacent to the “poet’s bench” overlooking the Heathdale collection.

My hope is that people will use this space to reflect upon their experiences in the Arb in order to improve their mental health and strengthen their connection to nature. Jounaling topics are multitude, but there are prompts to guide you if you get stuck. If you’re visiting the Arb this  summer and through the fall and winter, feel free to visit the poet’s bench, share your thoughts, and take time to reflect.

Since the project began I’ve been collecting the entries and studying them for themes or trends. As a continuing student worker at Matthaei-Nichols this fall I’ll be writing another post with new details and revelations from the journal entries. Stay tuned!

Arboretum map

Lily Johns, from nearby Ypsilanti, Mich., is a rising sophomore in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts at the University of Michigan. She is so far undecided in terms of a major, but is interested in public health and biology, and intends to pursue a minor in writing. When not gardening at Matthaei, she enjoys reading, traveling (when she can) and practicing her barista skills.



[1] Clay , Rebecca A. “Green Is Good for You .” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, Apr. 2001,

[2] Bailey, and Kasee Bailey. “5 Powerful Health Benefits of Journaling.”, 15 Nov. 2018,

Lily Johns