by Amy Wagenfeld, PhD, OTR/L, SCEM, FAOTA, Affil. ASLA
I think that my commitment to nature all started with my childhood home. I grew up in a very busy Midwestern household, the oldest of four children, with two transplanted Brooklyn, New York academics for parents. My parents’ prior experience with plants and gardening was nil. Nonetheless, upon purchasing our home in Southwest Michigan, they tackled installing a vegetable garden in our suburban home with great zest and enthusiasm; determined to be farmers and to cast aside their collective urban world view. Their interest in the garden rapidly waned, but much to their surprise, their six-year-old daughter (me) took to the dirt with unfettered passion and zeal.
I quickly found that tending to the garden was a means to escape from three pesky younger siblings and find quiet and solitude amongst the veggies. It was my place in our home, a place where I felt most attached and connected and whole. The garden was where I wanted to be whenever I could. When it came time to harvest, I can still recall, half a century later, a sense of sheer wonder and delight in what I, as a little six-year-old girl, had nurtured all summer long. I can point to those early experiences in our vegetable garden as the catalyst for what would ultimately define my professional work and lifelong love of gardening and nature as a means to define home and to enhance the human experience.
As an occupational therapy educator, researcher, and landscape design consultant, my work focuses on how experiences in nature impact health and wellbeing. I am increasingly interested in how childhood experiences with nature can enrich parent-child as well as place attachment relationships and buffer the impact of trauma. We want our children to develop healthy and secure attachment relationships with their caregivers and to home and to be whole. These relationships may be nurtured through experiences in nature.