Gardening Gives Sense of Purpose, Soothing to Princeton House's Youngest Clients

Nov 4, 2016
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Click on the images above to download high-resolution photos of gardens and containers tended by the children and adolescents served by Princeton House Behavioral Health's outpatient center in Moorestown.

Gardening is well known for its therapeutic value, and the Princeton House Behavioral Health outpatient center in Moorestown incorporates those benefits into programming for its youngest clients.

Princeton House-Moorestown, one of six Princeton House outpatient centers in central and southern New Jersey, offers Advanced Solutions for Children, an outpatient program for children ages 6 to 12 with emotional or behavioral problems that affect their ability to function at home or in school. The center also serves adolescents—ages 13 to 18—who have emotional/behavioral problems or substance abuse issues or both.

The young people's gardening efforts began mid-year. Myrna Ludwig, senior primary therapist, proposed the project as a way for clients to develop skills needed for Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which is designed to help individuals tolerate distress, regulate their emotions and interact more effectively with others. For example, mindfulness—the ability to be present in the moment—is an important DBT skill. Another skill is building mastery, which refers to a sense of accomplishment or pride that grows out of trying something new and difficult.

Ludwig worked with other Princeton House staffers including Nathaniel Maloney, child therapist, Adrienne Singh, primary therapist, and Chris Muncie, mental health associate, to help the children and adolescents create containers of potted flowers, plants and herbs such as parsley and lavender.

"We were encouraged by how excited and engaged they were," Ludwig said. "Gardening has been shown to help reduce stress and anxiety. It's a sensory experience and very grounding. It improved their mood and concentration and helped with impulse control."

Equally important, she said, was how the project fostered cooperation among the young people and gave them a sense of purpose. Groups of children and adolescents worked together on each planter and then did an excellent job of maintaining and watering them daily throughout the summer and fall.

"This project has helped the kids see themselves more positively and manage their emotions and behaviors, reducing stress and building mastery," Ludwig said.

In the fall, efforts expanded to include a small area near the front entrance of the building that has been designated the Children's Garden. The children and adolescents worked with staff members to plant the garden, which gives the center a homier and more welcoming feel.

An Adolescent Garden is being developed in another space alongside the building.

On a recent weekend in October, bulbs were planted in both gardens that will flower in the spring. If all goes to plan, the young clients who planted the bulbs will have successfully completed treatment and moved on by that time. The flowers will be their gifts to future clients, giving them hope and some beauty to nurture during the course of their treatment.

About Princeton HealthCare System
Princeton HealthCare System is a comprehensive, integrated healthcare system that strives to anticipate and serve the lifelong needs of central New Jersey residents, including acute care hospital services through University Medical Center of Princeton, behavioral healthcare through Princeton House Behavioral Health, rehabilitation, home care, hospice care, ambulatory surgery, a primary and specialty medical practice, and fitness and wellness services. For more information, visit

Andy Williams, 609-252-8785