Medicinal garden in front of Cornell Health

Medicinal garden in front of Cornell Health

Garden at Cornell Health Brings Nature’s Balm to Ho Plaza

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By Beth Saulnier

At Cornell Health, there are remedies for a wide variety of ailments: fever, insomnia, sore throat, congestion, high blood pressure, depression, and more. And that’s before you even go into the building.

A variety of red rose

In a gently sloping space out front, the recently created Class of 1971 Medicinal Garden offers a burst of natural beauty.

And it has an apt theme: nearly every plant in it has been used in health, wellness, or beauty at some point in human history.

(Of course, the garden’s delights are meant to be purely ornamental—no harvesting allowed, much less consumption.)

There’s juniper, whose applications include treating digestive problems and kidney stones; lavender (anxiety, baldness); bee balm (bad breath, colds); mint (cough, toothache); goldenrod (asthma, internal bleeding); and more than a dozen others.

A plant with large oval leaves

Supported by a gift from the Class of ’71 in honor of its 50th Reunion—the garden was dedicated a year later, at Reunion ’22—the project was a labor of love for a team of Cornell Botanic Gardens staff and student workers in its Learning by Leading program.

In collaboration with the class (and under the aegis of David Cutter ’84, BS ’85, the University’s landscape architect), the project team researched species, designed the layout, and installed the plants.

Their goal: to bring doses of greenery and color to one of the busiest stretches of campus, along Ho Plaza.

Three people planting in a garden

“We want it to be calming,” says landscape architecture major Hilary Mulford ’23, one of the co-leaders.

“If students are walking by during prelim season, they can sit down on our nice little bench for a second and just relax.”

If students are walking by during prelim season, they can sit down on our nice little bench for a second and just relax.

Hilary Mulford ’23

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Cutter echoes that sentiment, noting that the garden and its placement—alongside a bustling pedestrian route at the beating heart of campus—dovetail with a movement known as Nature Rx.

With evidence from peer-reviewed studies, it holds that greenery and the outdoors have clear benefits on wellbeing.

“What a great opportunity to give that more visibility, and talk about overall health and wellness,” Cutter says of the Medicinal Garden, “particularly the impact that spending time in nature has on mental health, and on reducing fatigue and stress.”

Flowers in a garden

With the aim of making sure the garden flourishes for years to come, Mulford notes, the designers focused on tried-and-true species that thrive in the region—with many specimens propagated from seeds collected right on campus.

“It’s a very successful design,” Cutter observes. “It really brings attention to the entrance to Cornell Health. It’s now beginning to develop, and next spring the full vision will come into bloom—quite literally.”

Asked to name her favorite plant in the garden, Mulford cites witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana); the source of the familiar anti-itch remedy, it blooms a jolly yellow in fall.

Other sparks of color come from the eight rosebushes flanking the building’s entryway.

The medicinal garden on Cornell's Ho Plaza

(How do they qualify? Rose hips are a popular ingredient in cosmetics, and the plants have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.)

Visually, they offer a beauteous Big Red boost—plus a delightful aroma.

“The garden has a lot of fragrant plants,” Mulford observes. “When you're there, your senses go a little bit wild—in the best way.”

All photos by Sreang Hok / Cornell University.

Published October 13, 2022


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