NLM in Bloom: Master Gardeners Are Growing a Special Space (2024)

Guest post by Allison Elam, MA, Public Affairs Specialist for the NLM Office of Communications & Public Liaison (OCPL); Felicity Fox, MFA, Writer-Editor for NLM OCPL; and Andrew Wiley, Video Producer for NLM OCPL.

Depending on the time of year, you might catch the scent of chamomile, marshmallow, barberry, or valerian in full bloom at the National Library of Medicine’s Herb Garden, a space established in 1976 and designed to resemble the hyperbolic paraboloid architecture of NLM’s Building 38. What started as just a few hedges of boxwood, lavender, and thyme has since grown to include over 100 varieties of herbs and other plants.

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The garden has been maintained by volunteers from the Maryland-based Montgomery County Master Gardener Association (MCMG) for almost 40 years. MCMG is dedicated to education about safe, effective, and sustainable horticultural practices that build healthy gardens, landscapes, and communities. Volunteers with MCMG are trained through the University of Maryland Extension Master Gardener Program, which prepares them to teach members of their communities about native plants and other botanicals through workshops, presentations, demonstrations, and more. Considering their passion for spreading information and action like packets of seeds, it’s easy to see why our volunteers are an instrumental parterre of our gardens!

The NLM Herb Garden has served NIH visitors and clinical care patients as a place for reflection, peace, and watching butterflies and other wildlife. The garden is also a source of study by herbalists and botanists and a present-day reflection of the long history that herbs play in modern medicine. Many of these plants have curative, aromatic, and useful properties that have inspired the development of medications used today. Many of these plants have curative, aromatic, and useful properties that have inspired the development of medications used today.

Through the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, the garden continued to grow, as did a collection of invasive weeds and unwieldy shrubs… and MCMG volunteers were itching to get back into their gloves and restore the garden to its former glory. In August 2022, they returned to campus and got straight to work pulling weeds, trimming shrubs, and taking inventory of each plant that stuck it out.

NIH has since welcomed back the garden’s community volunteers to bring it back to life so visitors can bask in the NLM Herb Garden’s healing nature and enjoy the sights and scents of its flowers, trees, and bushes. And the power of virtual experiences means that now, no matter where you are in the world, you can still take a “walking tour” between the leaves by watching this new video from the National Library of Medicine. Come stroll with us and hear more about what the garden means to its volunteers and to everyone who experiences it!

Transcript*: [Sandra Occhipinti] The NLM Herb Garden is one of thedemonstration gardens maintained by Montgomery County Master Gardeners. We’re here two to three hours, one day a week, tomaintain the garden, plant, mulch, weed, trim.

[Pat Kenny] This was apart of the National Institutes of Health bicentennial celebration in 1976. The Potomac Unit Herb Society of America was asked to take over the care of the garden. It was a blessing for me because I lived close by, I was interested in herbal plants, and I was interested in good health.

[Occhipinti] So Rosemary, we think of as a culinary herb. Rosemary is said to improvememory and concentration. It was also used to cure headaches.

Thereare a lot of culinary herbs in this garden, too. And they were all used medicinally.

This is Valerian. It was used for insomnia as a sedative.

[Kenny] Most of the culinaryherbs—the herbs we use forcooking—have antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and all kinds of phytochemicals … that nowadays we know are medicinal. What I love about this garden is, thisshows some of the history of medicine.

[Occhipinti] One timeI was in the garden and a young man, a patientfrom the [NIH] Clinical Center, came into the garden. And he said, “Excuse me, I walk here. I walk to this garden every day, and I justwanted to thank you for it.” It was… I was a complete mess. It was… still, with agarden, you’ve got textures and colors and flowers, and it’s always changing. It was very important therapeutically to him, and it’s certainly therapeutic to work in it.

*Transcript edited for clarity.

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Allison Elam, MA

Public Affairs Specialist, NLM Office of Communications & Public Liaison

Ms. Elam provides a broad range of communication support to disseminate information to the public on biomedical communications and NLM’s programs, services, and offerings. She alsoprovides editorial support for NIH MedlinePlus Magazine and is a member of the NIH Press Officers Working Group. Prior to joining NLM, Allison worked at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and was a Health Communications Fellow at the National Cancer Institute. Ms. Elam holds an MA in Communication Studies from Wayne State University.

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Felicity Fox, MFA

Writer-Editor, NLM Office of Communications & Public Liaison

Ms. Fox is the editor for Musings from the Mezzanine and provides editorial support for NIH MedlinePlus Magazine. She is also a visual artist, contributing graphics for products and projects across NLM, and a member of the NLM Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) Council. Her experience in writing and editing has taken her across the federal government, including at the FDA and in the intelligence community. Ms. Fox holds a dual BA in Creative Writing and Music from Florida State University and an MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts from the University of Baltimore.

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Andrew Wiley

Video Producer, NLM Office of Communications & Public Liaison

Mr. Wiley writes, produces, and edits documentary and other multimedia material for the National Institutes of Health and NLM with the goals of promoting health and digital literacy and making health information accessible to all communities. He has also produced projects for the All of Us Research Program, the National Institute for School Leadership, and the Jewish Council for the Aging (JCA). Mr. Wiley holds a BA in Communications from the University of Maryland Global Campus and a Certificate in Screenwriting from the Act One Screenwriting and Producing Program.

Please consult your care provider or pharmacist about any dietary supplements, including herbal supplements, before you start them or if you are already taking them. Learn more about talking with your providers, the different ways supplements and medications can interact, and how to read and understand labels on supplements at the National Center for Complementary and Integrated Health website.

NLM in Bloom: Master Gardeners Are Growing a Special Space (2024)
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