Using Arboriculture to Help New Parents

By Meg Smolinski

Meg Smolinski with her baby girl, “Beans,” during an Arb Walk on the University of Maryland campus. Photo courtesy of Meg Smolinski.

As the outreach coordinator for the University of Maryland’s Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, I have the pleasure of interacting with students, faculty and staff on our beautiful campus. As a horticulturist and Certified Arborist, I lead service projects across campus, and last year, these outreach efforts expanded to include a new program, Walk with an Arborist.

In January 2019, our university’s Recreation and Wellness Department asked if the arboretum had any programs to include in its “Wellness at Work” initiative for university employees. Needing to get more exercise myself, I developed the Walk with an Arborist program, which started as an early-morning jaunt through some of our main garden areas, while covering topics like tree species, tree health and challenges to maintaining a natural landscape in an urban environment. The tours were a hit, as people were eager to get out of their regular routine of going from the parking lot to their office or classroom and back again. I continued to lead the walks until October of last year, when I went out on parental leave.

Parental leave was a challenge, to say the least! Being at home with the babe was isolating and lonely; I had been used to going to the office every day, leading tours, meeting with students, etc. Attending the typical “mom group” was helpful to a degree, but most of them involved sitting around a table and making small talk; I never felt I quite fit in with other parents who seemed to have it all together. During this time, I also was diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD). I was able to get the help I needed, and I also knew that getting out of the house and walking made me feel better, but it was sometimes hard to make that effort on my own.

According to www.postpartumdepression.org, one in seven women is diagnosed with PPD. When I returned to work, I wanted to use my position to help members of the community who were struggling in the same way I had, and Walk with an Arborist … and Your Baby! was born (pun intended). This program is geared toward new parents who need to get out of the house and are interested in chatting up other parents, talking about something other than babies, or who just want to follow along with the tour. The program provides a laid-back atmosphere where no one will think twice if you need to excuse yourself to change a diaper, calm a crying baby or nurse.

Information about the tours was shared across social media and parent listservs, and they filled up immediately. Unfortunately, we were only able to conduct two tours before we had to suspend them due to the coronavirus pandemic, but we look forward to hosting these tours again and are working on ways to do so in a safe fashion.

Creating this program has made me realize that if you have a need, chances are someone else has that need as well. The solution you find for yourself can benefit others as well.

Meg Smolinski, an ISA Certified Arborist, is a graduate of the University of Maryland’s Institute of Applied Agriculture program and is outreach coordinator for UMD’s Arboretum & Botanical Gardens in College Park, Maryland.

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