Seedlings: Growing a Cause to Grow the Future

Featured Blog by Dr. Kate Neale: Gardening for Wellbeing

Photo: Kate Neale

Ever since it occurred to me how much being in my garden brought me joy, I’ve been slightly obsessed with pursuing research on the links between gardening and wellbeing. As I was finishing my Ph.D., days on the computer were long. I sat mostly idle in quiet spaces, tapping away at my plastic keyboard as I felt the burn of the computer screen light shining back on my face often into the wee hours of the morning.

It felt as though my only release was to escape to my garden. I would do as little or as much as I wanted there. I would talk to myself about everything and nothing. I would let complex ideas float from my consciousness and more often than not, the answers would find me some time later when I was least expecting them.

Time in the garden would sometimes involve hard physical labour. The type that left you so tired by the end of the day you’d want to collapse into bed. But I yearned a different kind of tired to the intellectual exhaustion of finishing a dissertation, so welcomed the aches and pains. I would be at the mercy of the weather. The cold sharp winter winds or the stifling heat of the harsh summer were a welcome change from the temperature controlled sterility of the university library. Birds would sing, leaves would rustle and the sounds of bees buzzing would catch my attention and often my imagination. I’d intently examine a new flower bud or the development of new fruit I’ve never grown before, for no other reason or justification than I wanted to. I’d ask myself curious questions like “Why do plants have hair?” and delight in the sight of lady birds or dragonflies drawing my mind back into some of my favourite childhood storybooks. I’d plant flowers that indulged my secret love of romance and whimsy, otherwise suppressed in a world of order and modernity. And most importantly for me, I planted where and what I wanted, with no compromise or consultation with others – a stark comparison to the constant and necessary negotiation of work, family life, and doctoral supervision.

Photos: Kate Neale  

The Ph.D. is now completed, but the constant companionship and deep love for my garden endures. Determined to forge a research career in an area I’m truly passionate about, I now research the benefits of gardening for a person’s wellbeing and sense of connection and belonging. Harping back to my principal interests in ethics relating to children and people with disabilities, I’m particularly interested in not just why we garden for wellbeing, but HOW we do it.

When working with children especially, there’s a tendency for adults or carers to dictate how a task is to be done, both out of a desire to minimise risk or harm and to help ensure a “great result”. But as with learning, the joy of gardening is often in the unknown adventure it takes us on, and the liminal moments of discovery that happen along the way. And some of that requires mess, confusion, and failure. So although we may be tempted to look for bountiful harvests and an overflowing garden to gauge a garden’s successes, it is worth focusing on what was gained for the gardener throughout the process. To do so, however, we need to authentically support children’s active participation and social learning. We need to relinquish control and accept the messiness that is the discovery. And we need to shift our involvement from that of teacher or leader, to one that sees all participants interacting within a dynamic system of shared knowledge and power.

There are a number of ways we can do this:

  • Ask, do they want to garden? Because actually they might not, and that’s fine. There will no doubt be a myriad of other related activities they can contribute meaningfully in (building, documenting through photographs, cataloguing seeds, researching what to grow in the coming months).
  • Involve them in early planning stages – the sooner they are involved, the more likely they’ll engage and feel like it is their space to enjoy and care for.
  • Build on existing capacity as the starting point – find out what they already now and use it to identify leaders and strategize for gaps in knowledge.
  • Allow access, PLAY and exploration – you wouldn’t want to spend time in your garden if every second involved assigned tasks and structured jobs so don’t expect them to either. Play is important.
  • Be prepared to learn too – as adults, we like to think we know it all, but we really don’t.
  • Celebrate the little wins – you don’t need a punnet of strawberries to feel a sense of accomplishment that comes from growing your own – just one will do!
  • Enjoy – it’s hard to make a joyous space if there’s no joy present when it’s built.
Photo: Kate Neale
Photo: Kate Neale


*Dr Kate Neale is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Children and Young People at Southern Cross University in Australia. She specialises in ethical methodologies of involving kids and people with disability meaningfully in therapeutic horticulture programs and research. She has written a number of therapeutic gardening programs, runs workshops on therapeutic gardening for kids and people with disabilities, and researches in the field. She’s happiest in gumboots.

Photo: Kate Neale



Who are you and what is your position with BGP?

  • My name is Brianna Rivera & I am BGP’s Curriculum Coordinator.

How did you get involved with BGP?

  • I got involved with BGP through the COO, Onna Jones. She thought I’d be a great fit and knew I loved working with children. She invited me to a meeting and from that very first day, I felt like I was surrounded by family.


Where did you grow up?

  • I grew up in a small South Jersey town named Pittsgrove.

What are you passionate about?

  • I am very passionate about the education of children. My goal is to encourage children to never stop learning, never stop growing, and that they can do anything they put their mind to.


What’s the biggest project on your to-do list right now?


Have you ever traveled outside of the country? If so, where?

  • Yes. Puerto Rico, Bermuda, and the Bahamas.

What is your favorite fruit? Vegetable? Flower?

  • Pineapple! My favorite vegetable would have to be corn on the cob. I love the rose.


What’s your favorite way to express your creativity?

  • Through my photography.

What does a normal Tuesday look like for you?

  • Working all day with my Pre-K kiddies, then I go to my grad class.

What is your life motto/mantra?

  • Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.



Who are you and what is your position with BGP?

  • I am Donna Romalino, and I am the Director of Committees for BGP.

How did you get involved with BGP?

  • It all began with a comment about gardening, that led to to the first leap, where it ALL began.

Where did you grow up?

  • Easton, PA

What are you passionate about?

  • Friends, family, gardening, Disney, books, and anything involving yarn/thread/etc.


What’s the biggest project on your to-do list right now?

  • Cleaning out my closet!

Have you ever traveled outside of the country? If so, where?

  • Yes. Jamaica, where I met my husband (Thank God for that trip), Cancun, Cozumel, Turks & Caicos, Bahamas, Punta Cana

What is your favorite fruit? Vegetable? Flower?

  • My favorite fruit is grapefruit.
  • My favorite vegetable is zucchini.
  • My favorite flower is the pansy.

What’s your favorite way to express your creativity?

  • As a trained artist, it could be anything from needlework, to painting, to drawing, to whatever medium inspires me.

What does a normal Tuesday look like for you?

  • Feed the animals work, cook dinner, read or create something.

What is your life motto/mantra?

  • Respect others, until proven otherwise.


Guest Post: World Water Day


Guest Post from GrowOya’s Josh McWilliams

This March 22nd is World Water Day. With so many water issues facing us these days from billions without clean and safe water, to water scarcity, it can be a sometimes overwhelming feeling.

I want to share a recent story of what I found to be a profound moment for me, from someone you might not expect.

As a busy dad, chef, entrepreneur and gardener time can seem like the hottest commodity, at least usually the most sought after by yours truly. Sitting in traffic time slows and gardening in the sun or playing with my daughters at the park and it seems to disappear.

It was just another week for me counting down the days until Spring, when I read an article on Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish political activist. I was blown away for many reasons. Her courage and bravery was and still is very powerful. But it was her determination to ACT now that was most powerful. She was moved to ACT for something she believed in. It was the ACT that was the profound force that I can stop thinking about.

At a time of nothing short of a global water crisis the ACT of doing something rather than
nothing, to learn about the issues our water faces than to carry on as if we had all the water in the World is what will make the difference.

At_the_ready copy.jpg
I’m encouraged by our global youth. I want to encourage everyone to ACT(ION) and help tackle the issues around water so many face. Together we can do it, and our Youth are leading the way!

For more information and resources check out World Water Day
For more information on saving water in the garden check out GrowOya



1. Who are you and what is your position with the BGP?

I’m Meridith and I’m the Director of Social Media and Communications for the Bullock Garden Project, Inc.

2. How did you get involved with BGP?

When my family lived in Glassboro, we were blessed to have Sonya as a teacher in first grade (with Missy Tees!). It was the first full year the garden was incorporated in classroom learning and since I was the classroom parent, I got to experience learning with the children firsthand.

Needless to say, I was hooked. When the idea for a non-profit came about, I was happy to sign on to help with the social media element.

3. Where did you grow up?

I spent most of my childhood in central New Jersey – Manalapan. Went to school at Rowan and settled here soon after.

4. What are you passionate about?

So many things! My family, my dog, animals in general, running, writing. I’ve always said that whenever I do something, I throw myself into it completely.


5. What’s the biggest project on your to-do list right now?

I’m the coordinator for the Healthy Kids Running Series – Mullica Hill/Mantua and our season starts in less than two weeks. Right now I’m focusing on getting everything lined up for that. There are a lot of moving pieces that all need to come together but I thrive on making everything work and enjoyable for our kid runners.

6. Have you ever traveled outside of the country? If so, where?

Yes! I’ve been to Haiti (when I was a child), Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Mexico, and some of the Caribbean Islands.


7. What is your favorite fruit? Vegetable? Flower?

Fruit: Strawberries. Fun fact: I was so in love with strawberries as a child, I ate a whole carton and then had an allergic reaction. In my 20s I decided to try them again and now I can eat them (but I never eat a whole carton).

Vegetable: Brussels Sprouts. Specifically from Sweet Lula’s in Pitman, but as long as they’re prepared well, I’m happy.

Flower: Lilacs.

8. What’s your favorite way to express your creativity?

Writing. I like to approach things from a different angle and present ideas in a way that make me think and inspire others too!

9. What does a normal Tuesday look like for you?

5am – wake up for the gym, 7:15am – home from the gym. From there anything goes: sometimes grocery shopping, sometimes work (I work from home), sometimes errands. We try to update the BGP blog so I’m on our social media accounts, sharing that information.

In the afternoon I’m a mom-taxi and drive my kids to and from their activities. Tuesday is usually packed with activities so we do a quick/easy dinner. Most Tuesdays you can find me on my blog Twitter account doing a chat with a community of runners.


10. What is your life motto/mantra?

I can and I will. It’s a reminder to myself to have faith and that I can do hard things.