My folks moved our family to Napa in 1957, when Pop was appointed as a physician to help deal with tuberculosis at Napa State Hospital.

Just out of second grade at the time, I recall we stayed in a mansion on the grounds: Magnolia Manor; six kids, mom, dad, and grandma.

It was a brief, but pleasant, stay that summer. We played outside and my parents searched for a house where we could settle down in Napa.

We had very little interaction with patients, a few of whom were at liberty to walk around the grounds. I remember talk of a nice woman who was convinced she was the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Mostly, I recall the place being like a park with green, tended lawns and big shade trees.

Now, I live not far from there. A few months ago, out on a bike ride returning from Kennedy Park, I took a shortcut through the grounds, up Magnolia Drive, left on North Oak, left on Cedar Drive and out onto Imola Avenue.

The experience was, in a word, appalling. Though many of the mature trees still appear to be healthy, many are dying, a result of discontinued lawn irrigation.

Where there once were green lawns and healthy trees, now there are dead lawns and dying trees. Many of these are the more water-dependent redwoods and Douglas firs.

Recently, it occurred to me how wrong it is to allow the trees to die, in light of the evidence that healthy trees and plants have good effects on mental health.

A recent study, published in the Journal of Arboriculture and Urban Forestry (May, 2016, Exploring the Relationship Between Trees and Human Stress in the Urban Environment, Townsend, Ilvento, Barton) stated:

“The research literature describes a positive relationship between seeing plants and human well-being. More rapid recovery from surgery, reduced incidence of neighborhood crime, increased baby birth weight, and increased trust of neighborhood merchants are among the benefits attributed to exposure to trees and shrubs.

The study demonstrated that more trees in a residential area reduces mental stress and has a positive relationship with self-reported health.

That is but one example of the increasing scientific evidence supporting common-sense that says people need and benefit from the presence of healthy trees.

A friend once gifted me a rare copy of Trees of Napa State Hospital, The Unknown Forest, A description and self-guided tours. (Napa State Hospital, 1992)

The author, Herman Lugauer, dedicates the book to Dr. E.T. Wilkins, appointed superintendent in 1875, who “was the first to see the therapeutic value of having numerous trees on the hospital grounds”.

It seems that kind of thinking is in evidence at other facilities in Northern California.

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On occasion, my work takes me through Glen Ellen, where Arnold Drive passes by the Sonoma Developmental Center, another state mental health institution.

Remarkably, driving by, you see big shade trees and tended grounds giving the impression of a healthful environment.

A couple years ago, on a pleasant walk around the grounds, visiting The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas near Ukiah, I noticed an interesting array of mature trees. This is the former site of Mendocino State Hospital. Apparently, at its founding in 1889, the administration had the good sense to employ the value of trees for the sake of mental health.

Looking at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas website, I found that the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association purchased the property in 1974 after the state could no longer maintain the facility, in part because of a severe drought.

Their story goes that the state employed a well drilling company to find water, with no results. The Venerable Master Hsuan Hua set out to solve the crisis, using his “wisdom eye” to locate a water source. Walking around the grounds with his staff he suddenly tapped the ground and said “Excavate here!”

They did, and plentiful water came forth.

I wonder if the state has anything like a wisdom eye or even a little political will to save the trees at Napa State Hospital.

Bill Pramuk is a registered consulting arborist. Visit his website,, email questions to, or call him at 707-226-2884.