Plants, mental health and wellbeing

Most of us are very much aware of the prominence of mental heath in the news, especially during their current pandemic, more so with the various lockdown restrictions and the message to ‘stay at home’. Having worked in the land based sector for over 25 years and previously suffering from depression, I am very much aware of the benefits of being outside, connecting with nature and the role plants play in peoples wellbeing.

Over the last decade there has been a proliferation of research carried out into the functional benefits of green plants and natural spaces , showing that time spent in natural settings can help to reduce mental fatigue recovery time, physiological distress and increased attention leading to increased self-esteem and higher productivity rates. Maslow categorises self-esteem as one of the four ‘d-needs’ or ‘deficiency’ needs , and if these d-needs are not met then individuals may feel anxious and tense.

Reduction in stress levels has been shown to occur when people live near green spaces and there is a a strong correlation between access to gardens and lower stress rates in urban environments. Having worked on a couple of small gardens at NHS properties you can see that exposure to plants and green spaces results in lower stress levels and increases patients happiness, especially where the patient has the ability to leave the ward and spend a little time outside.

One of the buzz words at present is Biophilia, we see it in the landscaping industry quite a lot especially in relation to green interiors and office spaces. Biophilia can be defined as “humans innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life”.

Biophilic design can be as simple as placing a few pot plants into an office environment or as complicated as installing interior living walls and watering systems. A number of architects now incorporate biophilia principle where designing new buildings as it can reduce stress , enhance productivity and creativity and improve well-being in urban environments. One only needs to visit some of the modern office spaces in London to see how the new thinking on biophilic design is incorporated. Don’t get me wrong, interior planting is not a new concept, I used to work for the interiors section of a large landscape firm and spent many hours in London maintaining indoor atriums and office displays etc but we now understand more about which plants are useful and how they remove pollutants from the air .

Tree cover is also linked to a reduction in stress with some studies showing a positive correlation between the number of urban trees in a street and the levels of anxiety and stress of the people living there. It is common knowledge that walking through a forest has been shown to reduce a persons blood pressure and pulse rate and this leads into another hot and trendy topic, that of ‘forest bathing’ and we will look at this in the next blog.

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