The benefits of creating green spaces
First published in BCLNA's Green for Life Magazine, 2011.
I like to think of gardeners as double eco-warriors for battling both ecological and economical concerns with one mighty turn of a trowel. While we fervently endeavour to recycle more, drive less, eat organic, buy local, replace light bulbs, sign on to paperless billing, and bring our own grocery bags, the delightfully de-agitating activity of gardening balances a host of environmental and ecological issues, and makes us healthier beings to boot.
It really is a bit of a puzzle. What other activity can you do to positively influence your eating habits and physical fitness? What has the power to alleviate stress while giving your kids something educational and fun to do? How can you save on your hydro bill, raise the net worth of your home, contribute to the economy, build better neighbourhoods, create and clean the air you breathe, sustain wildlife, and improve your environmental footprint?
Well, sure. But what else can do it all at the same time?
First things first: let’s talk money. Smart Money Magazine indicated that real estate shoppers value a landscaped home up to 11.3 per cent higher than its base price. Researchers at Quebec’s Laval University concurred; they studied 760 home sales and found that landscaping
attributes (trees, flowers, plants, and hedges) command a substantial market premium. Aspen Environmental Companies found that investments in landscaping help to reduce the amount of time a property sits on the market. Every bit of gardening you do opens up real estate potential (and justifies another trip to the garden centre).
If you have no interest in profiting from your home now, think instead about reducing what your home is costing you. BC Hydro says well-designed landscaping can reduce summer cooling costs by 20 per cent or as much as 100 per cent in regions without significant cooling demands. Trees will shade your house; if they are planted near (but not blocking) your outdoor air conditioning unit, they can increase the machine’s efficiency by up to 10 per cent. But choose wisely: if you plant deciduous trees, they will allow sunlight to reach your house in winter, and that will keep it warmer. For apartment dwellers, there are still energy savings to be had. Window boxes planted with grasses, vines or small shrubs can keep the sun from over-heating the glass, and you.
Even lawn has its perks. Before you start complaining about noisy emission-belching mowers, and sprayers full of toxins (granted, we are quickly learning to manage turf more appropriately) remember this: lawn is a natural air conditioner. Eight healthy front lawns cool the equivalent of 70 tons of air conditioning. That’s roughly the amount of A/C it takes to cool 16 average-sized homes. Dense, healthy grass also traps dust and smoke stirred up by vehicles zooming through the streets, and filters the air we inhale; plus, grass is an oxygen-producer and a 50 by 50-foot lawn can generate the amount of oxygen that a family of four breathes in a year.
Turn some of that lawn into a veggie patch, and that family of four will get a little exercise while they cultivate healthier eating habits and lives. In a special to the Wall Street Journal, George Ball from the W. Atlee Burpee Co. (experts in the seed industry since 1876) said, in his experience, kids who grow vegetables alongside their parents “eat them regularly and with gusto.” Peas, green beans and raw carrots, he pointed out, are particular favourites and Ball thinks fresh, natural foods are key to ending childhood obesity.
Gardens are good for the mind too. Just being around green spaces (says a study from Environmental Behaviour) improves children’s ability to think clearly and cope with stress. For kids with ADD/ADHD, being around greenery (even window views of green spaces) can reduce their symptoms. Horticulture therapists know this. They build their practices on the knowledge that getting into a garden can rehabilitate physical and mental illness, and improve one’s general well-being. In a study conducted at a Chicago public housing development, residents of buildings with more trees and grass reported that they knew their neighbours better, socialized with them more often, had stronger feelings of community, and felt safer and better adjusted than did residents of more barren, but otherwise identical buildings.
There are studies about the benefits of green spaces everywhere you look. The statistics march on and on, but at their core is one key point: gardening is good for you, your community, and your earth.
Gardening is green, and green is for life.