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Bringing the forest closer to home

by Timber Press on June 25, 2018

in Gardening

Not all of us have access to a natural forest where we can harness the benefits of forest bathing on a regular basis, so how can we use the wonderfully relaxing effects of nature to improve our health and wellbeing wherever we are?

Most cities and urban areas do have pockets of nature, whether it’s the local park, an area of waste ground or an overgrown path down the side of a canal. Any space where there are plants growing can offer relaxation effects to those who are prepared to seek them out and spend time there. Interest in urban nature is on the increase, so you might well find clubs that organize walks or nature-watching trips to make the most of the green spaces on offer.

However, finding green spaces isn’t always the problem; many of us are simply too busy to put aside time for ourselves, giving our minds and bodies no chance to unwind. So how can we bring the stress-relieving benefits of nature closer to the places we spend most of our time – our homes and workplaces?

Many elements of nature have the same beneficial effects as shinrin-yoku, including wooden objects and decor, ornamental plants in the house or garden, a vase of fresh flowers and even the aroma of essential oils derived from plants. Here are some ideas on how you can bring the forest closer to home and enjoy the relaxing benefits of nature every day.

Urban nature
Currently, just over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas and this is expected to reach two-thirds by 2050. Nature has an important part to play in helping to make cities sustainable and healthy places in which to live and work. In Singapore, for example, wooded areas make up almost 30 per cent of the city and there are plans to expand the green spaces so that, by 2030, 85 per cent of residents live within 400m (437 yards) of a park. Other green cities around the world – with over 20 per cent green space – include Vancouver, Sacramento, Frankfurt, Geneva, Amsterdam and Seattle.

City planners all over the globe are becoming aware of the importance of nature. There are many exciting projects where nature has helped to transform once-derelict city spaces, such as the High Line in New York City, which has become one of the most popular destinations in the city, and the Seoullo garden walkway in Seoul which brought 24,000 plants to a disused highway. In Munich’s English Garden, there is a short manmade river called the Eisbach (German for “ice brook”) in which city dwellers can go swimming.

Similarly, the swimming ponds on Hampstead Heath in London have provided an oasis of nature and wild swimming for Londoners since the early 18th century. Even in cities that are apparently “full”, there are innovative plans to create nature corridors, such as a network of rooftop and ground-level gardens in the centre of Barcelona.

You only need to glance at a city park on a warm day to see how much people appreciate these green spaces as places to sit and eat their lunch, take a break or go for some exercise. Walking through a city park has a calming effect on the mind and body. It makes common sense, but now the scientific evidence is helping to make the case for the importance of including nature in urban planning, for both the mental and physical health of the residents.

Nature and architecture
As well as urban parks, there are exciting examples of architecture and design that integrate city living with nature. “Living walls” allow for the inclusion of a large number of plants in very little space, providing a stunning aesthetic to a building as well as benefitting both humans and the environment. And rooftop gardens are increasingly providing the opportunity to create green spaces in urban settings. Offices can often be rather sterile unnatural environments and so it can make a significant difference to be able to access nature easily on the roof.

Likewise, architects designing new schools are increasingly looking at ways to connect education with nature, creating green corridors between buildings and kitchen gardens for the children to be involved with growing vegetables and learning about food.

Community gardens
All over the world there are community gardening projects in towns and cities, usually focused on growing fruit and vegetables. These projects help to bring communities together and introduce nature into people’s everyday lives. Brooklyn Grange has 1 hectare (2.5 acres) of rooftop soil farms in New York City, growing 22,650kg (50,000lb) of fresh produce each year for local farmers’ markets and restaurants, and provides immersive workshops for thousands of school students. And networks of urban beekeepers are growing in numbers across many towns and cities, with gardeners being encouraged to grow bee-friendly plants and flowers.

 

Yoshifumi Miyazaki is a university professor, researcher and the deputy director of Chiba University’s Centre for Environment, Health, and Field Sciences. He has published several books on the effects of forest therapy, and in 2000 Yoshifumi received the Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Minister Award for clarifying the health benefits. He is also the winner of an award from the Japan Society of Physiological Anthropology.

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