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Quintessential

The word essential in the dictionary includes as part of the definition the phrase “being such by its very nature or in the highest sense; natural; spontaneous” such as essential happiness. It causes me to think that quintessential then represents the most perfect or typical example of what is naturally essential. The definitions are basis for the debate that developed in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic crisis on whether or not greenhouses or garden centers, plants and gardening should be considered “essential” activities. In some states in the US they are deemed essential. In Michigan they are not. I consider hands in the dirt and plants to be both essential and quintessential. 

One season ends another begins. Photo taken April 9, 2020 Chiondoxa Glory in the Snow (click photo to enlarge)

I read that the World Health Organization predicts anxiety will be a leading health issue in the coming years outranking other issues like obesity. Much progress has been made in the past decade by many good people and organizations to make mental health no longer a stigma. Plant based diets and an environment of plants can affect our mental health positively. It is well documented the presence of plants can lift the mood of the office, the spirits of someone ill, and the disposition of someone sad. For example I am a person who enjoys talking to my plants. I still stand by that principle and not just for the beneficial carbon dioxide they derived. I think the vibrations and comforting tones of the voice of a “frond” indeed encouraged them to do better. I don’t have scientific evidence to back this up but I know at least I felt better. 

People react differently to stress and setbacks. Like humans, plants undergo a series of hormonal changes during a stressful period. Production of gibberellic acid in a plant decreases during the stress of a drought. This gibberellin setback to a plant can affect its growth not only for the short term but for the long term as well resulting in problems years later. A stressed plant tends to mope making it a target for disease. Plants like people are often a reflection of their current environment.

Soil is something we often take for granted but it is vital to health. It seems not only plant health but people health too. I continue to read of scientists revealing that soil can have both antidepressant qualities as well as antibiotic characteristics. It seems dirt naturally has an understanding of antibiotic competition because it is teeming with bacteria. We continue to learn there is good bacteria and there is infectious or bad bacteria. In their quest for new therapeutic compounds it’s only natural one resource would be dirt. 

Shinrin-yoku is Japanese for forest bathing. No it’s not taking off your clothes in the woods and taking a bath. It is immersing oneself in nature taking in the forest atmosphere as a gentle path to wellness. Considered by some to be trendy I think it’s a great healing practice rooted in culture and history. A practice of taking in the forest atmosphere and breathing as a form of medicine. Scientific studies are now proving what we have always intuitively known, that nature can reduce stress levels in humans. Moods are improved and healing is accelerated. 

We now know it is more than the peace of the forest, the unplugged feeling of fresh air and the exercise of a quiet hike through the trees. We now know that phytoncides, the essential oil produced by plants, has been credited with lowering stress and cortisol levels. Aromatic volatile oils are produced by trees like pine and hemlock as protective agents and are credited with the ability to lower blood pressure. The phytoncides released by trees and plants into the surrounding atmosphere is to protect themselves from disease and harmful organisms. Inhaled phytoncides from a walk in the woods can last days in the human body. This goes way beyond the scented pine tree hanging from your rearview mirror masking the odd odors in your car. These natural oils are bathing you in stress reduction resulting in a healthier you. It’s the gift that keeps giving.

20 reasons Plants, Gardens, Landscapes are even more than essential….they are quintessential. 

1 First, foremost and most obvious….Plants are food. And we should have more of them in our diet. Eat more plants. We can boost the immune system with healthy vegetables, fruits and herb plants.
2 Plants improve air quality. And as we’ve learned we all want to breathe a little easier. And that’s both outdoors and indoors as indoor plants or “jungalows” improve our air at home and work too.
3 Gardens and landscapes reduce community crime and provide a common space for community cohesion. Residents feel greater pride in the beauty of where they live and rally together to maintain it. Plants bring people together.
4 Time outdoors in the landscape improves human performance and energy. Spending time in nature gives people an increased feeling of vitality, increasing their energy levels and making them feel more animated.
5 Reduce stress. Participation in gardening and landscaping activities is an effective way to reduce levels of stress.
6 The garden, landscape and natural environments can improve mental health. People who spend more time outside in nature have a significantly more positive outlook on life than people who spend a great deal of time indoors.
7 Therapeutic effects of gardening. Gardening can have therapeutic effects on people who have undergone either mental or physical trauma. I would go so far to say that flowers improve relationships and build compassion. Plants and flowers affect the level of compassion that people feel towards others. Studies have shown that people who spend more time around plants are much more likely to try and help others, and often have more advanced social relationships.
8 Plant roots reduce soil erosion. And bare soil is not a natural condition, something is going to grow there so be proactive. It may as well be beneficial.
9 We can reduce storm water runoff and improve water quality with plant material. Green spaces absorb water in two ways: above the surface through the leaves and below ground through the root system.
10 How about your wallet? Energy savings anyone? Planting trees and other ornamental plants around a building can significantly reduce the sun’s radiation effect on the temperature of the outer walls and lower the associated cost of energy for heating and cooling. Plants provide insulating windbreaks in winter.
11 Health and recreation. Plants reduce health care costs. Residents of an area with urban green spaces benefit from improved physical fitness and exercise.
12 Most cities are largely composed of cement and asphalt, which absorb heat from the sun’s rays during the daylight hours. These “heat islands” can be offset with a balance of plant material.
13 Plants reduce noise pollution.
14 Flowers generate happiness.
15 Concentration and memory. The calming influence of natural environments is conducive to positive work environments by increasing a person’s ability to concentrate on the task at hand.
16 Plants are like many other topics….we never stop learning and that’s a good activity to promote.
17 Plants can accelerate the healing process. Trees, plants and flowers have a practical application in hospitals: the presence of plants in patient recovery rooms or outside the window have been shown to reduce the time necessary to heal.
18 Plant material attracts wildlife. As an example the protective cover plant material provides wild birds visiting our yards.
19 We are always looking for ways to celebrate. To acknowledge others. Plants and flowers make the perfect gift.
20 Plants provide materials to harvest. To build. For construction. Shelter. Agriculture, trees and plants always have and always will be an important part of both our local community, state and national economic health and commerce creating jobs for many people across our nation.