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The Homeowners Column
A Dose of Nature maybe just what you need
September 8, 2016
State Master Gardener Coordinator
It's hard for me to imagine the magnitude of physical fatigue in everyday life when our society was mainly agrarian. Daily chores were physically demanding for men and women. Milking the cows, baking bread, and doing the laundry, just a few of the tasks that required hours of physical labor. In my estimation we've now switched from muscle fatigue to mental fatigue. The mental demands of juggling family activities, doctor's appointments and work and home responsibilities are mentally and emotionally tiring. In addition, with so many distractions from our mobile devices beeping at every text or social media update it gets harder and harder for us to focus our attention on our tasks.
Mental fatigue leads to feelings of being stressed, forgetful, disorganized, irritable and mistake prone. Any of this sound familiar? Gladly the answer to mental fatigue may be right outside our doors.
Recently during our Illinois Master Gardener Conference Dr. William Sullivan, Professor and Head of the Department of Landscape Architecture at University of Illinois, presented intriguing research about the restorative benefits of everyday contact with gardens and green spaces.
According to Sullivan "the conditions of modern living (work and life pressures) threaten the health and wellbeing of millions of Americans. There is mounting evidence, however, that exposure to even small gardens and other forms of nature can promote recovery from mental fatigue. In a variety of recent studies, scientists have found that exposure to the kind of places that master gardeners create dramatically reduces mental fatigue, irritability, impulsivity, and improves productivity."
Dr. Sullivan referenced his chapter "In Search of a Clear Head" in the book Fostering Reasonableness: Supportive Environments for Bringing out our Best edited by Rachel Kaplan and Avik Basu. Sullivan writes "…evidence is now pouring in demonstrating that a dose of nature can have important consequences not only for our ability to focus our minds but also for our capacity to engage the world in a fashion that promotes reasonableness and thus enhances our ability to make a difference in the world." If you have more interest in the research behind the restorative aspects of nature, I highly recommend reading Dr. Sullivan's writings. Fostering Reasonableness is available on Amazon or can be read on Dr. Sullivan's website http://willsull.net/ .
Are there things you can do to provide your "dose of nature"? It may be something quite simple as moving your chair so you can view nature from your dinner table or office desk. Add a vase of fresh flowers, primp the plants in terrariums, fairy gardens or windowsill gardens. Other ideas include watch fish in a pond or birds at birdfeeders or take a walk or bike ride in a park, garden or tree-lined street with your mobile device turned off to reduce distractions. Sullivan also recommends taking a break before mental fatigue takes hold by learning to recognize life activities that traditionally deplete us.
Dr. Sullivan related how our communities should be designed so everyone has access to the green spaces we all need. In our understanding of the importance of green spaces for everyone I am happy to announce that after 7 years of planning and prodding we are set to start our accessibility project at the University of Illinois Extension Champaign County Master Gardener Idea Garden on September 12, 2016. The garden area will be under construction for about 6 weeks. The Idea Garden is located within the University of Illinois Arboretum on south Lincoln Avenue in Urbana, just south of the corner of Florida and Lincoln Avenues.
The accessibility project includes the building of ADA accessible parking lot and sidewalk around the Idea Garden. The project is funded through the cooperation of Champaign County Extension Education Foundation, Master Gardener Garden Walks, University of Illinois Extension and University of Illinois.
The Idea Garden is a delightful place for everyone to get their "dose of nature".