Posted by: Deryn Davidson, Boulder County Extension
So where is all of this musing about the awesomeness of plants coming from? Well, at first I was going to write this blog about all of the lovely plantings that towns along the Front Range do to pretty up their streets and make them more appealing. Fort Collins is becoming known for their lovely Old Town alleyways (when I was growing up, they were not so lovely...), Denver and Boulder put time and energy into making their public spaces planty. And Niwot, CO does a great job with this. Petunias spill out of fun and unusual containers that line the streets and a dedicated crew of folks drag a water tank around and water them regularly throughout the hot summer months.
So, as I was thinking about all of these lovely summertime streetscapes, I started thinking about WHY towns and cities do this. It's because of the power of plants!! Plants (nature) make us feel good. Plants make a space feel more comfortable and calming and happy. Study after study shows that time spent in nature has a profoundly positive effect on us. A University of Michigan study showed that students who took a walk through the campus arboretum performed better on a short-term memory test than those who walked down a city street (I'll go ahead and assume it was an un-planty city street). Spending a brief amount of time in a natural setting can restore our mental energy too...you know that metal foggy feeling? Research has shown that just looking at a picture of a nature can help clear that fog (looking at picture of cities did not have that effect). And we all know that gardening is a stress reliever!!
When we go outside (or even look out a window at a bit of nature) our cortisol levels drop (the hormone associated with stress), our blood pressure drops and it can help us improve our concentration skills. Nature can even help our bodies heal. In a landmark study done in the 1980s, Roger Ulrich found that patients recovering from gallbladder surgery who had a room with a view to a small stand of deciduous trees had a shorter postoperative hospital stay, took less pain medication and had fewer post-op complication than another group whose view was to a brown brick wall. The power of plants.
So thank you to the towns and cities who include summertime streetscaping into their budgets. Believe it or not, by bringing that little bit of nature to our daily lives as we get to work and run our errands, they are helping us all feel more calm and brightening our days!