Royal Horticultural Society reports on the John MacLeod Lecture 2016.
A leading academic has argued that gardening is uniquely placed to help bridge the widening gap between modern, urban lives and the natural world, during the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) annual John MacLeod Lecture on 10 November.
Dr Ross Cameron, a Senior Lecturer in Landscape Management, Ecology & Design at the Department of Landscape, University of Sheffield, believes that as urban populations increase, city dwellers are missing out on the emotional, physiological, and psychological benefits of engaging with the natural world, benefits that humans are hard-wired to respond to. He argued that this lack of connection contributes to a condition he calls Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD).
Although NDD is not a recognised medical condition, Dr Cameron believes there a number of ‘symptoms’ that come under the broad NDD banner, including a lack of awareness and appreciation of the natural world, and less empathy for the plight of flora and fauna. He also believes that increasingly sedentary lifestyles and the health implications of this, including rising obesity rates, can also be attributed to a disconnection with the natural world.
He thinks that any green environment - be it pot plants, or the weeds growing between paving stones, can play a part in healing the rift, by providing some green space that attracts wildlife and exposes people to the positive potential of the natural world.
He does however concede that some green spaces are better than others, and that our aim should be to understand the specific benefits certain plants bring and ‘engineer’ our green spaces in order to deliver a bigger green bang. For example, some trees, such as small-leaved conifers, e.g. Scots pine and Junipers, are more efficient at capturing aerial pollutant particles than others, so those varieties could be planted in combination with other trees, such as fast growing Paulownia and Catalpa, that can lock-up excess soil nitrates, thus providing an effective green anti-pollution barrier.
Dr Cameron added: “We are really just at the edge of understanding the specific values and properties of different plants and also how those plants interact with each other. In the natural world you have natural communities of plants, but in our modern, concrete world we have to replicate these communities, and that means getting the right blend of plants to provide the maximum benefit - just like a malt whiskey, you need to get the blend of different flavours just right.
“Not all green spaces may be as beneficial as others. It may be that poor, derelict green spaces are not as great as more imaginative, naturalistic ones. We’re still trying to understand the subtle components that make some better than others.”
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