Plants for the Planet: The Eco benefits of plants and gardening
Gardening, whether on a large plot or in just a few windowsill pots, is a deeply satisfying avocation for many millions of people around the world. But planting and tending to the needs of plants doesn't reward only the gardener – gardening benefits the environment as a whole in many different ways.
Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases that are emitted in large quantities by motor vehicles in our cities. Trees and other living plants trap and 'breathe in' carbon dioxide and pollutants and breathe out the oxygen which humans and animals need to live. Just one or two leafy pot plants on a desk or next to the TV set are enough to make the office and home much healthier places to be.
A water garden, especially one that incorporates some sort of moving or splashing water, can significantly improve the quality of the air around it by creating negative ions that in turn remove toxins and dust from the atmosphere. The grass in a thriving lawn too, traps and reduces the quantities of allergens such as pollen from the air surrounding the home and outdoor living areas.
Traffic noise can be a problem for city dwellers and for people living near to a busy highway. A thick living screen of evergreen trees and shrubs planted along the boundary fences will go a long way towards reducing the amount of noise that permeates a home and the garden surrounding it. The use of fruiting trees selected from the various citrus cultivars, together with vigorous shrubby herbs like rosemary and the indigenous sages, combine noise control with the growing of home produce.
People living in a flat above a busy road can reduce the noise inside their apartments with a few well-placed container plants in a balcony or window garden.
Spend an hour or two wandering around a good garden centre and you'll be amazed at the range of products designed to enable plants to be grown almost anywhere.
We all appreciate the cool shade of a leafy tree on a summer's day. A home or office surrounded by a garden filled with a variety of established and healthy trees will need much less air-conditioning during the hot months of the year. Deciduous trees may be the wiser option in areas where the winters are sunny but cold and again, fruit trees will do double duty.
Townhouse living makes it difficult, often impossible, to accommodate even one shade tree in the allotted patch of garden space but a sun-baked wall can easily be converted into a vertical garden or green wall that will not only deflect the heat but also cool the rooms inside. A green wall can be as simple or as high-tech as the budget allows, but they're all particularly water efficient and high on wow-factor. They're also as suitable for growing berries, herbs and vegetables as for the cultivation of flowers.
Landfills, or municipal rubbish dumping sites, are a limited resource and also have a negative effect on the environment, but gardeners and their gardens are able to help reduce the amount of waste sent to these dumps.
A well-aerated compost heap provides a home for almost all household vegetable waste. Fruit pips and peelings, newspapers, egg shells and egg boxes, garden weeds… the list is extensive and, properly managed, this is all transformed into valuable food for the garden. The worms in a domestic worm farm will suck (worms have no teeth) their way through vegetable peelings and coffee grounds and slowly create a rich compost that acts like an energy drink for both container and garden plants.
Dense cityscapes and huge concreted malls and parking lots are bad news for hosts of non-human creatures, and carefully planted gardens help give back some of the natural habitat we've taken away.
A simple pond with a water lily and indigenous marsh grasses and ground cover plants at the edges creates a welcoming environment for frogs and tadpoles. A bird bath, indigenous trees and shrubs, perhaps even some nesting boxes, all help to recreate bird-friendly habitats.
Bees and butterflies are always happy to find a sunny bed filled with colourful, nectar-rich flowers. Garden centre staff can advise which plants are particularly irresistible to these tiny creatures and also, provide information about plants that double as host plants for butterfly larvae to feed on.
Growing and caring for plants promotes a keen understanding, in adults and kids alike, of the precious eco-system that is planet Earth and about our responsibility to protect it. We learn how much care a seedling needs to survive and thrive and, in dry weather, we appreciate the importance of water conservancy. In the garden we become more intimately aware of the effects of weather conditions like wind, extreme temperatures and flooding and learn how to minimise possible damage. Observing the positive effects of wise companion-planting demonstrates the value of biodiversity.
Gardeners soon learn about the value of indigenous plants and the environmental benefits of controlling the alien invader species. Many gardeners become involved in the protection, conservation and recovery of species threatened with extinction.
Gardens and greened work spaces beautify the environment, lift the spirits and lower the stress levels of everyone able to spend time in them. The physical activity involved in creating a garden has a positive effect on both the gardeners and on visitors to the garden. Carefully landscaped gardens create a sense of peace and tranquility and plantings of bright annuals and bedding plants are an instant pick-me-up. Happier, healthier people make for a healthier, happier planet.
Make room in your life for just one plant – it could be the first step to reducing your personal ecological footprint. Get to know plants, identify a favourite, and learn, first-hand, the positive effects of including this treasure in your daily life.