Why Apartment Dwellers Need Indoor Plants

Why Apartment Dwellers Need Indoor Plants

Danica-Lea Larcombe, Edith Cowan University

The number of Australians living in high-rise apartments doubled between 1991 and 2011 and that trend has continued since then. The quarter-acre dream is fast disappearing and larger blocks and family gardens along with it. As more people move from country areas to the city and as land to build homes near the city centre becomes scarce, we’re getting further and further away from nature. It turns out this isn’t great for our health.

The change in urban environments because of development, associated with a rapid increase in chronic disease, is a global phenomenon in developed countries. In the past children grew up running on bare soil and grass, explored backyard farms and gardens, climbed trees and were exposed to a high level of bacteria. And the diversity of the bacteria can change if an individual is exposed to different environmental conditions.

One of these conditions is living in a high-rise apartment far away from land, soil, trees and plants. Being close to nature is linked to positive mental well-being – and people living in urban areas have been shown to have a disadvantage in processing stress. This can be at least partially attributed to increased exposure to air pollution and heat stress, and decrease in exercise and fitness through lack of access to a garden or nearby park.

The less exposure to nature we have, the less diverse the bacteria in our microbiota. The microbiota is the community of bacteria, fungi and viruses that live in our gut and on our skin. We need a diverse exposure for our body to fight inflammation effectively.

Alteration in the human bacterial communities, including the disappearance of ancient microbiotic species, is thought to cause inflammation in the body. These ancient species were known to encourage development of cells that regulate the immune system (T-cells). When our immune system stays on high alert all the time, instead of resting when no threats are present, this causes inflammation, which can lead to chronic disease.

Where plants come in

The bacteria we have are similar to those of plants in that we both carry trillions of good and bad bacteria. The diversity of the microbiota is measured by how many families of bacteria are present. We know the diverse plant microbiome influences plant growth, and humans benefit by eating plant foods. An important research question remains: do we gain another benefit simply by having contact with plants?

Plants also remove volatile compounds from the air including ozone and carbon dioxide. They turn the carbon dioxide into oxygen, meaning air quality is drastically improved. Higher oxygen levels inside a small apartment mean well-being may be improved for the occupants. Viewing plants reduces stress and is pleasing to the human eye.

Nature therapy (shinrin-yoku), first invented in Japan, has proven beneficial for our health by lowering blood pressure and boosting mental health. This is done by simply going for a mindful walk in the forest.

It has also been established that plants confer positive changes in the brain’s electrical activity, muscle tension and heart activity.

Some plants that are beneficial in the home

Peace Lily.
H is for Hom/Flickr, CC BY

Peace Lily: if this plant is placed in the hallway it will reduce many toxins such as benzene, ammonia, acetone and ethyl and will prevent toxins from spreading between rooms in the apartment.

Mother-in-law’s tongue.
Mark Solarski/Unsplash, CC BY

Aloe vera and Mother-in-Law’s Tongue: these plants placed in the bedroom emit oxygen, which improves sleep quality.

Gerbera daisies.
Marcia O’Connor/Flickr, CC BY

Gerbera daisy: if placed in the laundry these plants remove formaldehyde and benzene from the air, which are in common household detergents.

Devil’s Ivy.
DianesDigitals/Flickr, CC BY

Devil’s Ivy (Golden Pothos): this plant can be placed in low light and cool temperatures such as an air-conditioned office or an outdoor garage. It will remove ozone, which is found in car exhaust fumes.

How about plants outside apartment buildings?

Outdoor plants such as trees and shrubs help to shade our buildings and streets, cooling our concrete jungles. They also help with water runoff, preventing flooding and nutrient dispersal. Suburbs with more canopy cover have a perceived higher quality of living and attract better property prices.

Outdoor plants and soil have an abundance of ecological communities compared to indoor environments, a higher diversity of microbes, and therefore increase the numbers of insects, birds and other fauna. Viewing and being among large parks and green areas has been shown to improve the mental and physical well-being of people living in urban areas.

With backyards becoming increasingly rare, diversity is decreasing in urban areas. In response, the City of Toronto has written into local law that all new buildings must have green roofs that include vegetation, drainage, waterproofing and slope stability. The reasoning for the law was that green roofs provide:

energy savings from better solar reflectivity, evapotranspiration and insulation, green roofs last up to twice as long as regular roofs, and green roofs can beautify and add value to Toronto’s buildings by providing scenic views and recreational areas in dense urban areas.

The ConversationA similarly bold strategy here would benefit not only the health of our apartment dwellers, but also the environment.

Danica-Lea Larcombe, PhD Candidate in Biodiversity and Human Health, Edith Cowan University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Event: All About Flowers Plant Sale, Sydney

Event: All About Flowers Plant Sale, Sydney

Are you a fan of the Royal Botanic Garden’s flower collection? Well, good news – you can buy them with just a gold coin contribution.

The RBG’s All About Flowers floral display, which is the first of its kind in the garden’s horticultural centre The Calyx, is ending on August 2. To celebrate the run, more than 18,000 plants from the display will be sold for just a gold coin (or $10 for the orchids). Bringing your own basket or bag is recommended.

All the proceeds will go towards helping Foundation and Friends of the Botanic Gardens continue to support horticulture, conservation, scientific research and educations programs in the RBG.

Entry is free. For more information, visit the RBG website.

Saturday, August 5 | The Calyx, Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, Mrs Macquaries Road, Sydney

Event: Intro to Permaculture, Sydney

Event: Intro to Permaculture, Sydney

When it comes to sustainable gardening and farming, going organic is a great start – but why not take another step forward with permaculture?

Milkwood presents Intro to Permaculture, an intensive weekend workshop on permaculture principles and systems that promote low-energy living and regenerative gardening.

The two-day course will provide a comprehensive overview of how to apply pro-active, sustainable design techniques to your habitat, be it a small apartment, a quarter-acre block, or a rural property. The course, taught by Milkwood director and permaculture designer Nick Ritar, also includes a copy of Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture textbook, course notes and coffee and tea.

Tickets start at $441 per person. For more information, visit Milkwood’s website.

August 12-13 | 107 Projects, 107 Redfern Street, Sydney

Edible Flowers 101

Edible Flowers 101

We know that home gardens can produce edible fruits, vegetables and herbs, but what about edible flowers? Which ones can we eat safely, and how do we prepare them?

There are a wide range of flower varieties that are edible for human. These include, but not limited to: chives, courgette, chrysanthemum, dahlia, dandelion, geranium, hibiscus, mallow, marigold, nasturtium, lavender, lilac, pea, peony, primrose, rose, snapdragon, sunflower, tulip, and violet.

Flowers can be added to a salad, as garnish on desserts, frozen in ice cubes, or even put in the cooking. However, remember to always wash the flowers before preparing them. Also be mindful that for some flowers, you can only eat the petals. Below is a helpful chart from Brittany Watson Jepsen that you can read for reference.

3 Simple Ways To Green Your Home

3 Simple Ways To Green Your Home

We can all do a little something to help the environment. As humans, we are doing more and more damage to our planet by being wasteful and careless with our resources. But it’s easy to make a few slight changes in our everyday life and our habits to make our home a little less straining on our planet.

1. Limit Your Energy Use

  • Cut down on electricity by switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs. If you’re not a fan of fluorescent light bulbs, switch to using lampshades as your main source of light. It would add ambience to your home without using a lot of energy.
  • Turn off all unused lights in the house – if you and your housemates are forgetful, install light sensors or automatic timers in each room.
  • Get unplugged, unplug any electrical appliances that aren’t in use.
  • Use appliances efficiently such as dryers, heaters, dishwashers and washing machines.

2. Be Mindful Of  Your Water Usage

  • Time your showers and don’t leave taps running when not in use.
  • Always switch off the tap faucets when handwashing dishes if you’re not rinsing.
  • Repair and seal all leaks from your home.

3. Grow Plants Indoors

  • Living plants in your home can act as natural air filters and can absorb harmful pollutants in your home from electronic equipment, furniture and carpets.

Why Having Office Plants is Good for You

Why Having Office Plants is Good for You

Thinking of decorating your workspace? Make sure to consider indoor plants. There are a lot of benefits that come with having greeneries in the office; here are some of them…

Increasing productivity

A 2014 study at two large commercial offices in the UK and Netherlands found that having more plants at work could increase productivity by 15 per cent. “Our research suggests that investing in landscaping the office with plants will pay off through an increase in office workers’ quality of life and productivity,” said Marlon Nieuwenhuis, lead researcher of the study. Workers who have plants within their eyesight reported higher concentration levels and better workplace satisfaction. Furthermore, a 2010 study in Norway also found that having plants in view is associated with fewer sick leaves.

Reducing stress

Having plants at work can improve your wellbeing. A research by University of Technology Sydney discovered that plants in the offices can reduce anxiety, depression and fatigue by up to 60 per cent. The plants were found to increase positive mood states and comfort level. “This study shows that just one plant per work space can provide a very large lift to staff spirits, and so promote wellbeing and performance,” the research concluded.

Cleaning the air

Having plants at working space can help remove carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), or petrochemical vapours from paint, furnishings, plastics or electronic equipment. Chronic exposure to these VOCs can increase fatigue, nausea, drowsiness and physical irritability. Recent study suggests than even just three potted plants can do wonder in reducing VOC levels to a minimum at an average-sized office. More plants mean healthier air, and happier you!

Best Gardening Accounts to Follow on Instagram

Best Gardening Accounts to Follow on Instagram

The Internet is a great place to look for inspiration and meet like-minded people, including gardeners. They can not only give you tips and tricks on plant-growing, but also soothe your eyes with beautiful, lush greeneries from their own home for you to enjoy and model after. Here are five best Instagram accounts for gardening and urban farming…

@claireratinon

Claire Ratinon’s account covers both urban farming and indoor gardening, giving you all the inspiration you need.

 

@seedtostem

Seed to Stem is a small shop in Massachusetts filled with an abundance of botanicals and terrariums – a great inspiration for those without a yard to plant on.

 

@_j_u_n_g_l_e_

The self-acclaimed “plant hoarder” shows that fully indoor gardening is possible. Check out the feed for home deco inspiration.

 

@charles_dowding

UK farmer and author Charles Dowding can indeed dine from his own garden.

 

@urbangardenersrepublic

For a truly educative feed on gardening in the city, look no further than Urban Gardeners Republic – you can find tips for vegetable container gardening to tool checklist.

Best Fruits to Grow in A Small Garden

Best Fruits to Grow in A Small Garden

The idea of eating fresh fruits straight from your garden is, of course, appealing – but it can be a bit difficult, considering that our living space is getting smaller and smaller. Luckily, some fruit trees can still produce great crops without taking over all your yard space. Here are some of them:

Nectarine

Source: Sage Ross (CC BY-SA)

Nectarine’s small tree grows well in cool and warm temperate areas. However, do keep in mind that it requires a great amount of pruning, fertilizing, thinning and watering!

 

Paradise Pear

Also known as Faccia Bella, paradise is a mini-sized variety of pear. The tree produces an abundance of small crops, making it perfect for snacking or as a side meal.

 

Sour Cherry

Cherry not only takes up little space, but it is also self-pollinating, making it easy to grow and maintain.

 

Loch Ness Blackberry

Source: Caroline Léna Becker

The thornless blackberry can be put on top of archway – they indeed require full sun to grow, too.

 

Feijoa

feijoa
Source: Kings Plant Barn

Feijoa trees can be used as hedges or makeshift partitions, concealing walls or unwanted views. They grow well with full sun exposure and good drainage.

How to Attract Butterflies

How to Attract Butterflies

Butterflies not only add colours and beauty to your garden, but they can also help in pollinating your plants. However, attracting butterflies can be a little tricky – it’s not as simple as just putting some greeneries around, but it’s attainable nevertheless. Follow these five tips and have butterflies roaming around your garden in no time:

  1. Avoid Pesticides.

A lot of pesticides, even the organic ones, could be toxic to butterflies and other pollinating insects. Try to use the safest, least intrusive pest control that you can get access to.

 

  1. Use Native Plants.

Plants and pollinators have co-evolved throughout the time, depending on each other to survive in the conditions of your geographic area. Using local, native plants will help your garden thrive longer and keep butterflies around.

 

  1. Bright-Colored Flowers Attract Bright-Colored Butterflies.

Because butterflies see on the UV spectrum, they tend to prefer bright-colored flowers, such as red, yellow, orange, white and hot pink. Flowers also act as nectar sources for butterflies to feed on, helping them grow and stay alive.

 

  1. Keep Nectar and Pollen Sources Available All Year Round.

Following the previous point, it is important to ensure the availability of nectar and pollen sources all year round if you want the butterflies to keep coming. Diverse plants with different blooming periods of the year will enable you to do this – when one stops blooming, another will start.

 

  1. Create Conducive Environment for Butterflies to Grow.

Ensure that your garden (and nectar sources) has enough sun exposure – butterflies feed, rest and warm their wings in the sun. Don’t forget to prepare flat stones or chairs in the sun-exposed area for butterflies to rest on as well. Finally, butterflies love puddling or hanging out in wet sand/mud to drink and extract minerals. You can create a puddling space by mixing some coarse sand with water in a shallow pan and placing it on the ground.

How Do We Keep Gardening in the Face of a Changing Climate?

How Do We Keep Gardening in the Face of a Changing Climate?

Andrew Lowe, University of Adelaide

Since 1880, the average global temperature has increased by 0.8°℃, with large changes in rainfall redistribution. With these changing conditions upon us, and set to continue, gardeners will have to alter the way they do things. The Conversation

As climate largely determines the distribution of plants and animals – their “climate envelope” – a rapid shift in these conditions forces wild plants and animals to adapt, migrate or die.

Gardeners face the same changing conditions. If you look at the back of a seed packet, there is often a map showing the regions where these particular plants thrive. But with a rapidly changing climate, these regions are shifting.

In the future we will need to be more thoughtful about what we plant where. This will require more dynamic information and recommendations for gardeners.

The shifting climate

Changes in altitude significantly affect the temperature. As you walk up a hill, for every 100 metres of altitude you gain, the temperature drops by an average of 0.8℃.

Changes in latitude obviously have a bearing on the temperature too. It gets cooler as you move towards the poles and away from the Equator. An accurate rule of thumb is difficult to derive, because of the number of interacting and confounding factors. But generally speaking, a shift of 300 km north or south at sea level equates to roughly a 1℃ reduction in average temperature.

This means that due to warming over the past century or so, Adelaide now experiences the climate previously found in Port Pirie, whereas Sydney’s climate is now roughly what was previously found halfway to Coffs Harbour. The temperature difference is equivalent to a northward shift of approximately 250 km or drop in altitude of 100 m.

At current climate change trajectories, these shifts are set to continue and accelerate.

Adaptation

Plants are already adapting to the changing climate. We can see that in the hopbush narrowing its leaves and other plants closing their pores. Both are adaptations to warmer, drier climates.

We have also seen some major shifts in the distribution of animal and plant communities over the past 50 years. Some of the most responsive species are small mobile insects like butterflies, but we have also seen changes among plants.

But while entire populations may be migrating or adapting, plants that grow in isolated conditions, such as fragmented bush remnants or even gardens, may not have this option. This problem is perhaps most acute for long-lived species like trees, many of which germinated hundreds of years ago under different climatic conditions. The climate conditions to which these old plants were best adapted have now changed significantly – a “climate lag”.

Using such old trees as a source of seed to grow new plants in the local area can potentially risk establishing maladapted plants. But it’s not just established varieties that run this risk.

The habitat restoration industry has recognised this problem. Many organisations involved in habitat restoration have changed their seed-sourcing policies to mix seeds collected from local sources with those from more distant places. This introduces new adaptations to help cope with current and future conditions, through practices known as composite or climate-adjusted provenancing.

The shifting climate and your garden

Gardeners can typically ameliorate some of the more extreme influences of global warming. They can, for example, provide extra water or shade on extremely hot days. Such strategies can allow plants to thrive in gardens well outside their natural climatic envelope, and have been practised by gardeners around the world for centuries.

But with water bills rising and the need to become more sustainable, we should think more carefully about the seeds and seedlings we plant in our gardens. The climate envelope we mentioned earlier is shifting rapidly.

We will need to start using seeds that are better adapted to cope with warmer and, in many cases, drier conditions. Typically, these plants have thinner leaves or fewer pores. This requires more information on the location and properties of the seeds’ origin, and a more detailed matching of diverse seed sources to planting location.

As the climate changes, we need to be more selective with what we plant.

As the climate continues to change we will also need to introduce species not previously grown in areas, using those that are better adapted to the increasingly changed climatic conditions.
Plenty of tools are now available to help guide seed collection and species selection for planting. These include those offered through the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility and the Atlas for Living Australia, for instance.

But these resources are often aimed at expert or scientific audiences and need to be made more accessible for guiding gardening principles and plant selection for the public. The information needs to be intuitive and easy to understand. For example, we should produce lists of species that are likely to decline or benefit under future climate conditions in Australia’s major cities and towns, along with future growing areas suitable for some of our most popular garden species.

This won’t just be useful for a backyard gardener, either. Many exciting new gardening initiatives are being proposed, including rooftop gardens, which promote species conservation, carbon sequestration and heat conservation, and future city designs, which incorporate large-scale plantings and gardens for therapeutic benefits. All of these activities need to take the shifting climate into account, as well as the need to change practices to keep up with it.

 

Andrew Lowe, Professor of Plant Conservation Biology, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.