One of Oregon’s recent beautiful weekends inspired my family to get outside and clean up our back yard and patio to get ready for summer. We planted a few bushes, weeded our flower beds, swept our back patio of leaves and brought out the cushions for the outdoor furniture. My seven-year old begged her dad to turn on the sprinklers and we all had a good laugh running through them. It was such a fun afternoon. We all needed showers, had rosy cheeks and arms from the sun, and we all slept like babies that night. What is it about being outside, soaking up the sun and digging in the dirt that feels so good to the body and soul?
Go green for better positivity and health!
There is increasing evidence that exposure to plants and green spaces, particularly gardening, is beneficial to mental and physical health. One well researched group of holistic therapies that aim to treat the whole person is “green care,” i.e., therapy by exposure to plants and gardening. Being in green spaces reduces our stress, fear, anger and sadness, as well as reducing blood pressure, pulse rate and muscle tension. Studies also show that you don’t have to be outside or digging in the dirt to experience the benefits. Simply observing nature through a window or viewing nature in pictures and images improves our mood. In another study, putting plants in a computer room improved the staff’s productivity and lowered their blood pressure.
Summertime is the best time to go green!
Why does gardening seem to be so beneficial to our health? It combines physical activity and social interaction and exposure to nature and sunlight. Sunlight lowers blood pressure as well as increasing vitamin D levels, and the fruit and vegetables that are produced have a positive impact on our diet. Working in the garden restores dexterity and strength and the aerobic exercise that is involved can easily use the same number of calories as you might burn at the gym.
In doing research for this month’s positivity project theme, I was curious about what state agencies are doing to promote green care or green therapy. I reached out to some contacts and expected a couple of responses. I was overwhelmed with replies! It energized and excited me to see the ways we are using green spaces and gardening to grow positivity in state government. I’m sure there are more examples out there. I hope the following list will continue to grow!
- MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility has a Master Gardner program. They also have a greenhouse/garden area that they utilize for work experience for youth. Multiple living units have raised beds for growing vegetables.
- The Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility uses a large greenhouse in the back field. They also have a huge courtyard and a small garden area where youth can plant things like marigold seeds and other flowers. There are also youth on the units that have small personal succulents they are able to take with them when they are released.
- At Oregon State Hospital, they have a greenhouse where patients learn to manage and propagate house plants, as well as grow vegetables and herbs from seed. Patients regularly report feeling more calm, peaceful and “normal” at the greenhouse. It is physically observable. too. The landscaping crew is a mix of staff and patients who do the mowing, weeding and pruning of the interior green space at the hospital. The Occupational and Recreation Therapy program facilitates gardening groups inside the secure perimeter and outside the hospital at its “on-grounds garden.” Some group therapy sessions occur in green spaces to take advantage of the calming environment – like relaxation, yoga, tai chi or other mindfulness practices.
- The Department of Corrections’ gardens grew 365,536 pounds of produce and donated 10,304 pounds to local food banks.
- Snake River Correctional Institution propagated over 59,976 sagebrush for BLM through the Sagebrush in Prisons Project. They also propagated 200 milkweed for the Monarch butterfly program.
- Coffee Creek Correctional Facility propagated over 15,000 viola plants for the Oregon Zoo husbandry program for the endangered Oregon Silverspot butterfly. The habitat restoration crew transplanted 23,000 plugs of the viola at Nestucca Bay Wildlife Refuge for this endangered species.
- One prison facility repurposed 55-gallon containers and used those as the garden/flower bed for staff to maintain while at work.
- Beekeeping is available for both staff and adults in custody (AIC).
- Nature imagery rooms and TV channels are available for AICs and some staff have access to a nature imagery channel and can pump the sound out to a breakroom/meditation (wellness room).
- Behavior Health therapy gardens are available for AICs with mental illness.
Let’s all be sure to get a good dose of green care’s magic this spring and summer, and continue to explore ways to bring nature and its positive effects into our homes and workplaces all year long.