August 8, 2012 — John van Bladel
Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful;
they are sunshine, food, and medicine for the soul.
A few years ago I attended a conference of sorts on mindfulness. I was nearing the end of a ten month internship at a botanical garden. My goal was to find a way to connect psychology, health behavior change, and sustainability with gardens. The presenter started to discuss the concept of interdependence. He showed us a sunflower and asked us to consider the composition of it. The answer seemed simple: a stem, petals, leaves, stigma, etc… He then asked us what conditions were necessary for a flower to manifest: water, sunlight, soil, nutrients, seeds, carbon dioxide, bees for pollination, and some other components. This is when things became interesting. He made the point that although we know the flower by name, in this case a sunflower, it is composed of non-sunflower parts, and removing one of the components would result in the flower not coming into existence.
He explained further that we (each of us) are indeed “flowers” composed of many parts, all of which are necessary for us to exist. These “parts” include the components which make up our body and the physical world around us creating the environment in which we live. In addition to the physical world in which we live, we also have relationships with individuals, groups, and institutions which are interdependent. In essence, we are one big community where our actions create a multitude of conditions affecting all those around us. No part of this community is truly separate from another.
So what does all this have to do with a garden? Well, to begin, a garden is in itself a small ecosystem which is often constructed to serve a number of purposes, primarily providing food, flowers, and aesthetics. However, if we broaden the boundaries of a garden it lends itself to many possibilities, just a few of which are: producing food for the community, developing relationships with the community, promoting interdisciplinary collaboration, learning about sustainability, and exploring ways to consume in a manner that preserves our physical and mental health and the environment. There is a growing body of evidence supporting the positive effects of green spaces on communities in regards to overall well-being from decreases in vandalism and litter to improved physical and mental health. Gardens are also an effective teaching tool for many disciplines and are a great way to invest people in their community.
Liberty Enterprises and FM have worked cooperatively to establish a small vegetable garden and complete our first “landscape adventure” located between the Administration Building and the College Union. Plans are in the works for expanding the vegetable garden to provide produce for the local community, planting more perennial gardens, and restoring the nature trail on campus. The potential to develop further projects exists and ideas such as Herb, Memorial, Art, Zen/Contemplative Gardens, a Greenhouse, and a bulb drive have been mentioned.
We will be having a “Garden and Trail Meeting” at the start of the fall semester and all are welcome to attend. We are also planning a Harvest Festival in October. For more details or to share your ideas, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com or call 736-FMCC ext. 8934.
John van Bladel is Instructor of Psychology at FM.