Green Space Saves Lives!

Consider "forest bathing" in the West End's Stanley Psark. It's good for you! (vancouvertrails.com Photo)

by Peter Gribble
One of my favourite go-to websites is sciencedaily.com. Up-to-date discoveries in every field are posted each weekday in short readable articles. In early July, a massive study published by the East Anglia University declared, ‘It’s official – spending time outside is good for you.’ They examined data from 140 studies from 20 countries, involving more than 290 million people and found, ‘exposure to green space reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress, and high blood pressure.’

A gardener could have told them that.

Still, a study this extensive is gratifying. It infers thateven a 9 x 5 foot balcony (or whatever form your garden takes) is essential for one’s wellbeing. And if so, August is sometimes deemed the defining diagnosis of gardening health.

The Sneaky Gardener:  You’ll hear August is tomato season, basil season, lavender season, Chilean guava season … but a balcony shaded by direction or other buildings severely restricts the possibilities. A surreptitious stop at a corner store can net you impressive hanging baskets full of ripening Tumbler tomatoes. These are the rare tomato plants tolerating some shade. Who’s to know you bought and hung them up twenty minutes ago?

A principle interest of the East Anglia study was the Japanese practice of ‘Shinrin yoku’ or forest bathing where restoration therapy is derived from spending time in a forest, walking through it or sitting or lying down in it.

Stanley Park is just a hop, skip and jump away … and for forest bathing, Speedos are optional. If a hop, skip and jump is too energetic on a sweltering August day, a simple creation can bring the forest to you.

What might be called a Haiku garden is a botanical poem, three lines in 5–7–5 syllables – last line evoking insight – in this case, a minimalist landscape.

For my own Haiku garden, I layered peaty soil into a 9" by 11½” unglazed bonsai pot, placed three ordinary stones in diminishing sizes (the largest the size of a fist), tucked some moss around the stones and set this arrangement on a table and ‘Ii desu ne!‘ (Japanese for ‘How nice!’): Three Mountains girdled by Forest. Mist it every day. It’s a no frills, low maintenance garden and restful green space perfect for a sun-deprived balcony. East Anglia University might make you an honorary alumnus.

Equally pleasant is a water feature and can be as varied as creativity or whimsy decides. For a balcony, a small tabletop fountain is ideal and easy and fun to assemble. The only major expense is the pump, which can range from $30 to $60 (the more expensive ones will have a gauge to control water flow.) A ceramic water bowl to hold everything, a few stones to hide the pump, a small bamboo spout or deer-scare-er, a nearby electrical outlet and there you have it. In a sunny location, check the water more frequently for evaporation. A water pump running dry will wreck it.

In garden centres you may hear succulents are easy to grow. They’re suddenly everywhere, partly due to the ease and speed growers can propagate them. The fad seems to have originated in Los Angeles, USDA zone 10, heat zone 6 – we’re 7 and 2. Our own tougher succulents Hens and Chicks (Sempervivens) and Sedums are attractive, varied and evergreen in our cold and wet, but read the labels. Among them lurk unprincipled others usually called Echevaria. Prettier with exotic shapes and colours, a touch of frost will kill them, reducing them to the consistency of undercooked meringues. If you want to save your Echevaria, keep them in pots and bring them in for the winter and place them in a sunny window. Indoor temperatures without adequate sunlight will promote legginess. Let them dry between waterings to discourage growth and hope for an early spring.

As for fads, a publicist once said, ‘They peak within six months, then are done.’ Like Echevaria left outdoors.

Small spaces have one lovely advantage: there are no endless chores. Weeding; watering thirsty beds; dead heading roses, perennials and annuals; pruning the spring flowering shrubs; taking softwood cuttings; trimming hanging baskets and planter boxes to rejuvenate straggly plants; mowing front and back lawns; making second and third sowings of certain veggies; gathering seed from spring blooming biennials; re-edging beds; planting winter veggies; collecting blossoms for winter’s pressed flower projects, to say nothing of harvesting summer’s bounty.

By the heated weeks of August, the dedicated gardener will be suffering from the first symptoms of ‘Gardening Fatigue.’ Would that summer hurry up and finish, that September come quickly, bringing cooler weather and rain and fewer exertions. Gardening is lots of work and is nothing compared to forest bathing.

Meanwhile, back at the hanging baskets of Tumbler tomatoes, remember NEVER water the plant, only the soil. Water left on leaves and fruit can invite the dreaded air-borne fungal disease called Late Blight and can destroy a tomato plant in 24 hours.

Tomatoes And The Five Liquid Food Groups: What to do with your Tumbler trophies? Let the bounty inspire your bartending skills. Instead of a Bloody Mary and its tomato juice, substitute Tumbler tomato pulp (strain seeds and skin.) Freeze a dozen mashed Tumbler tomatoes in ice cube trays. Choose from the five liquid food groups: tequila, vodka, whiskey (bourbon), rum or gin and shake, stir, agitate into your Tumbler puree. Pour over the tomato ice cubes in chilled glasses.

For the aesthete, sprinkle small freshly opened yellow dill flowers (a dwarf, compact variety of dill called ‘Ella’ can be grown in pots in a sunny corner) on top for the final touch to your unlikely beverage. The flowers are edible and impart a stronger dill flavour than green clippings. Et voilá! You have a Bloody Gardener! The Virgin Gardener – an unlikely individual but known to exist – merely requests you hold the alcohol.

In the drowsy heat of mid-afternoon, settle back in your garden chair and sip and snooze to the faraway, soothing hum of someone else mowing a distant lawn.