Urban design and the design of garden spaces is increasingly becoming one and the same thing as we strive to rectify past mistakes. The great Frank Lloyd Wright once said “The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his client to plant vines.”  

That was in the past, now we have a great alternative to slow growing vines. Hanging gardens or living walls have the immediate benefit of cleaning up a wide number of urban problems, including the improvement of air quality and human health.

This is a fast moving field of research and development, with no single textbook to refer to and many surprising new discoveries.

The Director of the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology in Italy has the following to say.

“The benefits plants bring by producing oxygen, absorbing carbon dioxide and pollutants, and moderating climate have been known for a long time. But other ways plants can affect our well-being have been studied only recently and the findings are remarkable: the presence of plants has been reported to reduce stress, increase attention and speed recovery from illness.

Simply seeing plants can induce calm and relaxation, as can be shown by measuring physiological parameters. Hospital patients with windows looking out on plants have less need for painkillers and are discharged sooner than patients with views of buildings or empty lots. This is why (for essentially economic reasons) many new hospitals in Northern Europe now have space (sometimes an entire floor) devoted to plants, where patients can spend their time.

The effects of the presence of plants on babies and children have been studied from a number of different perspectives. And the results of the first studies are striking.

One study in Illinois, that looked at student performance in tests which required some concentration, had clearly better results from those students who had windows that looked out over green areas, than for students with views of buildings.

Even more than university students, elementary school children show improved attention capacity in the presence of plants.”

Other studies show that streets lined with trees have fewer accidents, there are fewer suicides and fewer violent crimes in neighbourhoods with plenty of green spaces.

In short, plants positively influence our mood, concentration, learning and general well-being.

No-one yet quite knows why plants have this remarkable effect on us, but one thing is clear, the more plants we have around us, the healthier we become.

Given that we in NZ, have urban problems relating to stress, violence and suicides, and we have problems with short attention spans resulting from ever increasing social media, does in not seem obvious that we should learn from international research and the great Frank Lloyd Wright and green up our urban areas?

Starting at the home, lets stop these ghastly developments with minimalistic planting and take heed from the master. Lets cover our buildings with vines and vertical gardens and whatever else we can find to cover up our mistakes. What is there to lose?