The benefits of creating your own botanical spaces within the home | Domain

Gaze at any plants or trees you can see around you, breathe in deeply, smell the rich scents of nature and listen to the leaves rustling in the breeze (or the aircon). Refresh, revitalise and repeat.

Green-bathing is today a huge global wellness trend, but now, instead of indulging at a delicious resort in Asia or Europe that offers it up as a sophisticated and expensive relaxation meditation, we’re being forced to do it much closer to home. And, jeepers creepers, aren’t we growing in enthusiasm for the task!

Today, there are few apartment balconies anywhere in Sydney that don’t have at least a smattering of pots or planter boxes, house owners are out in their gardens far more than usual, planting and weeding and mowing and snipping, and the parks, in lockdowns, have never seen so many visitors.

At the same time, demand for landscaping services and green walls is shooting up, councils across the nation are greening spaces like never before, and house and apartment developers are competing to make their complexes as verdant as is viable.

“People have been scared by what’s happened and want to make sure that their homes are as comfortable and sustainable as possible,” says Matt Cantwell, managing director of landscape architects Secret Gardens. “They’re spending a lot more time at home and are looking at both their houses and gardens and now see a fantastic opportunity to improve both.

“There’s a nurturing element there too. It’s in our nature to nurture, whether it’s a single plant or a few or a whole garden. It makes us feel good to be in greenery; it’s escapism, it’s privacy, and there are now so many studies to show how it benefits our well-being.”

There certainly are, and both coronavirus and the latest alarming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are concentrating our attention wonderfully on the need to take heed of them, both for our own good and to help contribute to a more sustainable future.

Architectural Record recounts a welter of international studies showing that biophilic design – the practice of connecting people with nature in built environments – can reduce stress, lower heart rates and blood pressure and increase creativity, productivity and happiness. The recent Terrapin Bright Green report, for example, says that in natural environments, people notice less anxiety, anger, fatigue, confusion and moodiness.

That’s the drive behind developer Crown Group CEO Iwan Sunito’s mission to make his apartment buildings embody as much greenery as possible for residents, as well as to be physically surrounded by it. “Biophilia is so good for us physiologically and psychologically,” he says.

“So, I always want my buildings to be more like urban resorts and have a luxuriant green look and feel. It’s important for residents, making them feel so much more relaxed. It’s good for the area to have more greenery, and it cools cities. At a time when we can’t go anywhere else, it’s important to feel the best we can in our own homes.”

His $400 million Waterfall by Crown Group building in Waterloo, for instance, has more than 5000 tropical plants, green walls, a seven-storey-high waterfall and 730 square metres of parkland. Oh, and 331 apartments.

Houses, obviously, can’t have the same mass of greenery, but many are undertaking work to make the absolute most of what they have. Shane Noble and his wife Lyn hired Secret Gardens to reconfigure their sloping lawn and struggling plants at their renowned Reuben Lane-designed Cove House on the Cronulla oceanfront.

The result is a series of large circular lawned stepping stones, reflecting the modernist white curves of the 1973 house, leading to a fire pit with seating and a lap pool looking out to the ocean. “The garden now holds everything together – the house and the fantastic location,” says Noble. “Before, the garden always felt like unfinished business.

“But now, I spend a lot more time outdoors, wandering around the different spaces, seeing the seasons change, sitting at the fire pit and swimming in the pool. It gives us so many more opportunities to enjoy the garden. It feels like the missing link.”

It’s not just the greenery outside that’s capturing so much more of our attention, either. Award-winning property stylist Justine Wilson of Vault Interiors advises that everyone’s now intent on bringing the outdoors in, too.

“Interior spaces also need a green pop of colour, and nature brings a real feeling of life into rooms, as well as having the power to transport you to other places,” she says. “Indoor plants are now a massive movement that we’re seeing everywhere on social media.

“People are getting creative with their decor and using hanging plants or cascading ivy down bookcases, with pots in the corners and glass bowl terrariums with rocks and moss and plants on tables. It’s hugely back in fashion with herbs also being grown in kitchens and greenery in outdoor areas, vegetable patches and people propagating plants in greenhouses.”

There’s now unprecedented demand for green walls, too, in houses and apartments, both indoors and out. With so much money saved on not having holidays, home owners are choosing to spend instead on renovations that often include those walls smothered in greenery.

“We’ve had a big upsurge in orders,” says Mark Paul, director of The Greenwall Company, which creates, builds and installs the walls with automated water systems and maintains them for the first year for between $800 and $2000 a square metre. “People have all suddenly decided that a lot of projects they were considering four or five years ago should now go ahead.

“There’s now so much research on how sick hospital patients improve faster when they can look at greenery and how greenery around solar panels on roofs increases their efficiency by 30 per cent. Greenery’s becoming more important all the time, and we realise that by giving plants and trees a home, they’re giving us a future.”

And everyone is at last taking notice, believes Andrew Cocks, managing director of Richardson & Wrench. Many city-dwellers are now moving to greener pastures in the regions and to the coast, with tree and sea changes. For those remaining, councils are putting more effort into parks and green areas and cleaning up and planting disused rail lines and waterways.

“People are really attracted to homes with a lot of greenery and near parks or to apartments in good landscaping,” he says. “Apartment buildings used to be huge lumpy edifices, but now they’ve been softened with greenery by a lot of developers.”

There’s even work currently being done to put a precise financial value on good landscaping around homes. Postdoctoral fellow at the University of NSW’s City Futures Research Centre, Dr Ajith Jayasekare, is modelling high-resolution data to put a price on nearby green views.

While 1 per cent of a beach view drives house prices up by nearly 2 to 3 per cent, he believes views of greenery will also turn out to have a big impact. “But we’re still gathering data to find by how much landscaping affects prices of houses and apartments,” he says.

So, if money can buy a view, it could also buy health. There’s absolutely no doubt about that at all, believes Dr Rebecca Patrick, a researcher at Deakin University on the health benefits of a green environment. One of her reports, Beyond Blue to Green, demonstrates how greenery reduces stress, induces relaxation and improves cognitive function.

“We also know it can reduce depression, anxiety and aggression,” she says. “We are so intuitively linked to the natural environment; we just need contact with nature for our physical and psychological well-being. Human beings are hard-wired to green.”




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