I recently gave a talk on Sense of Place, and how working with and respecting the unique set of factors of each location is the most important aspect of what I do. I had a wonderful and engaging audience who threw up some very curly questions; two of them I would like to elaborate on here.
"Considering children are growing up without backyards, do you fear the loss of the next Cricketing legends?"
My response at first was a resounding "No, I don't!" This is because sport is ubiquitous with our culture and I have faith in the various sporting associations finding a way to make up for the lack of the suburban backyard.
The question assumes that gardens are places only for physical activity. What I fear is a general decrease in cognition, and the interconnection of relationships. We know that regular access to quality outdoor spaces increases our brain activity and lowers blood pressure, making it easier to think and form logical conclusions. We know that children who play outside in close proximity to trusted adults feel safer, and develop strong social relationships with not only their own generation, but also the generations of their parents and grandparents. This potential lack of ability to form clear and logical thought and difficulty in forming trusted relationships, in extreme cases, can lead to an increase in anxiety disorders, as well as other mental health issues in later life.
Less extreme, but no less important, children who have access to Natural Play learn to hone their creativity. A creative mind not only leads to creative endeavours like Art and Design, but also activates the portion of the brain linked to analytical thinking. Without analytical minds we don't have surgeons, scientists, accountants or musicians.
Gardens have the power to link us to who we are; how many celebrity chefs tell stories of growing up making tomato sauce from home grown tomatoes, or helping their mum cook their favourite chocolate cake made with fresh back yard eggs?!
I agree that physical activity is important, but it is not the only thing that gardens have to offer. Without gardens, What I Fear is a bleak and depressing existence.
How can we convince people that gardens are not elitist?
At first I made a joke that none of my clients are rich - to which my clients in the room all agreed. I made the point that my clients understand the value of their garden and make decisions as to how to invest what is needed to maximise the value of their property through landscape design. Sometimes this may mean not going on an overseas holiday, selling shares, or taking out a loan. My clients aren't elitist, they just want to live a lovely life and see the garden as being an important part of this.
Things are changing. 20 years ago, the only people who owned a garden were either avid gardeners or the mega wealthy. Most of my clients grew up without a garden, they had a backyard with a lemon tree, but that was it.
In some circles, gardens will always be elitist. There is no denying that gardens are expensive and have been used to show wealth and power for hundreds of years. However, we now know that access to quality green space is vital for our health and wellbeing; regardless of how much you like gardens, they are vital to city living. We also know that the value of well designed gardens far outweighs any possible investment. Slowly, the non gardener and the non-elite are coming to the conclusion that investing in quality outdoor space makes sense. More education is needed to change the minds of developers - so we have enough outdoor space to design. I am positive things are continuing to change for the better.
At the other end of the spectrum, gardens are often seen as nothing more then a hobby. This leads to non-gardeners thinking gardens don't have value and avid gardeners seeing them as a guilty pleasure and a money pit. Gardens are often the first to go when retirees downsize, they then lament the loss of their garden for the rest of their life. Even avid gardeners don't see the true value of having a garden, until they no longer have one.