Tag Archives: garden

Urban green spaces provide crucial environmental services, new study confirms

Image credits: Dorcha / Wikipedia.

Green spaces in cities are often overlooked when considering environmental services, but their role is underestimated, according to Carly Ziter.

Ziter is a biology graduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and while many biologists focus on remote areas or pristine forests, she spends most of her days roaming the city where she collects her samples and talks to people. In a recent study, she reports that urban green spaces like backyards, city parks, and golf courses really need to be taken into account when we’re considering the environmental services provided by the natural world.

“Often when we’re doing regional studies of ecosystem services or the ways that nature benefits us, we ignore the cities,” Ziter says. “We treat the city as this kind of gray box; quite literally on maps, it’s often a gray box. And what we’ve discovered here is that … we need to be thinking about the city as part of the landscape.”

We all like green gardens and parks, but we might not consider them to be “real” nature, which can lead to a lack of appreciation. However, to understand how useful and important these resources are, Ziter gathered soil samples from 100 sites around the city of Madison, Wisconsin, analyzing them to see what kind of services they were providing (e.g. carbon storage and flood mitigation).

[panel style=”panel-primary” title=”Panel title” footer=””]Ecosystem services are the many and varied benefits that humans freely gain from the natural environment and from properly-functioning ecosystems.

Collectively, these benefits are being called ‘ecosystem services’, and are often integral to the wellbeing of society. However, they are notoriously difficult to study and quantify.


She gathered samples from cemeteries, botanical gardens, and backyards — lots and lots of backyards.

Everywhere she looked, she found evidence of these environmental services. Forests and grasslands, for instance, help with flood control, allowing the water to seep into the soil where roots help to store it instead of running down into the sewage. Forests also help improve water and soil quality by providing natural filtration and vegetative cover that minimizes soil erosion and sediment runoff, and all green areas contribute to carbon storage.

She also found a great diversity between different soils and plants, even those lying very close to each other.

“My front yard and my backyard can be more different in terms of their ecology than two houses across the city from one another,” Ziter says. “And that’s really fascinating from a management perspective because it’s these small decisions people are making as individuals that are shaping the ecology of these landscapes.”

Aside from practical, pragmatic services, these green areas are also helping us in more subtle ways — not just physically, but also mentally. Interacting with green places promotes physical health, mental well-being and overall quality of life, she adds.

“If you’re out gardening, you’re interacting with the natural world. If you’re going out for a walk along the lake, you’re interacting with the natural world. We often think of nature as being in these big wild spaces, but there are a lot of smaller day-to-day interactions that we don’t realize are fostering a connection to our environment,” Ziter says.

Ziter hopes that this will inspire more researchers to study these urban green spaces but unfortunately, she adds, going out and talking to people isn’t necessarily something many researchers are willing to do. As the joke has it — I got into academia to learn stuff and write papers, not to talk to people.

“I had to get permission for every single one of my hundred sites within the city,” she says. “And that meant speaking one-on-one with upwards of 100 people, and that’s everyone from Joe Next Door to the golf course superintendent to a church group that manages a prairie restoration.”

The study will be published in the journal Ecosystem Applications.

Earth worms can reproduce in Mars-like conditions, study shows

Two young earthworms are the first animals to be born in Mars-like soil conditions. The worms could be crucial for a garden-like ecosystem if we ever want to establish a Martian colony.

Overview of the pots with rucola and Mars soil simulant and Earth control. Image credits: Wieger Wamelink.

If we want to send people long-term to Mars (or on any other planet, really), it’s vital to establish a sustainable agricultural system — a garden of sorts. Now, such an ecosystem would be much more complex than it seems at a first glance, including not only plants, soil, and water, but also crucial microorganisms and worms. The poop and pee of the (human) Martian will also have to be used to fertilize the soil, and making all of that function on Mars of all places is no easy feat.

Within this ecosystem, worms break down and recycle dead organic matter. They’re very important for healthy and fertile soils, which is why researchers were thrilled to find two of them in a Mars soil experiment at Wageningen University & Research. The Mars soil simulant was already used to grow rucola (rocket), and researchers just added adult worms and fertilizer in it (they used pig slurry instead of the human excrements that would be available on Mars, for hygiene reasons). Aided by the manure, the worms started to breed, and biologists now report the first offspring in this soil.

“Clearly the manure stimulated growth, especially in the Mars soil simulant, and we saw that the worms were active. However, the best surprise came at the end of the experiment when we found two young worms in the Mars soil simulant”, said Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen University & Research.

Young worm, born in mars soil simulant. Image credits: Wieger Wamelink.

The manure helped, which was expected, but researchers were surprised to see just how much it improved the quality of the Mars soil simulant.

“The positive effect of adding manure was not unexpected’, added Wamelink, ‘but we were surprised that it makes Mars soil simulant outperform Earth silver sand,” Wamelink continued. “We added organic matter from earlier experiments to both sands. We added the manure to a sample of the pots and then, after germination of the rucola, we added the worms. We therefore ended up with pots with all possible combinations with the exception of organic matter which was added to all of the pots.”

Nowadays biologists are able to grow over a dozen crops, though some have proven more difficult to grow (ahem, I’m looking at you, spinach). However, crops such as green beans, peas, radish, tomato, potato, rucola, carrot and garden cress have all been successful. If the overall quality of the ecosystem can also be improved, a Martian garden might not be so far after all.

Well-kept vacant gardens can help reduce crime, new study finds

A new study conducted in Flint, Michigan, US, has shown that maintaining the gardens of vacant properties and keeping them clean can help reduce crime.

Clean, maintained lots can decrease urban crime rate. Image credits: MSU.

Richard Sadler, an urban geographer and the study’s lead author, used data from a greening program where thousands or abandoned lots in different neighborhoods were regularly mowed and maintained, under the assumption that this would not only help with the appearance of the neighborhoods but also with the reduction of crime — like some kind of corollary to the (flawed) broken window theory.

He first assigned all lots a “greening score,” based on how well-kept they were. Then, using a method called “emerging hot spot analysis,” he overlaid the crime data to the greening score, finding that keeping lots clean does, in fact, reduce crime. This didn’t happen everywhere and it wasn’t a huge difference, but the trend was evident.

“Generally speaking, I found that greening was more prevalent where violent crime, property crime and victimless crime were going down,” said Sadler, an assistant professor of public health in the College of Human Medicine.

Initially, the program didn’t start off with the idea of reducing crime, it was more of a noticed side effect. But while anecdotal evidence abounded, this is the first science to put the theory to the test. This is also the biggest study of this kind to date. There might be cultural differences to invalidate this in other parts of the world, but it seems reasonable to believe that cleaner, well-kept gardens somewhat reduce local crime.

“We’ve always had a sense that maintaining these properties helps reduce crime and the perception of crime,” said Christina Kelly, the land bank’s planning and neighborhood revitalization director. “So we weren’t surprised to see the research back it up.”

For Flint, this study might be even more important, considering that 42 percent of the properties are either publicly owned or otherwise vacant. Programs like this can not only make properties more attractive to potential buyers, but also raise the overall value of the area. Flint’s population dropped significantly as the auto industry pulled out of the area, leading to widespread poverty

Previous studies have also shown that gardening programs typically lead to less stress, depression, and hopelessness for residents. Something as simple as gardens in or around your home can improve your mental health and reduce crime, and Sadler says this is just a sign of a neighborhood that takes care of itself.

“It’s people looking out for their own neighborhoods,” he said. “If you know somebody’s watching, you’re not going to go out and vandalize something. It’s the overall change in perception created by cleaning up blighted property.”

Journal Reference: Richard Casey Sadlera, Jesenia Pizarrob, Brandon Turchanc, Stephen P. Gasteyerd, Edmund F. McGarrelle — Exploring the spatial-temporal relationships between a community greening program and neighborhood rates of crime.

gardening health

How Gardening can benefit your health

We all depend on the wide range of essential benefits that nature provides us. From the air we breathe in our day to day existence to the food we eat and the soil we walk on, we’re always in tight connection with nature, but we often tend to forget that. With the rise of industry and the rapid growth of technology, we have distanced ourselves from nature and we’ve become so preoccupied with our modern life that we often neglect our connection to it. Studies have shown that access to nature not only improves our mental health but also helps fight obesity — the positive impact of interaction with nature has moved way past anecdotal evidence and it’s pretty much established in science and medical practice.

gardening health

Gardening can boost your mood and your health. Image via Max Pixel.

However, it’s not always clear what “reconnecting with nature” means. Is it a walk in the park? A trip to the mountains? How often do you have to do it for it to work, and what does ‘work’ even mean here? Well, rather than thinking of nature in an abstract way, we can learn to renew our relationship with nature by picking up a hobby: gardening. Gardening and landscaping are relaxing and soothing, but they can also be taken as seriously as launching a new startup. It’s your choice how much you want to get involved.

How to get started

If you have a garden, then it’s ideal. You’ve got natural soil and natural conditions and you’re pretty much set to go. You might have to renew the earth or use some fertilizer if it’s run down. If you live in an apartment, you can also make it work — absolutely no problem. You just have to do a bit more planning for the plant arrangement. Flower pots are a life saver, and they come in a great variety of shapes and sizes, pick some which are good for you.

You can have a small garden even if you live in an apartment. Image credits: PROSuzette.

The next thing to do is get some seeds — which again, should be really no problem. Every city, town, and village has specialized shops, and you can often find seeds in some general or hardware shops as well. The internet is also your friend if you want more choices. It’s easy to do with a variety of seeds — lawn seeds, pasture seeds, wildflower seeds, or specialty seeds — you just need to think what you want to do. Is it nice flowers that attract you, or would you like to grow some delicious herbs? You can, for instance, grow turf grass to renew a barren front or backyard or plant wildflower seeds to make any bleak landscape look beautiful again. Follow the instructions on the pack and keep things as simple as possible.

Benefits of gardening

Gardening and landscaping renew our spirit. We become aware of the fresh breeze blowing through our hair, the sun against the skin, and the texture of earth and plants. For a refreshing moment, we stop trying to solve problems and figure everything out. Here are a few benefits to consider:

Relax and de-stress

As mentioned above, the biggest advantage is for yourself — it’s a great way to relax and get rid of all the stress in our day to day life while maintaining a good connection to nature, something which has been proven beneficial time and time again. Instead of going out in nature, you have a way of bringing nature inside your home

Contribution to the ecosystem

Communal gardens are popular in some parts of the world. Image credits: Symi81.

In our own humble way, we are renewing the cycles of nature and gently prodding the natural world along. For instance, when we grow flowers, honeybees benefit from them and we benefit from the honey. Gardening benefits the earth in a wide number of ways. For instance, plants act as air cleaners, absorbing carbon dioxide and air pollutants, releasing oxygen. Additionally, plants hold soil in place, thus reducing erosion.

Fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs

This works especially if you have a garden, although you can grow delicious (and lots) of herbs in an apartment as well. If you’re into eating healthy foods, if you learn how to start a vegetable garden soon the freshest source of foods won’t come from your neighboring grocery store or even your local farmer’s market but from your own garden. Instead of going shopping in the fall, imagine getting squash, pumpkins, cranberries, and apples from your own garden. Imagine using your own freshly picked herbs in your cooking. And imagine serving up a delicious salad at a family dinner with garlic, tomatoes, cabbage, collard greens, Brussels sprouts, and kale from your own garden. You won’t feed yourself constantly, but you’ll have a delicious addition to any meal.

Gentle exercise

While gardening can’t be compared to the established exercise we get from weight lifting, cardio, or yoga, it does provide a considerable range of exercise that kept our ancestors healthy. You’ll be building your muscles and stretching as you dig and rake and lift in the course of maintaining your garden. In addition, you’ll be building strong hands. As we get older, we tend to lose flexibility and dexterity and also feel more inclined to do sedentary things. Gardening is a gentle form of physical rehabilitation.

Fresh air and sunshine

Image via Public Domain Pictures.

We spend most of our time indoors, either working in an office or pottering around the house, and if you know that you have to look after your garden, you are more inclined to go outside. When you are watering your plants, pulling up weeds, or digging up the soil to plant some seeds, you are getting fresh air to oxygenate your body and plenty of Vitamin D from the sunshine. According to an article on Vitamin D and Health from the Harvard TH Chan School of School of Public Health, “A promising report in the  Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that taking vitamin D supplements may even reduce overall mortality rates: A combined analysis of multiple studies found that taking modest levels of vitamin D supplements was associated with a statistically significant 7 percent reduction in mortality from any cause.”

Learn a new skill

Gardening is definitely one of the more useful skills you can learn, and it’s one which you can apply throughout your entire life, in a variety of conditions. You can apply it pretty much anywhere in the world, you can even try to turn it into a business or a way to complement your income. It’s easy to do and rewarding, it’s good for you and the environment. Why not give it a try?

Archaeologists rediscover magnificent Petra gardens with startlingly advanced irrigation system

The ancient gardens featured fountains, ponds, and a huge swimming pool.

Stone city, lavish gardens

The monumental 2,000-year-old pool in Petra, a waste of water that was a sign of sheer power in the desert.Credit: Leigh-Ann Bedal

Petra is one of the most beautiful and imposing archaeological sites in the world. Located in southern Jordan, the site is famous for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system. Petra is even named the Rose City due to the color of the stone out of which it is carved. Two thousand years ago, the city was one of the biggest and most cherished water stops in the Middle East. Camel caravans traveling great distances to ensure prosperous trade would stop there to rest, renew their supplies and, of course, trade some of their valuable goods. The city was as prosperous as the trade it helped secure.


Petra was the capital of the Nabateans, an Arab people known for their engineering ingenuity as well as their ability as merchants. The Nabateans understood Petra’s significance as a water supply and wanted to advertise their ability to tame nature and harvest water, so they designed lavish gardens with fountains and even an open-air pool. In the middle of the desert, this was unthinkable.

“The pool marks the terminus for an aqueduct that transported water from one of the springs, ‘Ein Brak, located in the hills outside of Petra,” Leigh-Ann Bedal, associate professor of anthropology from the Penn State Behrend College, told Haaretz. “The pool’s monumental architecture and verdant garden served as a visual celebration of the Nabataeans’ success at providing water to the city center.”

In fact, this whole thing relied on a hydraulic system the Nabateans invented which allowed them not only to access but also to store water. They had a surprisingly intricate system of channels, ceramic pipelines, underground cisterns and water tanks, which not only distributed, but also filtered water, thus allowing them to cultivate crops, harvest fruit, produce wine and olive oil.

Water shaft in ancient Petra: Through it, water cleverly harvested from what little rain there is in the Jordanian desert was lowered to the level of the pool. Credit: Leigh-Ann Bedal

Trade routes and propaganda

Petra lies at two of the ancient world’s most important trade routes: one linked the Red Sea with Damascus while the other linked the Persian Gulf with Gaza. Both these roads produced immense wealth, but they were also harsh and dangerous. Petra served as a safe haven. Not only did it provide good food and comfortable accommodation, but also the most important thing of all: water. But this was not cheap. Caravans had to offer many gifts not only to the king and his entourage but also to gatekeepers and priests. The price was high, but at the end of the day, it was worth it.

Nabateans wanted to make sure people got the message – that Petra is an amazing city – and what better way to do that, other than building lush gardens in the middle of the desert? The gardens were a propaganda machine, a display of sheer power, and one you had to see to believe.

The gardens likely seemed like a miracle to most travelers. Petra only gets 10 to 15 centimeters of rain a year (4-6 inch). All of it was collected religiously, but that’s not nearly enough for a garden. In order to ensure proper irrigations, Petra’s inhabitants had to develop techniques to channel, purify and even pressurize the water – something almost unthinkable for the time. The result was surely spectacular.

Amazing gardens, amazing city

The Monastery, Petra. Photo by Diego Delso.

Today, we can only imagine what the gardens looked like. Greek historian, Strabo wrote that there were “abundant springs of water both for domestic purposes and for watering gardens.” But through science, we can get an even better glimpse. Botanical studies have revealed that the garden was highly ornate with both grass and palm species. Fruit trees might have also grown there, though that’s not clear yet.

The pool was a monster, bigger than an olympic pool today. Just imagine, coming from days or weeks of walking in the desert and seeing a huge swimming pool in front of you – one can only imagine the kind of impact such a sight made.

Petra’s inhabitants showed their mastery of rock and water. With impressive buildings carved in stone and an unimaginable garden, it was one of the gems of the ancient world, until the second century C.E. After being conquered by the Romans, Petra’s importance began to wane, as the sea became the favored trade route. It finally succumbed sometime during the 8th century but even today, we’re awed

Astronauts to eat food grown in space, for the first time

Back in 2013, we were telling you about about a small agricultural project on the International Space Station – now, the space veggies are ready to be harvested and enjoyed; for the first time, astronauts will be eating food grown in space.

Image via NASA.

Everything that’s done on the ISS is done for a reason, or several reasons. NASA’s plant experiment, called Veg-01, will not only provide fresh food for astronauts, but it will reveal how space-grown food fares compared to regular food and what impact (physical and psychological) it has on astronauts.

“There is evidence that supports fresh foods, such as tomatoes, blueberries and red lettuce are a good source of antioxidants,” said Ray Wheeler, lead for Advanced Life Support activities in the Exploration Research and Technology Programs Office at Kennedy.

Furthermore, the possibility of growing food in outer space raises some interesting possibilities, especially for long-term space expeditions.

“Having fresh food like these available in space could have a positive impact on people’s moods and also could provide some protection against radiation in space.”

For starters, if the project is successful, then astronauts on the ISS would need less supplies shipped from Earth – they could grow some of their own food, although space is a very valuable resource… in space. But further down the line, this brings new prospects for NASA’s manned Journey to Mars program, scheduled to take place in the 2030s, in which people would spend over a year in space on their way to Mars. We won’t be able to send any supplies from Earth, and grown food would help not only logistically, but also with the mental health of the astronauts – eating familiar food is always nice.

“The farther and longer humans go away from Earth, the greater the need to be able to grow plants for food, atmosphere recycling and psychological benefits. I think that plant systems will become important components of any long-duration exploration scenario,” said NASA payload scientist Gioia Massa.

Image via NASA.

But growing food in outer space is not like doing so down on Earth. Astronauts must grow the plant in rooting “pillows” containing the seeds because there’s no gravity. Also, you need some artificial light – in this case, they use a flat panel that gives off red, blue and green lights using LEDs. All these facilities exist in the Lada greenhouse that has been aboard the ISS since 2002 and has been used to study plant growth in microgravity.

Until now though, none of the plants was eaten, but that’s about to change. Tonight’s menu includes red romaine lettuce; they will eat a part of it, and save the rest for experiments. For now, studies will focus on actually growing the food and studying its nutritious value, but soon, scientists will work on ways to increase crop yield.

“We hope to increase the amount and type of crop in the future, and this will allow us to learn more about growing plants in microgravity. We have upcoming experiments that will look at the impacts of light quality on crop yield, nutrition and flavour, both on Earth and in space.”

vertical garden

3-D Printed Gardens may reinvent urban green spaces

3-D printing has taken the world by storm, and even though we’ve already discovered a myriad of potential applications, we’re just beginning to scratch the surface on what the technology can actually do. From cranium replacements to fossils, from artificial ears to artificial skin and from bacteria to livable rooms, 3-D printing has done it all, and more. Now, Sony computer scientist Yuichiro Takeuchi has figured out a way to print entire gardens which can then be planted on rooftops, sidewalks, empty lots or even vertical buildings. The innovation lies in the fact that this technology will allow people to create gardens without labor-intensive landscaping and planting that he thinks discourages some would-be gardeners. It would also save a lot of money and increase planning efficiency.

Takeuchi hopes to revolutionize gardening and create vertical and rooftop gardens, such as this conventional one atop a Tokyo hospital. Image credits: AMYOKO, VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

“The printing solution takes away much of those hurdles, and also provides a high degree of flexibility (one can print out a garden that fits snugly into any designated space) which hopefully will make hydroponic gardening more attractive for citizen living in dense cities with limited space,” explained to the publication in an email.

He started working on this with a 3-D printer and software that he originally had designed for printing fabric encasements. He added an attachment that injects fast-growing plant seeds to the yarn and made other adjustments. Most notably, the seeds are nurtured hydroponically – with a mineral nutrient material instead of soil.

He starts out by designing the desired shape on a computer, feeding the design to the 3-D printer he designed and adapted. The printer then prints yarn in the shape of your choosing, as shown below.

After the printer is done with the yarn, it then dispenses tiny seeds into the yarn, like so:

The result can work both horizontally and vertically, potentially creating dazzling displays like this one in France designed by French botanist Patrick Blanc:

vertical garden

Vertical garden designed by Patrick Blanc.

Right now, the technique only works with smaller plants like watercress and herbs such as arugula and basil, but he thinks that pretty soon he will also be able to work with larger plants and even fruit-bearing trees. His current 3D printer is too slow for that large a scale, so he is building a new, faster printer. There will certainly be hurdles along the way, but Takeuchi believes that 3-D printing can fix those problems:

“The printing solution takes away much of those hurdles, and also provides a high degree of flexibility (one can print out a garden that fits snugly into any designated space) which hopefully will make hydroponic gardening more attractive for citizen living in dense cities with limited space,” said Takeuchi.

What Takeuchi hopes to achieve, as presented at the Sony CSL symposium.

Ultimately, he hopes to fill cities like Tokyo with gardens, transforming the rooftops into green oasis. Plants have proven to increase productivity in the office and they also suck up carbon dioxide and help regulate urban temperatures. But there is also another, more poetic reason why Takeuchi wants to reinvent gardens:

“Here in Japan we love fireflies (they have a special cultural significance), but as they can only thrive in pristine environments we don’t see them in dense, built-up Tokyo,” he said. “I’m hoping that by installing a number of printed gardens on rooftops and walls throughout Tokyo, I can someday bring back fireflies to my neighborhood.”

Source: Printable Garden.


5 eco-tools for a greener garden

Working in the garden brings people out into the great outdoors, making them more appreciative of nature’s fragile beauty, yet all too often, the garden tools and equipment that they use are not friendly to the environment. To ensure that nature’s beauty is there to enjoy for generations to come, many gardeners are seeking out eco-friendly garden tools. Here are five products that are made sustainably, that help preserve the planet’s precious resources or that encourage recycling and reuse practices.


1. Rowlinson Beehive Composter


Composters turn garden and household refuse into nutrient-rich soil. The Rowlinson Beehive Composter is made with pressure treated wood and resembles a beehive, making it an attractive and eco-friendly addition to a garden. It comes with a lockable handle that prevents pests and rodents from gaining access to the composter, and it guaranteed not to rot for 15 years.

2. Burpee XL Eco Friendly Ultimate Growing System


This starting kit for seeds and seedlings is made from biodegradable products. The trays are made from plant products and the growth medium is made from renewable coconut coir. The XL Eco Friendly Ultimate Growing System comes with two 16-unit trays, a self-watering mat, two plant stands, wooden labels and organic fertilizer.

3. Ascot Eco Garden Set with Tools

Ascot Garden

A PVC-free garden tote is kinder to the environment. The Eco Garden Set features multiple pockets for gardening tools, as well as side pockets for a beverage or a snack. The kit comes with three different heavy-gauge stainless gardening trowels.

4. Green Toys Indoor Gardening Kit

When it comes to gardening products for children, it’s even more important to consider eco-friendly items that are free from harmful chemicals and compounds. This starter kit for children is made from recycled milk containers that contain no phthalates or BPA. The Indoor Gardening Kit includes three planting pots, three packs of soil, a tray, a trowel and packets of zinnia, sunflower and basil seeds.

5. Sun Whisper 19-inch Mower

A lawnmower that is powered by the energy of the sun helps cut down a homeowner’s energy bills and helps conserve the planet’s resources too. This Sun Whisper mower runs on solar power. When not in uses, the detachable solar panel is placed in a location where it will receive sunlight to recharge the mower’s battery. As no gas or electricity is needed to operate the mower, the Sun Whisper mower operates as quietly as a push mower.