The landscape effect

We all know that a lovely landscape makes you feel good, but researchers in the US have shown it does more than that: turning vacant lots into low-maintenance green sites caused depression rates in the area to plummet.

The study was done in Philadelphia. Researchers selected 110 vacant lots around the city, focusing on sites that were particularly bad examples of urban blight. Then they started interviewing adults who lived nearby.

The adults were asked about their level of depression, feelings of self-worth and overall mental state. The initial results reflected a predictably grim reality. Nearly one in five adults in the US struggles with some form of mental illness, and depression is by far the most common form. Some 16 million American adults report at least one depressive episode a year. Canadian figures are similar.

Members of a Philadelphia horticultural society  were then assigned to some of the lots. A third of the properties were left untouched, with garbage and weeds and even abandoned cars in place. A third were given a basic cleanup, with trash removed and — if possible — the grass cut. And a third were landscaped.

The landscaping wasn’t elaborate. The lots were cleaned up and levelled. Grass and a small number of trees were planted, and a wooden fence with gateways was built around the perimeter. The average expenditure per lot was $1,600, with an additional $180 a year spent on maintenance.

But the results were absolutely astonishing. Those who lived near the untouched lots saw little change in their mental health. The same was true for those living near lots where just the garbage was cleaned up. But those living within a quarter mile of the landscaped lots reported a 41.5 per cent decrease in feelings of depression, and a nearly 63 percent decline in feelings of poor mental health.

For people living below the poverty line, the results were even more dramatic, with feelings of depression dropping by an amazing 68 percent when they lived near the landscaped lots. And these feelings persisted throughout the 18 month follow-up study.

The authors of the study note that landscaping isn’t a replacement for mental health treatment, but it can be a vital supplement, and an enormously cost-effective element in addressing a complex and growing problem.

Posted in In the Garden.