Increasingly, the influence of the built environment on human behaviour, health and well-being is being recognised. While our ideal surroundings might arguably be something constructed of completely natural materials—all cob houses, vegetable patches and baked-earth bricks—this obviously isn’t practicable in urban areas, where even a tree might be a rare sight and difficult to, if you’ll excuse the mechanical parlance, retro-fit. So the question is, Is it possible that, in these environments, an artificial green wall or artificial hedge might play its part in improving health and happiness? Well, let’s see.
First, we need to know that it really is the case that the natural environment provides a health benefit. In 2015, the University of Derby reported on the effects of a month-long “nature challenge” run by The Wildlife Trusts. Participants did “something wild” every day for thirty days and were surveyed on how they felt before, at the end and two months after their challenge. Even simple things like feeding birds and planting bee-friendly flowers had an impact, and among the significant benefits observed was a 30% increase in the number of people who reported their health as excellent.
Lovely. But we all know that the opportunity to interact with nature is often limited, especially if you only have access to the tiniest back yard or have limited physical ability. That’s where you have to become inventive in introducing nature to your world. Introducing Nature into Difficult.
Whatever space you have, there’s always room for a few pots. There’s nothing much more uplifting than the scent of a paperwhite daffodil pervading a room in late winter. In limited space outdoors, a small tree such as a Japanese Maple can thrive in a large pot and shrubs like hydrangeas will also do well in large containers. The feeding and watering these plants require is all part of interacting with nature.
However, one tree and a couple of shrubs don’t exactly make a garden, so the full effect is lost. But supposing their backdrop were to be a verdant green wall—something, in essence, that gives them the backdrop of a hedge? We’ll come to how VistaGreen’s fake hedge system can help in a moment.
Why Nature makes us feel good
What is it about a natural backdrop that is so relaxing? Rachel and Stephen Kaplan are known for their research into “restorative environments”. Their theory rests on the idea that humans pay attention in two ways: a directed way and an automatic way. Directed attention is tiring and too much of it leads to what they called “direct attention fatigue”, making people distracted and irritable. Examples of directed attention would be cataloguing items, proof-reading a document or analysing results. Automatic attention or, as they describe it in another way, “fascination”, allows the mind to rest. We look and enjoy. Nature offers a fascination that draws our attention without our having to think about it.
The Kaplans’ work on this, much of which was conducted in 1980s and 1990s, has had far-reaching influences in later work on psychology and our recognition of the importance of nature. Psychologist Terry Hartig, for example, set a group a classification task intended to exhaust their ability to pay direct attention, then sent some of the participants to the local nature reserve and others to an urban area or to read magazines and listen to music. All then took part in another directed attention task. Those who had been to the nature reserve, not only did better, but felt more positive and less angry.
Other research shows that exposure to Nature can reduce high blood pressure, improve vitality and mood, decrease anxiety and mental fatigue. NHS Forest is a national programme run by The Centre for Sustainable Health Care to help health-care organisations improve their environment and connect staff and patients with green space because of the benefits this has—increased physical and mental well-being and the impact on patients’ recovery.
As part of research projects, and as result of research findings, GPs are now prescribing natural solutions to health problems they find arriving at their surgeries—membership of “green gyms”, walks and nature rambles. Evidence has been growing over past decades as to how green environments make a real impact on society. They lead to better health and education and crime reduction—all of which means less demand on the public purse.
It seems that feeling part of nature creates significantly improved life satisfaction and, interestingly, the amount of satisfaction gained from being in nature has been found to measure equally with other criteria which are known to promote well-being, such as personal income, marriage and education.
create a natural environment
Of course, you may wonder whether any of these benefits to health and well-being could possibly accrue from sitting next to an outdoor artificial hedge, rather than a living one. However, the study by the University of Derby revealed that contact and engagement with natural beauty were good ways to help people feel linked to nature, and, perhaps surprisingly, significantly more than when, say, going for a walk in nature.
This means we need something with visual appeal. Just being outdoors doesn’t have the same effect. A patch of mud is possibly one up on concrete, but not, one imagines, by much. One of the aspects of VistaGreen that we’re especially proud of is the extraordinary verisimilitude we’ve created to living plants. An enormous amount of time and effort has gone into researching manufacturing materials and methods to recreate exceptionally life-like leaf shapes, contrasts, colouring and movement. Sitting by a VistaGreen vertical green wall or fake hedge gives you the natural beauty we subconsciously crave.
Add to this the chance to tend a few pots of plants in an environment that, thanks to the quality of the additional artificial hedge, feels and looks natural and you surely have an environment that helps to enhance the benefits even more.
Still a little doubtful?
Research into the effects of natural beauty
One of the best-known studies looking at the effect of nature is Roger S Ulrich’s research into how a view of nature outside the windows of a hospital in Pennsylvania helped patients recover faster, reduced their need for pain-killers, and reduced complications, in comparison with patients whose windows only gave them a view of a wall.
This led him to recommend what he calls “supportive design”—that hospitals should include views of nature, pictures of nature in wards, aquariums and greenery in communal areas. Further research revealed the startling fact that even pictures of natural scenes had a positive effect on patient outcomes.
Green walls aren’t just for domestic and hospital use, of course. Increasingly, companies around the world are recognising the benefits of installing natural features. During the refurbishment of British Land’s headquarters, York House, London, hundreds of plants were added, not just to clean the air but to lower stress and generally enhance health and well-being. In their new headquarters in Sydney, Australia, LendLease added a green wall, again to improve air quality, but also to improve worker productivity. In Monterrey, Mexico, the head office of Bioconstrucción y Energía Alternativa went the whole hog with a green wall, green roofs, herb and rooftop garden, ensuring that all workers had a good view of the outdoors.
Last year, the Polish Green Building Council, in conjunction with the World Green Building Council, produced a report—the first of its kind—in which it surveyed employees in Poland on how they viewed their work space. Seven hundred responses came in, 79% from people who worked in their office thirty hours or more, and 307 buildings were analysed, just over half of which were built in 2007 or later.
What emerged, among other findings, was that 54% of employees were dissatisfied with the number of plants in their offices. They also found that older buildings were particularly lacking. This brings up several points. Supposing there’s just not enough space for pot plants? Windowsills are often non-existent, computer stations can offer little spare desktop. Offices can be particularly harsh environments. Even pot plants struggle in open-plan commercial spaces, where they can dry out in the central heating and the only water supply is at the other end of the building.
Creating a low artificial hedge introduces that much needed greenery in parts of an office—along the corridor, perhaps, or next to the lift—where pots would be too awkward to clean around and maintenance a problem.
You can see how much a low artificial hedge would contribute to your work environment with the project we completed in Milan, Italy, at the Citylife Shopping Mall. They create an attractive boundary that separates the café seating areas from passing footfall, marking a route, as well as making an enticing invitation to linger and eat. In an office, fake hedge panels would make a welcome demarcation between desk areas and open-plan corridor.
VistaGreen panels can be fitted as room dividers. You could make them ceiling height, but lower artificial hedge dividers will brighten up an office, create a resting-place for the eyes, and add a welcome element of green in an otherwise barren environment. You don’t have to water it, or clear away the dead plants when everyone eventually returns from their holiday.
Of course, you may be wondering if we at VistaGreen envisage a world taken over with artificial plants. We most definitely do not! We love plants. Our founder, Paul Alder, is a trained horticulturist with over twenty-five years’ experience and awards under his belt for his garden designs.
It’s because of this experience that he knows how artificial hedges and green walls have a place in garden design, and when they will be the best choice for improving a living space. It’s also why VistaGreen offers such high-quality aesthetics. No one wants to look out at something that looks as if it’s been made from extruded plastic. That in itself would be stressful!
That’s why every effort has gone into creating a system that offers a delightful green feature in difficult situations. So, a side-passage too narrow to accommodate a living green wall (they can stand out significantly from the wall they are attached to), or without a strong enough anchorage for the fixing required (living green walls are surprisingly heavy), could well accommodate an artificial hedge wall.
If you find that demands on your time always exceed the time available to you, then a plethora of plants to look after just isn’t for you. For you, a living green wall, unless you go to the expense of having it maintained by a service company, is certainly out of the question. However, VistaGreen’s artificial hedge system gives you the opportunity to create a green space with just the amount of work involved that you have the time for, providing a natural-looking backdrop to the real plants you can lovingly tend.
The plants that make up VistaGreen’s design have been meticulously reproduced, so much so that it’s difficult to tell they’re not real until you touch them. They’re designed to move realistically in the breeze. The colours are varied and faithfully rendered. Compare VistaGreen with the majority of fake hedge walls and artificial vertical planting and it’s like comparing something alive with something that’s quite dead. For anyone looking to create truly natural-looking beauty where normally it would struggle, VistaGreen offers a perfect answer.
If you would like to explore how an artificial hedge would enhance your office, company premises or domestic environment, then contact us on info@VistaGreen.com or 020 7385 1020.