What’s Growing at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens: Connecting through Nature

What’s Growing at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens: Connecting through Nature
By Melanie Priesnitz
Conservation Horticulturist

When was the last time you spent an hour or more outside in nature, connecting to another being? In today’s technological world, most of us don’t do it often enough. Getting outside and making connections can be simple, powerful, and healing. American Biologist Edward O. Wilson coined the term biophilia to explain why connecting with others in the natural world is so fundamental. Wilson’s publications, Biophilia (1984) and The Biophilia Hypothesis (1993) suggest that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. Wilson defines biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”.

There’s much research supporting the benefits that humans receive both physically and psychologically from connecting to nature. However, we are continuing to rapidly lose touch with each other and our natural world. With so much of our communication being digital, it’s easy to go a day without speaking or listening to another live human being and it’s become common to spend entire days inside. Anxiety, depression, and struggles with mental health are at an all-time high. The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that 50% of all Canadians have had or will have a mental illness by the age of 40. We know that in general connecting with others and getting outside helps to calm feelings of anxiety, makes us feel more grounded and helps make us feel more hopeful and less alone, so why don’t we do more of it?

This season at the Botanical Gardens we are planning lunchtime sessions to help others get outside and connect to each other and the natural world. We are looking for volunteers from the community to donate a few hours of their time to help us lead sessions. The format will be simple and inspiring and will run over the noon hour. We will start and finish around the fire pit and take a guided walk through the pathways in the garden or participate in an informative outdoor activity. After each session we will keep the bonfire burning and invite participants to stay and eat their packed lunches together.

We all have expertise to share so I encourage everyone reading this to think about how you may be able to contribute and what skills and knowledge you would like to share with your community. Examples of sessions could include: using nature to heal grief, making herbal teas, learning bird calls, mindful breathing, group counselling etc. The Botanical Gardens are accessible to all. Our gravel pathways can be navigated with walkers, wheelchairs, and strollers. We encourage people with all abilities to reach out to us with ideas for a lunchtime session.

If you aren’t able to help with or attend our sessions, I encourage you to see how you can get outside more frequently and connect with the other 2-legged, 4-legged and winged beings we share this planet with. For some inspiration and ideas read The Biophilia Effect (2018) by Austrian biologist, Clemens G. Arvay. I purchased my copy from The Box of Delights in Wolfville. If you’re interested in helping connect people to nature and each other, email me at botanicalgardens@acadiau.ca