When life suddenly, drastically changed for everyone around the world, we were given an opportunity to stop and look inward at our own lives and those closest to us. As many of us reflected on the precariousness and fragility of life, we began to look outward for comfort and peace from the living world that surrounds us.
The term “biophilia,” meaning the “love of life” from Aristotle and other ancients, was reintroduced in the modern day by Eric Fromm, who was a German psychologist, as the sense of oneness with the natural and human world outside. Edward O. Wilson, an American biologist, expanded on the term and more clearly defined it in his 1984 book “Biophilia,” where he hypothesized that we have an inner “urge to affiliate with other forms of life.” When we commune with the flora and fauna in green spaces, we subconsciously nourish our well-being. Richard Louv, an American writer and journalist, in his book “Last Child in the Woods” linked the continual rise in childhood obesity, attention disorders and depression to what he called nature deficit disorder.
More recently, Dr. Qing Li, an expert on forest medicine, has conducted many quantitative studies on how immersing oneself in nature can help us relax, think more clearly, improve our disposition and renew our energy. Li’s book “Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness” articulates how simply connecting with nature through sight, sound, smell and touch bridges the gap between us and the natural world. It is projected that by 2050, 66% of the world’s population will live in cities. On average, Americans spend 93% of our time indoors. Gardens, arboreta and walking trails through woodlands like those we have at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden are essential to improving our well-being. During this pandemic, biophilia has become a popular concept worldwide as we have been made to stop and think about the world in which we live and just how we live in it.
There are numerous examples of this here in Baton Rouge. The walking and biking trails have been filled with so many people there have been complaints about the lack of social distancing while walking. According to the 2018 National Gardening Survey, approximately 77% of American households are gardening in some form, and the desire to grow plants has exploded during the pandemic. While there have been many reports about how grocery stores have had difficulties keeping their shelves stocked, retail garden centers have experienced the same phenomenon.
As the world moves through the phases of reopening the global economy and people begin to return to work and a daily routine, it is essential that the “new normal” includes biophilia. Please join the LSU AgCenter in supporting agriculture, from the farmers who produce the food we eat, to the garden centers where we purchase plants, to the botanic gardens, arboreta, parks and public outdoor spaces that continue to provide you with a place to nourish your body and improve your well-being.
Jeff Kuehny is director of the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
(This article appears in the summer 2020 edition of Louisiana Agriculture.)
The LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens at Burden is open daily for people to walk through, explore and enjoy the plantings. Photo by Olivia McClure