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Flowers and Plants – more than just beautiful…

Flowers and Plants: More Than Just Beautiful

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Flowers and Plants: More Than Just Beautiful

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Page 1: Flowers and Plants: More Than Just Beautiful

Flowers and Plants

– morethanjustbeautiful…

Page 2: Flowers and Plants: More Than Just Beautiful
Page 3: Flowers and Plants: More Than Just Beautiful

Flowers and Plants –more than just


AIPHInternational Association of Horticultural Producers

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Introduction 3

Flowers and plants in history 4

Discovering new plants 7

Beneficial properties of plants 8No life on earth without plants 8Plants in modern cities 10Plants around the house 12Plants for the landscape 14Traffic and plants 16Cleaning properties of plants 17Beneficial impacts of indoor plants 19

The healing power of flowers and plants 21Psychological impact of plants 21The special effects of gardening 22Horticultural therapy 23

Cultural and social significance of flowers and plants 25Cultural meaning 25Flowers and art 26Plants as a factor of social stability 27Educational functions of flowers and plants 29Plant lovers and their societies 30Exhibitions of flowers and plants 31

Final remarks 32

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Flowers and plants are beauti-ful. Everybody feels that. Every-body is familiar with flowers andplants; everybody is accustomedto them in daily life. But whoknows what they really mean tous? What do we know about thebenefits flowers and plants havefor the eco-system, and about thecontribution they make tomankind? To many people, flowersand plants seem like luxurygoods. But we depend on them inan elementary way. How can thisbe? What is so special about flow-ers and plants?

This brochure tries to answersome of these questions. An out-line of the historical backgroundof gardens, as well as people’s in-terest in plants and flowers will begiven. The main part deals withplant properties and the benefitsderiving from that as well as thecultural and social significance offlowers and plants.

The message of this brochure isthat decision makers must recon-sider their priorities in favour ofgreenery and plants. People oughtto realise the benefits of flowersand plants - and how much theycontribute to society at large. Forthat reason, AIPH - the Internation-al Association of Horticultural Pro-ducers – is happy to share itsknowledge of the positive effectsthat flowers and plants have ondaily life.

The basis for this brochure wasa presentation at the 56th AIPHCongress in September 2004 inGhent, Belgium. Promoting theidea that flowers and plants im-prove the quality of life is one ofthe objectives of AIPH; initiativeslike “Plants for People”, the “GreenCity”, “Entente Florale”, and “Citiesin Bloom” do the same.

Ornamental horticulture pro-duces all kinds of plants – treesand shrubs, perennials and annu-als, cut flowers and pot plants. Wewish that this booklet may inspireyou to even more enjoy the art ofnature through its beauty andcolour.

Dr. Doeke FaberPresident of AIPH International Association of Horticultural Producers

June 2006


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Owning a garden, or at leasthaving access to one, seems tofulfil a basic need. A brief look in-to history shows that gardens arepart and parcel of man´s culturaldevelopment.

According to Christian belief,the first thing God did after creat-ing man was to plant a garden. InGenesis 2:8, it says: “And the LordGod planted a garden eastward inEden; and there he put man whomhe had formed.” The Garden ofEden, also called Paradise, is pre-cisely described in the story of

Creation: “And out of the groundmade the Lord God to grow everytree that is pleasant to the sight,and good for food; the tree of lifealso in the midst of the garden,and the tree of knowledge of goodand evil.”

So gardens, nice to look at,were invented by God himself sothat man would have trees to givehim shade as well as deliciousfruit.

But what exactly is agarden?

According to the Bible, it is aplace that is pleasant for people tobe in.

The words Paradise and Gardenhave similar roots. Paradise is de-rived from the Old Persian wordpairidaeza, meaning ‘an area sur-rounded by a wall’ or ‘a tree gar-den’. Garden stems from an Indo-European word meaning ‘an enclo-sure protected against the sur-rounding area’ – the wilderness.The same applies to the Latinword hortus.

The history of gardens is a widefield which can barely be touchedin this brochure. Garden culture


Flowers and plants in history

Left: “God planted a garden inEden”

Right: The famous Zen gardens ofthe 16th century are admiredworldwide

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started when people began to set-tle. As nomads, they were roam-ing around with their cattle. Butwhen they started to work the soilin order to grow fruit, they had toprotect it with a fence. In doing sothey created a garden. So horticul-ture is actually older than agricul-ture since everything started froma garden.

In Upper Egypt they already hadgardens 3.000 years before Christ.Also the Chinese had gardens2.000 years before Christ. Excava-tions of Pompeii tell us about Ro-man gardens. The Japanese start-ed having gardens at about 500after Christ. The famous Zen gar-

dens of the 16th century are ad-mired worldwide. In the Europeanmonasteries of the 6th century,monks started growing medicinalplants, herbs and vegetables. Butalso the aristocracy in their castleshad small gardens where theyspent their leisure time. In the16th, 17th and 18th centuries in Eu-rope, there was quite a big move-ment of creating fantastic gar-dens. Many famous baroque andrococo gardens are still beingmaintained, admired and visitedby the public. In England towardsthe end of absolutism and duringthe first steps towards democracy,the idea of landscape gardens


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took shape, finding its adepts allover the world.

Today, gardens and parks bor-row from history, using elementslike topiary from Roman times,herbaceous borders from 19thcentury English gardens or ideasfrom the medieval hortus con-clusus (walled garden). Also, akind of exchange in garden tastesis going on between the conti-nents. Thus, Japanese gardenswith their purism enjoy growingpopularity in Europe, while flower-ing plants, perennials, and herba-ceous borders are becoming thecraze in Japan. The same ex-change of ideas we see in floristry,with Europeans practising Ikebana

and the Japanese visiting Europein order to study the differentstyles of flower bouquets. Here,concerning plant varieties, too, wewitness a kind of globalisation –with breeders in Asia, America andEurope quickly sharing novelties.


Left: Pavilion in a RenaissanceGarden

Above: Element of a traditionalChinese Garden

Right: Doctors and then botanistswent abroad as plant hunters,looking for new plants. Sir JosephBanks and Captain Cook landed inAustralia

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In the 18th Century, botany (i.e.the science of plants) became anindependent branch of scientificresearch. Before that time, onlymedicine was dealing with plants,since nature was man’s best andonly pharmacy. Doctors had to beplant experts, too. They used of allkinds of medicinal plants for cur-ing people. At first the doctors,and later the botanists, wentabroad as plant scouts, hunting fornew plants. They went all over theworld, but mainly to Africa, Northand South America, and Asia, look-ing for unknown plants and bring-ing them back to Europe. Alexan-der von Humboldt, Franz vonSieboldt, Sir Joseph Banks, Engel-bert Kaempfer, David Douglas,Joseph Hooker were famous planthunters, just to name a few.

As the knowledge of new plantsquickly increased, it became neces-sary to find a precise way of nam-ing them. Up to the 18th century,plant names confined themselvesmore or less to Latin definitionslike “Narzissus polyanthus oriental-is calice medio luteus odoratus

maximus”, which means “mediumsized oriental daffodil with yellowchalice and strong scent.”

In the 18th century, Carl von Lin-né created his own new system ofplant nomenclature. He boiled itdown to only genera and species,plus the cultivar’s name. In thissystem, the daffodil is now calledNarcissus tacetta ‘Minnow’. Due toits striking clarity, Linné’s newnomenclature became standard allover the world and has been inuse up to now.

Working with these new namesmade it much easier to communi-cate with each other all over theworld. No wonder, then, that eventoday, plant hunters are still on themove – no longer in undiscoveredterritories, true, but now roamingthe whole world; for there is still ahuge amount of wild plants –which can serve for cross-breedingwith known plants, endowingthem with new qualities. Even inbotanical gardens or through col-leagues from other countries,plant hunters discover noveltiesfor markets at home or abroad.

Discovering new plants

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Most people have forgottenwhat they learnt in school: that,without plants, there would be nolife on earth.

Only plants can, with the helpof chlorophyll, collect the sun‘senergy as well as hold it and evenstore it – transforming it into sug-ar through the process of photo-synthesis. It is thanks to this ca-pacity that single celled organismscould evolve into complex plants,now serving as energy providersthemselves. Without plants, therewould be no food stuffs on earth.We all – men as well as animals –

live on plants. Even complex foodchains originate in grasses,leaves, fruit or wood.

No living beings – neither peo-ple nor animals or even plants –can exist without breathing. Theyneed oxygen. But only plants havethe ability to produce oxygen.During the process of photosyn-thesis, they take in carbon dioxideCO2 and water H2O and change itinto carbon-hydrate CH2O, in or-der to build their structures. Theremaining oxygen O2 is the basisfor life on earth. Every plant, downto the pot plants in our home, gen-

Beneficial properties of plants

No life on earth without plants


A graph of Dr. Keeling’s famous curve of increasing CO2 concentration.The little squiggles in the curve show the annual fluctuations caused byvegetation

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erates oxygen. But for the amountwe need, we have to rely on theplants in the landscape, in theforests, and especially in the sea.

Without plants, there would beno primary energies. Wood, coal,peat, mineral oil and gas – they allderive from plant matter, even if,during their millions of years ofstorage time in the ground, theymay have undergone great trans-formation. Fire, which was mas-tered by man in the course of hiscultural development, depends onthe plants’ capacity for producingand storing carbon-hydrates. Theprocess of burning is the reverse,as it were, of the process of photo-synthesis. The oxygen is con-sumed, while the carbon dioxidelocked up in the plant is releasedagain. This is why every car drive,every coal-fired power plant,every lighting of the gas stove andevery aeroplane take-off blows

carbon dioxide into the air. Ouroutput in carbon dioxide is as gi-gantic as our energy consumption.Due to this, carbon dioxide haswon the bad reputation of a “glob-al warmer”, because the more CO2

rises into the atmosphere, themore our climate warms up.

In the Kyoto agreement, nationshave committed themselves to re-ducing their output of CO2 by sav-ing energy. But the reduction ofCO2 output is not only a matter ofresponsible use of energy. Alsoplants can help – through theirgrowth. Every green area asagainst desert land, every refor-estion, every garden, every tree inour streets reduces carbon dioxide.Saving forests and rain forests,wood- and grasslands is important– not only in order to keep animaland plant species alive but also tokeep CO2 inside the plants.


Every tree in our streets reduces carbon dioxide

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Every day, about 200.000 peopleworldwide migrate from the coun-tryside to the cities. This is why theUnited Nations have dedicated theWorld Environment Day 2005 to“Green Cities”. More than 50 of theworld’s largest cities committedthemselves to “build an ecological-ly sustainable, economically dy-namic and socially equitable futurefor our urban citizens.” The agree-ments call for action aimed at put-ting cities on a path to greener,cleaner, and healthier environ-ments for their current residents aswell as the estimated 1 million peo-ple moving into cities each week.

City climate is determined bystone and concrete. Both materialshave a high capacity for conduct-ing and storing heat. That’s whycity temperatures are about 5o Chigher than elsewhere. Equally,city air is considerably drier. If the

ground is sealed with concreteand asphalt, all moisture ex-change with naturally grown soil –and thereby the absorption of rainwater – is prevented. This water,which otherwise would seep downto the water table, is being divert-ed via canal systems, thus depriv-ing the water cycle.

Not only waste materials suchas exhaust fumes from cars andheating systems sully the city airbut also massive dust due to dryatmosphere. Therefore, a blanketof smog settles over the city,keeping the air from circulating.This situation puts a considerablestress on city dwellers – which canbe significantly reduced by parksand trees, green aisles, streets,and roofs.

Vegetation functions like abuffer between direct solar irradia-tion and streets, roofs, and walls. If

Plants in modern cities


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the sunlight is kept out by foliage,all stone and concrete surfacesheat up noticeably less, and a con-siderable part of the energy goesinto photosynthesis. At the sametime, the warming of the leaf sur-faces stimulates the water conduc-tion from the root to the leaf. Theleaf volatilizes moisture, and evap-oration has a cooling effect. All ofwhich results in the fact that tem-peratures in tree shade are princi-pally lower than in building shade,conditions being otherwise equal.

Air moisture is increased by theevaporation from leaf surfaces. Abeech tree one hundred years oldhas 1.600 square meters of leafsurface. Air moisture is also in-creased by the evaporation fromthe ground below, where not onlythe tree but also bushes andherbaceous plants are rooted, thusadding to the well-being of man. Alot of dust attaches itself to leafsurfaces. A single grown-up tree

binds an average of about 100 kgof dust per year. In Frankfurt/Ger-many, 11.490 dust particles percubic meter were measured in atreeless street – as against 3.830particles in a tree-lined street, inotherwise equal conditions. Thelatter air, then, considerably re-duces irritation and stress for therespiratory system.

Apart from local improvementsin climate and air quality, the cityclimate as such can be improved,too. Green aisles leading out tothe countryside are conducive to abetter air exchange with the near-by surroundings. The glasshouseeffect over the city will be muchless massive.

A diverse scene of trees andbushes also reduces noise. Whilesmooth surfaces directly reflectsound waves, the nimble, un-steady leaf surfaces break and di-vert sound waves, muffling thenoise.


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A house with a facade coveredin vines and a green roof strikesus as beautiful. Yet its “green fur”also has a direct influence on themicroclimate, the water house-hold, and the ecology.

Temperatures underneath agreen flat roof are more balanced.While underneath a pebbled roofthe temperature can easily climbto over 50o C, and under black bi-

tumen foil even up to 90o C, un-derneath a green roof with about15 cm of soil and vegetation, ithardly exceeds 20o C to 25o C. Thisis not only because of the coolingeffect of the plants’ evaporationand their absorption of sun ener-gy. It is also so because earth is abad heat conductor. Consequently,there is no heat congestion, which

is common with the other rooftypes mentioned above. Duringwinter, on the other hand, temper-atures are much milder under agreen roof, while under the otherroof types, temperatures of –20o Care not uncommon. This makeslife under a green roof much morepleasant. Energy costs are low-ered, and the CO2 output is re-duced. The same effect is pro-

duced by walls covered withclimbing plants.

Moreover, a roof or a wall with a“green fur” is not nearly as suscep-tible to repairs. While bare flatroofs must, at the worst, put upwith a temperature range of up to100o C a year, the range for agreen roof is only about 25o. Inother words, there is less strain on

Plants around the house


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the roof insulation. The life spanof such a roof is extended byabout 60%. A greened wall is alsobetter protected against rainfall.

Green roofs have a high capaci-ty for absorbing and storing rainwater. The release of surplus wa-ter is considerably delayed. Thefaster the conventional flat orpointed roofs are being replacedby green roofs, the more munici-pal sewage systems can reducetheir dimensions. That’s why somany municipalities in Germanyand other countries are in favourof greening house roofs.

Apart from all these advan-tages, we should not underratethe aesthetic quality of greenroofs and walls – let alone theirsignificance as a habitat for birdsand insects.


Above: Even a shed for dustbinscan be green

Left: Houses with a façadecovered in vines strikes us asbeautiful.

Below: 3.000 square meters ofgreen roof on an industrialbuilding

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Can you imagine a beautifullandscape without plants? Impos-sible! Agriculture with its fieldsand meadows plays an importantrole in shaping our landscape. Buta rich landscape also presupposestrees and shrubs, woods andhedges. In the ‘70s, agricultural-ists proposed, for efficiency rea-sons, to clear away trees andhedges in order to make space forbigger machines so as to increasetheir work output. Trees andhedges were considered obsta-cles. Nowadays this has changed.We now know that we do needtrees and shrubs in the landscape

– not only for their beauty, but al-so for breaking the wind, for afavourable microclimate, for pre-venting erosion and for offeringbirds and other wildlife a habitatand refuge.

Forest is the best protectionagainst erosion through rain andwind. Wherever a forest was cutdown, completely laying bare thetop soil, all fertility was lost. Invery rainy regions like the tropics,erosion is destroying the best soil,turning the ground into washed-out skeleton soils, soon to end upas deserts. In the moderate zones,arable soils and gardens have

Plants for the landscape


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been successfully preserved bycreating plant wind breaks. Theirprotection is optimal, as they al-low the wind to pass throughwhile slowing it down at the sametime. Impenetrable walls, on theother hand, force air currents tocircumvent them, even accelerat-ing their speed.

Slopes are even more exposedto erosion than flat plains; and thebest means to forestall this is toplant the slopes. What mattersmost here is to bind loosely con-nected layers of soil with roots,which also prevent soil beingwashed away by rain water orsubterranean water currents. De-pending on the situation, erosioncan already be prevented by mat-ted surfaces of lawn grasses, or byplanting fast growing pioneerplants such as willow, robinia andalder (Alnus glutinosa) the roots ofwhich penetrate deeper. Mean-while, slow growing kinds such asash and oak can gradually take ontheir task. This method is similarto riparian repair. Here, too, amesh of live roots creates an elas-tic barrier to the onslaught ofwaves, protecting the soil behind.


Left: Fields and meadows play animportant role in shaping ourlandscape

Above: Hedges serve as a wind-break in the open landscape

Right: A mesh of live roots createsan elastic barrier against thewaves

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Mobility is a very important as-pect of modern society. We needan efficient traffic system in orderto meet people’s needs. We buildmore and more streets, highwaysand railway lines. Plants can playan important role in counteractingthe negative impact of our trafficsystems on our landscape. Alongstreets and highways, plants canserve as protection for our eyesfrom blinding lights, or as noisebuffers and wind-breaks. Theyeven function as crash barriers.Especially the wild rosebush (Rosamultiflora) makes a good naturalcrash barrier. Tree lined roads arealso a valuable element in thelandscape. They also provide

Traffic and plants


Above: Even railway stations canbe embellished with flowers

Below: Trees on parking lots keepthe temperature in the cars downand lower the risk of accidents

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shade, reduce street noise andserve as a wind-break. The sameapplies of course for tree linedstreets inside towns.

Most people see trees alongroads and on parking lots as a mereembellishment. A survey by Bra-he/Bernatzky/Beck on parking lotswith and without trees, however,shows that they do much more. Ifthe sunlight is allowed to shinestraight on to cars, the temperatureinside can quickly rise by over20o C. If car owners start drivingsuch a car, they get into heatstress, even if doors have been

opened beforehand and the AC hasbeen put on. It takes five minutesfor the air-conditioning to lower theinside temperature from 60o C to abearable 30o C, and another fiveminutes to bring it down to 25o C: alot of time indeed in which heatstress can accelerate the heartbeat, resulting in dizziness and di-minished reaction capacity. A studyon driving under such conditions,carried out by the ADAC (GeneralGerman Automobile Club), docu-ments a 20% accident increase. Ahigh risk potential – that can beavoided by parking in tree shade.


Cleaning properties of plants

Procuring clean drinking waterfor every human being on earth,keeping our surface and under-ground waters clean, plus the pu-rification of sewage water, areamong the big challenges of ourtime. Plants can play a decisiverole here. Swamp and water plantshave a considerable natural clean-ing capacity that we can put to usein plant-based municipal water fil-ter plants, in turning sewagewaste into earth, in the renatural-ization and restoration ofriverbeds, in the seepage of sur-face water, and last but not least,in swimming ponds.

In Europe, mostly bulrush, yel-low iris and various reeds andrushes are being used in this con-text. Similar plants are available inall other climate zones and re-gions of the earth. When con-structing a purification plant, filter

Yellow Iris is not only beautiful buthas a considerable natural clean-ing capacity

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beds are planted out with themand the contaminated water chan-nelled through them severaltimes, underneath the bed sur-face. The bacteria nesting in theirroots draw all contaminating parti-cles from the water, turning theminto food for their own growth.

In this way, not only organicsubstances, nitrates and phos-phates are being eliminated, butalso dangerous germs. Even inwinter, when the plants above aredormant, their roots and bacteriaare active enough for a sufficientcleaning job. Studies in Europeand USA prove that rootzone treat-ment of sewage is as effective asany conventional sewage-works.

Besides using the rootzone treat-ment of wastewater only cost athird of the conventional sewage-works. But even aesthetically andecologically, plant filtering simplymakes more sense. They don’tstick out as obtrusive technicalconstructions, but easily blend inwith their surrounding landscape.

Little is known as yet about thecapacity of plants and their rootbacteria for decontaminating soilas well. We do know, however,that plants also can absorb soilcontaminators such as oil andheavy metals, integrating them in-to their metabolism. But in this re-spect, more research is urgentlyneeded.


Swimming ponds are kept clean by plants and do not need chemicals

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Flowers and plants enhance thequality of life also inside our build-ings. And this applies to all kindsof buildings: private houses,apartments, offices, hotels orshopping centres. On average, wespend 20 hours per day indoors.Nowadays building materials andfurniture are rarely drawn frompurely natural resources. Normallythey are made of, or treated with,synthetic materials which in mostcases fill the air we are breathingwith volatile chemicals. Formalde-hyde, xylene, benzene, phenoland nicotine are some of them.They are emitted from flooring,chipboards, gloss paint, plasticbags, glues or tobacco.

In the 1980’s Dr. Bill C. Wolver-ton, a researcher at NASA, foundout that indoor plants effectivelyreduce the level of harmful chemi-cals in homes and offices. More re-search on this subject was done inEurope which confirmed Wolver-ton´s findings that plants havethe potential to reduce the level ofharmful chemicals in the air. Thus,a Chlorophytum comosum weigh-ing 300 g decontaminates a spaceof 50 cubic meters of 0.1 ppmformaldehyde within one and ahalf hours. Other plants with anactive metabolism like Ficus ben-jamina and Epipremnum aureumproduced similar decontaminationresults.

No less important is the factthat plants can improve the levelof air humidity: 50% to 70% air hu-midity is optimal for human well-

being and health. Particularly dur-ing the winter months, however,when the air is being dried byheating systems, most people liveand work in spaces with only 30%to 40% relative air humidity. Burn-ing, reddened eyes, taut skin, irri-tation in nose and throat are theconsequences. Resistance to bac-teria and virus attacks decreases.Cold, bronchitis, conjunctivitisabound. Here, bringing in indoorplants has proved an effectivecountermeasure. Thanks to theircontinual evaporation, they enrichthe air with biologically cleanedmoisture, as it were. Technical airhumidifiers, on the other hand,not only consume more energy: ifnot properly tended, they turn in-


Beneficial impacts of indoor plants

NASA-Researcher Dr. Bill Wolverton

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to hotbeds for infectious germs. 3to 6 major plants suffice for rais-ing the moisture in a space of 30square (i.e. 90 cubic) meters to therequired 50%.

As a rule, the bigger, more vig-orous and fast growing a plant is,the greater its capacity is for clean-ing and humidifying the air. Plantswith a very slow metabolism, likecacti – that are adjusted to dry-ness – are not nearly as helpful as,e.g., the fast growing and big-leafed Sparmannia africana orSchefflera. Many plants, however,have not yet been assessed fortheir decontamination potential.Our knowledge about plant prop-erties concerning cleaning and im-proving the air is still very scanty.Nevertheless, there is no doubtabout their positive influence onhuman health.

Tove Fjeld, a researcher fromNorway, has studied the effect of“green” offices on the health ofthose working in them. One halfof the rooms remained un-changed, while plants were in-stalled in the other half. In therooms with plants, hitherto typicaldiseases of employees – likecolds, influenza, headache, short

breath, or skin irritations – wentdown by 52%. Absenteeism due toillness decreased from 17% to 6%.92% of all employees were con-vinced that the indoor vegetationhad positive effects.

In another example she askedcustomers in a Norwegian shop-ping-centre after its conversion in-to a “green” place:


Green shopping-centres – betteratmosphere and more attractive

� 70% were convinced that theshopping-centre had a betteratmosphere

� 26 % said it looked morebeautiful, more attractivethan before

� 10% felt the air was better� The frequency of visits in-

creased by about 50%.

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Prof. Roger S. Ulrich, A & M Uni-versity of Texas, architect and clin-ical psychologist, has for severalyears been studying the impact ofnature elements on the mentaland physical well-being of man.The results of his work: Looking atgreenery and plants leads to sig-nificant stress reduction in almostno time.

For instance, according to oneof his studies, freshly operated pa-tients who could look into green-ery were recuperating on averagethree quarters of a day soonerthan patients who were looking ata wall. On average those lookingat plants were getting up sooner,needed less strong painkillers andcomplained less about little post-operational complications. Labora-tory results of 120 persons testedshowed that even a five minuteexposure to a natural scene orsimulation of one reduced stress

symptoms like a higher bloodpressure, tensed-up muscles andincreased sensitivity of the skin.

Other scientists confirmed Ul-rich’s findings. In one such report,two groups of prison inmateswere compared. Those with a viewfrom their cells on to a natural sur-rounding fell ill significantly lessoften than those looking at prisonwalls through their windows. This,too, underlines the positive effectof plants on man’s psyche.

Greenery leads to stress reduc-tion, is the undisputable conclu-sion of these and further studies.Looking at natural greenery has arelaxing effect, not only in the ac-tual stress phase but also in theregeneration phase following anystress situation. This means thatdifficult situations are experiencedas less burdensome and are over-come faster if plants that calm thesoul are in sight.


The healing power of flowers and plants

Psychological impact of plants

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Instinctively many people areusing the garden to relax and toreduce stress. What are the rea-sons for this? Why is a garden sospecial?

There seem to be several rea-sons for it. � The natural rhythms of a gar-

den, of plants – their growingand blooming – work as a coun-terpart against stress, hectic,the flood of information and thepressure of the competitionwhich burden so many peoplein our modern societies.

� There is silence and peace inthe garden.

� The work in a garden, the workwith plants is quite differentfrom the type of work manypeople have to do in their job.

� The garden gives people thepossibility to be creative, tomake things on their own. Theyare not bossed around or or-dered to do their jobs along thenormal guidelines.

� And there is the satisfaction andpride in growing things.

This is the reason why the Chinesesay in their proverb:

The special effects of gardening


“If you want to be happy for anhour, get drunk. If you want to be happy forthree days, get married.If you want to be happy foreight days, kill a pig and give afeast.But if you want to be happy allyour life, make yourself a gar-den.”

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Horticultural therapy makes useof the positive effects of flowers,plants and gardens on body andsoul in order to cure ill people orto make their living circumstancesbetter. Horticultural therapy is avery wide field and it is actually anumbrella word for all those differ-ent medical indications and appli-cations.

The roots of horticultural thera-py date back to the 19th Century,when huge asylums for mentallyill people were built. Because ofthe high costs the asylums wereplanned to produce their ownfood so patients worked in thefruit and vegetable gardens andthe fields. Here doctors noticedthat patients working – especially

with plants and animals – becamecalm, less aggressive and losttheir fears. Their senseless, bor-ing, unstructured life took on ameaning. They experienced suc-cess through their own hands.Recognising this, doctors startedto use working in gardens andfields as a therapy. Working thera-py they called what was the firstuse of horticultural therapy.

With the discovery of anti-de-pressants the situation changed.Only a pill was necessary to keeppatients calm. The low efficiencyof their work in gardens and fieldsmade no sense any more. But intime patients and their relativesstarted to complain about the sideeffects of the psychopharmaca,


Horticultural therapy

In this garden in Southern Germany horticultural therapy is applied toyoung people with psychological and psycho-social problems

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that changed the personality andmade them feel like living behindglass. This is why in the ‘60’s thevalue of horticultural therapy wasrediscovered in the USA. Againhospitals for psychic or mentallydisabled people started to letthem work in gardens. In the ‘70’sa first course of study „Horticultur-al therapy“ was offered at theKansas State University. Today ittakes four years of study to be-come a horticultural therapist.

From the USA horticultural ther-apy came back to Europe andstarted to move towards Asia. Sin-gle projects like hospitals, homesfor elderly people and workshopsfor handicapped people use horti-cultural therapy very successfully.But the public and politicians donot really take notice of theseprojects. In spite of this, horticul-tural therapy has developed a lotin the last years.

We note the application of horti-cultural therapy in following cases:

How plants are used and whichplants are used, depends on thespecial needs of the patients forwhom the garden is planned.

Most important for horticulturaltherapy are:


� psychological and psychoso-cial disorder

� addictions� dementia � rehabilitation after accidents

and strokes� rheumatic diseases � geriatric and orthopaedic re-

habilitation� motorial disorder� disorder of perception� apallic syndrome (coma)� curative education� blindness and deaf blindness

� the calming and relaxing ef-fects of plants

� the natural rhythm of theplants, which is a counter-part to daily stress andmakes people patient

� to work with living organ-isms, that follow their own,unchangeable rules

� the colours, aromas, tex-tures, sounds and even thetastes of plants, that tackleall senses

� the effort of coordination inworking with plants on mus-cles, care and attention

� the huge variety of differentapplications making it possi-ble to suit the abilities ofevery patient and offer themthe chance to experiencesuccess

� the normality of the gardenin contrast to the sometimesfrightening atmosphere of aclinic or a caring institution.

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So far little research has beendone regarding the social and cul-tural functions of flowers andplants. We know, however, fromthe myths of all kinds of peoplesthat from very early on, plantswere said to have special powers.Plants nourish, warm, quench thethirst, and alleviate complaints.Yet they can also make ill, causemischief and have demonic prop-erties. They harbour strength,toughness, the capacity to resistand to assimilate. They disappearunder the earth and reappear.They endure the worst frosts with-out any harm. All this has inspiredmen to endow them with a soul,to put them on a par with godsand spirits. They were convincedthat some of the magical powerwas passed on to anybody whowas adorned or honoured with theflower or plant in question, secret-ly mixed into their food or hiddenin their clothes.

In this natural religion lies theroot of all plant symbolism that tothis day motivates people world-wide to make presents of flowers,or decorate with flowers or usethem in religious ceremonies.Plants become carriers and harbin-gers of wishes, longings andhopes. They accompany the smallgestures of friendship and affec-tion, the central feasts and holi-days, but most of all the decisivelife dates.

In nearly every society aroundthe world they are an integral partof rituals from birth to death. It istherefore all the more astonishing,how little is understood abouttheir significance in celebratingand grieving. Researchers foundthat flowers are an important partof the bereavement process as asource of comfort and warmth andto help deal with grief. Their func-tions in brightening up the som-bre environment and providing aconversational diversion also werehighly appreciated. The primaryreasons for sending flowers are tocomfort survivors and show re-spect for the deceased.

The message of some flowers isunderstood equally around the


Cultural and social significance offlowers and plants

Cultural meaning

In nearly every society all aroundthe world flowers are an integralpart of rituals from birth todeath.

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world, like the red rose, symboliz-ing love and eroticism. Others sig-nify all sorts of feelings, like thechysanthemum, which in China isconsidered a symbol of long life,whereas in Japan it is the emper-or’s flower and symbolizes loyaltyto the master, and in Europe it wasfor a long time the flower of late

autumn and awareness of death.Only due to the increase of vari-eties and year-round productionhas it gained a more positive im-age. As shown in these two exam-ples, functions of flowers andplants depend on the specific soci-ety and culture, on their valuesand customs.


Flowers and art

Art also tells us of the closeconnection between man andplants. Poetry and literature, fromthe Song of Solomon to Goethe orJames Joyce, flowers, plants andgardens play a central role. The fa-mous poem on the chrysanthe-mum by the Chinese poet TaoYuanming was written in the 3rdcentury after Christ. Around 1560,the Osmanli poet Fasli touched the

heart of Suleiman the Great withhis song of the rose and thenightingale. But also in folksongand children’s verse the flowers ofthe yearly cycle abound. They givecause to play and dance.

Plant paintings are as numer-ous. From Japanese ink drawingsto the murals of Pompei to Monetand Andy Warhol, flowers andplants populate our works of art.Many of the oriental carpets weaveplants, blossoms and vines andeven have been interpreted as gar-dens that could be taken along asa reminder of things alive into themost inhospitable regions. Porce-lain painting is a chapter in itself.Flower and plant motives decorateChinese vases thousands of yearsold, as well as the tiles of the Top-kapi Palace in Istanbul or the prod-ucts of the Royal Danish Porcelainmanufacture. Plates, cups, vases,boxes and bowls all over theworld were decorated with rosesand water lilies, iris, poppies, for-get-me-not and many other flow-ers. The eye was to take pleasurein them even if the natural cycle ofseasons wouldn’t allow it.

Flower and plant motives oftendecorate porcelain

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In modern cities many peoplehave to live far from a natural en-vironment. Does it mean anythingto them? If one compares thecosts of flats and houses it be-comes clear that their prices in-crease when they are surrounded

by gardens and greenery. Livingvegetation and gardens obviouslyare considered valuable. Whoevercan afford it chooses not to live ina grey, stony environment. That isfelt to be boring and anti-life.

City neighbourhoods withoutgreenery often turn into socialproblem areas with poverty, van-dalism, and a high crime rate. As

soon as plants move into suchneighbourhoods, these develop-ments however can be reversed.The slum gardens of the once no-torious New York Bronx are a fa-mous example. In the early ‘70s,the first of these gardens devel-

oped on rubble fields, roofs andback yards. They worked like asignal against discouragement,lethargy, and indifference. Thesegarden projects were for the firsttime bringing the neighbourhoodtogether. Out of chaos arose veg-etable gardens, flower beds andgreen oases used as playgroundsand meeting points. These gar-


City neighbourhoods with a green environment have fewer social problems

Plants as a factor of social stability

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dens became a signal for survival,creative open air workshops –places, where a new sense of re-sponsibility for one‘s living sur-roundings was coming to light.

Similar paths were trodden inthe Russian city of Danilov, wherea devastated park in the city cen-ter was restored by a group ofyoung people out of work. Not on-ly vandalism stopped here. Else-where in the city greenery wasperceived with new eyes – peoplestarted to appreciate it again.

Gardens are also helpful forrefugees and migrants to find rootagain. In various German cities,so-called „international gardens“offer refugees from a variety ofcultural backgrounds the opportu-nity to plant, tend and harvest.

Working in these gardens is agood antidote to apathy and de-pression. Their contact with na-ture helps them to slowly get overgrief and traumas, and also breaksdown their isolation. The gardenand the preoccupation with plantsoffer opportunities for cross-cul-tural contacts. People exchangeexperiences and support each oth-er, and of course also celebrate to-gether.

In general one can say thatparks and gardens are importantplaces for social interaction, forevents and activities. Parks andgreenery bring a friendly andpeaceful atmosphere to a townand are places for communicationand recreation, incorporate play-grounds for children, and are aninvitation to tourists.


Above: For refugees and migrantsworking in a garden is a goodantidote to apathy and depression

Below: It makes children proud tohave grown a nice plant andbuilds up self-confidence

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Flowers and plants should bemore integrated in the upbringingand education of children. Dealingwith plants teaches children al-ready at a very early age to careand to take responsibility for a liv-ing being. It teaches them aboutnature and the environment sothey understand how necessary itis to protect them. It helps to buildup their self-confidence. It makesthem proud to have grown a niceplant and it improves their skills.Some plants in their home, a littleplace in the garden, projects inKindergarten and schools and aschool garden will help to accom-plish this.

Gardens for children, particular-ly now in the computer age, canhelp young people to shift fromthe head to the hand. Gardens con-vey practical experience instead oftheory. In this, concrete learning-by-doing processes are only oneaspect. Directly experiencing na-ture is at least as important. Plantsfeel warm and cold, smooth andrough, soft and hard. They smell,are fragrant or stink. They demandaim-oriented activity and teach or-ganizing work. Planning your ownbeds stimulate your imaginationand creativity and produce their re-ality check.

Not the grown-ups but theplants demand responsible behav-iour. If watered rightly, they standstiffly erect, if their watering is for-gotten, they turn limp. Plants reactimmediately to how they are being

treated; in this way, you can expe-rience the consequences of yourown doing. Looking at and obser-vation reveal the dynamics of na-ture, e.g. the larvae of a lady bugsuddenly cleaning up the blackflyon the tips of new sprouts. Yourown doing leads to changes, butnot everything is within your pow-

er, is the subtle message. Thus,children gain a more realistic ideaof their surroundings and are be-ing helped to appreciate the realityof their life in a new way.


Educational functions of flowersand plants

Gardens can help young people toshift from the head to the hand

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The great variety of plants aswell as their beauty and unique-ness inspired man very early on tocollect them. Whereas at first, onlythe well-to-do could afford thehobby of plant collecting, soon al-so commoners were infected bythe passion for collecting. It didnot take long for them to band to-gether in order to share their infor-mation and experience, as well asadmire each others‘ exploits, andalso to encourage others to findan interest in garden and plants.

The Royal Horticultural Society(RHS) established in London in1804 was one of the first – maybethe first – dedicated to advancinghorticulture and the promotion ofgardening.

Also in other countries garden-ing was no longer a subject re-served only for the nobility. Likethe RHS it was discovered that hor-ticulture and gardening enrichpeople’s lives, that it is worthbringing the personal and socialbenefits of gardens and gardeningto a diverse audience of all ages,to help people share a passion forplants, to encourage excellence inhorticulture in private and publicspaces, to help create healthy, sus-tainable communities and supportlong term environmental improve-ments. Our modern societies arediscovering again how importantflowers and plants are for the wellbeing of the people.

Besides the societies for garden-ing in general, associations of

Plant lovers and their societies


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plant lovers arose to exchangeknowledge about their specialplants. For many of their membersthey are an essential means forcommunication, social contactand encounter. All of these garden-

ing groups and plantsman‘s soci-eties, taken as a whole, constitutea strong, stabilizing element inour society. Politically speaking,however, they are usually not giv-en credit as such.


Above: AIPH coordinates interna-tional horticultural exhibitions

Left: Perennials are an importantgroup of plants for plant lovers

Exhibitions of flowers and plants

Exhibitions are one of the mostimportant initiatives on the part ofthese garden and plant societies.Anybody successfully collectingplants and bringing them to grow,flower and bear fruit, will want topresent their success to others.Such private shows soon becameso popular that they had to extendtheir framework. Almost two hun-dred years ago, societies such asthe RHS, the „Societé d‘Agricultureet de Botanique de Gand (Agricul-tural and botanical society ofGhent)“ or the „Verein zurFörderung des Gartenbaues in denKöniglich Preussischen Staaten(Society for furthering gardeningin the Royal Prussian States)“ start-ed organizing flower and plant ex-hibitions. What started as short-term show in halls and exhibitiongrounds, soon extended to openair shows lasting up to half a year.

Soon it was realized that theseopen air shows were an excellentmeans of creating new parks andgreen landscapes. Thus, gardenshows became an instrument ofgreen politics. With their help,huge disaffected industrial areaswere transformed into green land-scapes, such as the LiverpoolSouth Docks/Great Britain in 1984.

Former military bases becamerecreation parks, like Magde-burg/Germany in 1999 and Pots-dam/Germany in 2001. New citieswere given their green structurethrough garden shows, as 1992 inZoetermeer/Netherlands. The AIPH(International Association of Horti-cultural Producers) coordinatesand recognizes international horti-cultural exhibitions worldwide.

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Considering all these aspectsone has to ask if flowers andplants really get the attention theydeserve in our societies? How canyou measure their significance incomparison with other fields likemusic, theatre, sports, museumsor arts? One could of course com-pare the turnovers of these differ-ent branches. One could also lookat the media coverage these sec-tors get – in newspapers and mag-azines, in literature or on TV. Orone could add up the competitivetime people spend on these sub-jects. We do not know of any suchanalyses. Some degree of researchin this field seems to be urgentlyneeded.

In a free market oriented econo-my people decide according totheir preferences. Preferences can

be influenced by information, pro-motion and marketing. But it isnot only the private consumerwho makes decisions about buy-ing flowers and plants, as well asbuilding or improving a garden.Politicians of communities andother state bodies are always ea-ger to explain that they would liketo spend more money on trees,shrubs and other plants, on parksand green spaces – inside cities,along streets and roads, and in theopen countryside. But that they donot have enough money for it. Orthere are, as they put it, other pri-orities. Priorities must change infavour of greenery and plants.Politicians have to realize the ben-efits of flowers and plants – andwhat they contribute to the mem-bers of society at large.

Final remarks


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Photo Acknowledgements:

BGM Düsseldorf page 13 BCMA 28 T, 29Die grüne Stadt 12, 20 TGrünes Presse Portal 11, 20 T, 28 T, 29Helga Panten Title, 5, 6 B + T, 9, 10, 11, 13 T, 15 B + T,

17, 18, 20 B, 21, 22, 26, 30, 31, 32Plants for People 19Peter Ruhnke 14, 16 B + T, 23, 25, 27, 28 B

Editor: AIPHInternational Association of Horticultural ProducersLouis Pasteurlaan 6, P.O. Box 280, 2700 AG ZOETERMEER (NL)Fon: 31-79-347 07 07, Fax: 31-79-347 04 05 E-Mail: [email protected] , Website: www.aiph.org

Authors andLayout: Helga Panten, Peter Ruhnke, Bonn/Germany

Translation: Ethel Rae Perkins, Cologne/Germany

Printed: Köllen Druck+Verlag GmbH, Bonn/Germany

First Printing – September 2005Second Printing – December 2006

All rights reserved. No part of this brochure may be used or reproduced inany manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of briefquotations embodied in articles and reviews

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