The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to confirm what every urban dweller has long suspected - life in the big city is stressful. Until a certain point, we were able to keep a pace and level of business that allowed us to ignore the stress of living among crowds, but multiple stay-at-home orders and other public health measures compounded the pressure. Studies have shown that we need a minimum amount of alone time and time with nature to be healthy. Additionally, these studies have documented how our psycho-emotional well-being is affected by living in crowded areas. Even more interesting is the relationship between growing up in urban areas and developing mental illness. More and more science is pointing to city life as being bad for the nerves, as the pace of life directly affects the region of the brain that controls stress. Pollution, crowding, and noise all impact our health negatively. So, millions of years and ten versions of iPhones later, we learn that the human brain has not developed to cope with a stressful mile-per-minute life surrounded by strangers. What is a person to do? How do we find some urban Zen?
Creating green spaces, no matter how small, can bring peace to the mind and lower our stress levels. Not everyone has the resources or yard space to bring some major greenery into their reality. However, there are ways to cleverly carve out a little slice of peace and tranquility while living among ten million-plus people. Create a living landscape, a living plant wall, or a terrarium. Even if you live in dry regions of Los Angeles County (such as the Antelope Valley), you can still enjoy a mini plant oasis that compliments what you already have in your home. Working with a terrarium can give you the controlled environment needed to grow beautiful plants with significantly different needs. Set an intention for the space and come up with textures, smells, sounds and lighting that create a sense of place for your ideas.
Do keep in mind you may face challenges when creating a green space during the Coronavirus pandemic:
1. Seeds are harder to come by, so look for seed exchange groups such as the Seed Library of Los Angeles through local social media groups. You can exchange at a safe distance and still socialize with other plant lovers.
2. While nurseries are open, you may prefer to shop with less contact. Accept curbside delivery or pickup when ordering plants. Our local nurseries need our help to keep going, so please remember to see about their delivery options or what else you could do to help their doors stay open.
3. Take an online gardening course. Although it is not the same as learning to be a better gardener in-person, there are plenty of masterclasses and recordings online to help you create the Urban Zen corner of your dreams.
Master Gardeners are a great resource when it comes to all things growing and green. We are seeing more and more how time with nature is taking newcomers to places where they too can destress and think more clearly. I hope you find your creative process and Urban Zen corner to be a way of getting through the multiple stresses of these difficult times. Stay safe, stay active, love your neighbor, and create peace with every step.