8 The Power of a Green Space

by LESLEY HARTLEY

Green is a significant force in our lives. As a colour it has positive features of harmony, balance, refreshment, rest, restoration, reassurance, environmental awareness, equilibrium, and peace.

In the world religions, green plays an important part. In Hinduism green is a festive colour. In Maharashtra, it represents life and happiness. For that reason, a widow does not wear green. Symbolising peace and happiness, green stabilises the mind.

In Japanese culture, green is associated with eternal life; it is the sacred colour of Islam, representing respect and the prophet Muhammad who wore a green cloak and turban.
Green, blue-green, and blue are sacred colours in Iran, where they symbolize paradise. Green is the colour of love associated with both Venus, the Roman goddess and Aphrodite, the Greek goddess.

In the bible, several references are made to green. It represents bountifulness, hope and the victory of life over death. It is one of the colours associated with Christmas, and the long season of the Trinity in summer.

‘..to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food’ Gen 1:30

‘He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.’ Psalm 23:2-3

Green strikes the eye in such a way as to require no adjustment whatever, and is, therefore, restful. Being in the centre of the spectrum, it is the colour of balance, has a wavelength easily seen by the eye, and is the least offensive colour to look at. As a result, it has a calming effect, which is why TV studios and theatres have ‘green rooms’ to calm guests’ nerves before they appear.

Before the arrival of interactive classroom displays, blackboards were painted green because it was easier for students to look at them. Green is restful for eyes and produces the least amount of eyestrain. This is a good choice for computer desktops if you are in front of a screen for many hours. Those who practise feng shui in their lives have little need to avoid green.

When the world about us contains plenty of green, this indicates the presence of water, and little danger of famine, so we are reassured by green.

The physical effects of green are many: in the presence of green your pituitary gland is stimulated; your muscles are more relaxed, and your blood histamine levels increase, which
leads to a decrease in allergy symptoms and dilated blood vessels, aiding in smoother muscle contractions. Green is calming, stress-relieving, and – a bit paradoxically – invigorating. It’s been shown to improve reading ability and creativity.

Medical research has found that views from windows have great importance. A recent study has shown positive effects on patients recovering from abdominal surgery. It was discovered that patients whose hospital rooms overlooked trees had an easier time recovering than those whose rooms overlooked brick walls. Patients able to see nature got out of the hospital faster, had fewer complications and required less pain medication than those forced to stare at a wall.

By no means was it just a green view that was of benefit. He also found that heart surgery patients in intensive care units could reduce their anxiety and need for pain medication by
looking at pictures depicting trees and water. In one wellknown study, Rachel Kaplan found that office workers with a view of nature liked their jobs more, enjoyed better health and
reported greater life satisfaction.

So, if the colour green has so many positive effects for us, what about the power of a green space. What is your favourite green space?

Can you think of the feelings that are aroused in this place? Are you content, relaxed, protected, solitary, comfortable?

For many of us, our nearest green space is our garden; it might be some pots on a patio, a window box, or for a flat at Newhaven the green space may be a view of the Forth.

My Mum loved her garden; she was a diligent gardener, but oh the distress it caused when she was unable any more to bend to the flower beds or to tread carefully down the steps into the garden. In the garden’s heyday, Mum would sit contentedly at the end of an afternoon’s green-fingered ministrations and smile at an ordered space and then she would walk to visit each bed, stopping to smell a flower, touch a petal or tweak a weed.

My Mum was one of many who have a genuine attachment to their garden. Sometimes this attachment can provide a feeling of connection with our ancestors, families of gardeners.
Alan Epstein in ‘ How to have more love in your life’ ( Penguin 1966) implores us to spend more time in a flower garden, spending enough time to take in the garden’s charms and to feel at home there.

Barton and Pretty's study of exposure to green space and mental health showed the strongest positive effects on mood and self-esteem for the shortest duration (even just five minutes) of activity in green space, irrespective of the intensity of the activity).

Research has shown that children who live in greener environments have greater capacity for paying attention, and they're better able to delay gratification and inhibit impulses. Results of studies also suggest that green space generally enhances feelings of social safety.

Green spaces work for the senses. Touch different textured and patterned leaves, smell scents of flowers and herbs, they provide the quiet to appreciate birdsong and insect movement

In Edinburgh, there are around seventy public parks to enjoy – used by families, footballers, sunbathers, people who want to sit quietly, readers, snoozers, dog walkers, birdwatchers and picnickers - to name but a few.

Urban parks are used as visual landscape with so many benefits such as reducing stress, reducing air pollution and producing oxygen, creating opportunities for people to participate in physical activities, optimal environment for children and decreasing noise pollution.

Local authorities have responsibility for ill-health prevention strategies and parks play an important part in encouraging exercise and outdoor pursuits.

Harrison Park West has been awarded the green flag for its beauty and quality green space. It boasts a community herb garden that belongs to and is tended by the local community with an open invitation for anybody to help themselves to their produce of fifteen types of herbs.

Polwarth Canal garden invites people to drop in and enjoy the peace and tranquillity on the canal side. A beautifully tended spot.

Victoria Park in the Hackney area of East London has often been referred to as ‘the lungs of London’. Might the lungs of Edinburgh be Princes Street Gardens, or the Botanics, or Inverleith Park – our city has a wealth of beautiful green space - a good part of the city’s soul.

The Unitarian movement in the UK has as its holiday and meeting centre, the Nightingale Centre in the village of Great Hucklow in the middle of Derbyshire’s Peak District.

It provides holidays for children from deprived areas who very often have not had a holiday before, nor seen the countryside (not covered up in kagoules and boots) to climb over stiles; or stride across fields full of curious cows; not seen lichen on stone walls; nor inspected a miniature orchid in the woods; not heard the sound of a green woodpecker or had a squirrel scamper in front of them; not enjoyed a wide view of hills or sky, trees and the occasional farm vehicle.

Schools play their part well in allowing children to access green space. Many schools have ‘forest school’ trained teachers who are able to plan safe but challenging activities for children to work and play in wooded areas. This hands-on approach has been responsible for good progress in reading and writing, especially for boys who find they have something they want to read and write about.

By the side of the playground in my school we had a popular green area - lots of children played on it or sat on it – it wasn’t grass because grass couldn’t have coped with the foot traffic. This was NoMow - an area of artificial grass - but an area which amazingly produced calmness for those who sought it.

One of the important events in our school year was to take children - who lived in the Peak District - for a week’s holiday in the Peak District. To many children, this place, only twenty-five minutes’ drive away, was a world away. It changed lives and it helped children grow in self-esteem and confidence. It created opportunities for the children to look ahead; to decide what they wanted in their lives; to see that there were other possibilities rather than being a celebrity or a footballer.

On a walk from Edale to Castleton across the Peaks, my class of well-muddied children were feeling quite proud of their efforts that day and had time to reflect on what they wanted from life. One boy said, ‘When I grow up I would like your job’. He was talking to a Peak Park ranger, one of our dads at school, who was accompanying our group. ‘I like it out here. I’ve thought about lots of things and found things I can do.’ That boy went on to achieve a degree in environmental education and is now…. a Peak Park ranger. The power of a green space.

Copyright Lesley Hartley used by permission given in St Mark’s on 16 October 2016
Lesley Hartley is a member of St Mark’s, convener of our ministry team, leader of the Chalice Singers and pulpit secretary.

If you would like to lead, or assist in leading, Sunday worship, please speak to Lesley.

The pictures on pages 1 and 8 were supplied by Roger Hartley.