July 2021
Alan Dean Foster

Growing and Glowing

On the human need for greenery

While going about our daily lives there are certain things we take for granted. Breathable air, water, clouds in the sky, the warmth of the sun, the presence of other humans performing similar tasks around us. We find these everyday commonalities reassuring. We like to keep them close, not only because they support life but because we enjoy them. Unless you live in a barren desert like the central Sahara, northern Namibia or outside Yuma, it is likely that you also enjoy the presence of plants.


I don’t think it’s just because plants provide us with oxygen, although hiking through a temperate rainforest feels like being on oxygen supplementation. I believe it has to do with their presence providing a continual reassurance that Things Are Okay. That, regardless of what we do, life as we know it will proceed on its normal path. There is a psychological as well as physiological component to why we enjoy having growing things around us.

Why else would people buy artificial plants? They’re available in so many stores, from Hobby Lobby and Michael’s to Walmart and supermarkets. They emit no oxygen. They are as sterile as a chair or piece of wallboard. Yet they sell, and those of good quality are not cheap. It makes one wonder why so many end tables and mantles are decorated with a vase full of synthetic daisies and daffodils instead of a painting, or sculpture, or relic of human manufacture? Is it just to add color? There are many other objects that provide as much color, and greater variety of form. Furthermore, sometimes flowers will be completely absent and an arrangement will consist of only greens, or faux dried grasses, or imitation lichens on fake bark.

Convenience is the only acceptable explanation. Live plants require cleanup when they shed, watering if they’re alive, spraying for insects even if indoors, judicious placement so they’ll have sunlight, locations that will keep them away from pets and children. They are a lot of work. Yet the business of houseplants and of home gardening support entire industries. Not to mention an enormous array of services devoted solely to the fostering and support of growing grass. Or, as we have come to know them, lawns.

(Wikipedia: Lawn is a cognate of llan, which is derived from the Common Brittonic word landa (Old French: lande), originally meaning heath, barren land, or clearing.)

We dwell, more and more, in cities, artificial environments composed of concrete, steel, processed wood and glass. These surroundings provide most of what we need. But not greenery. So we hammer holes in sidewalks, fill them with imported soil, and plant trees and bushes. We cut away street corners and lovingly install beds of flowers. Apartment-dwellers hang planters from windows and porch rails. Why? It’s not functional. Paintings can hang from balustrades. Sculpture can (and does) repose inside skyscrapers. Sidewalks are for walking on. Interrupting them with space for trees, bushes and flowers reduces their functionality. Yet nearly every city in the world makes room for plants.

No one objects to parks. Why not a greenhouse?

Decorative plants. Farming is another matter entirely. Even so, I have heard farmers speak with delight at seeing fields of wheat, or rows of corn, or golden tsunami of sunflowers, not simply because they represent income but because of their aesthetic beauty. Far fewer speak of the visual attractiveness of a herd of cattle or pen of chickens. These remind us of food. Plants, even those we consume, remind us of life.

In the rainforest, where plants can sometimes sting and burn, there is a feeling of being connected to the Earth, to the planet, that must be experienced to be understood. I’m not going all metaphysical on you, now. It is a real thing. The more plants there are around you, the more you feel alive. No one walking off a paved street into a large greenhouse can deny the feeling. Just being around plants generates a surge of endorphins.

It’s why I think every town and city should support a municipal greenhouse. We do parks, which supply some greenery. No one objects to parks. A greenhouse augments the park effect. I don’t recall having seen any proposals for an urban, city-supported greenhouse in Prescott. We have parks, we have museums. Why not a greenhouse? A refuge from weather and concrete. A place to enter, stroll and commune with nature in a way no other facility can provide.

When I attended UCLA the hidden secret among students was the botanical garden at the south end of the school. It offered lush growth and gurgling streams in the midst of the city. It was my favorite place to get some studying done. Perhaps our local colleges could be involved in creating such an oasis for Prescott.

If the massive facility that is Biosphere 2 can make a go of it in the desert, surely a little slice of rainforest could be created here in Prescott. We all need a little more greenery in our lives. Call it a CBD — communal botanical destination.

Prescott resident Alan Dean Foster is the author of 130 books. Follow him at AlanDeanFoster. com.