Q: What is biophilia, and do I have it?

A: Biophilia, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary is: “a hypothetical human tendency to interact or be closely associated with other forms of life in nature: a desire or tendency to commune with nature”.

Biophilia is the term coined by the Harvard naturalist Dr. Edward O. Wilson to describe what he saw as humanity’s “innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes,” and to be drawn toward nature, to feel an affinity for it, a love, a craving. (Natalie Angier)

As residential gardeners, or home horticulturists, did you ever wonder why you love working in your garden? You call it your therapy, or your private place to think; it’s your down-time from the world. Working in your home landscape reduces stress, improves flexibility of your muscles and joints, gets you outdoors and off the couch. Being in nature enhances creativity, improves cognitive function, and enhances physical and mental well being.

Working your own vegetable and herb garden also provides healthy food for your family, and a sense of real accomplishment. The practice of growing food and other plants allows gardeners to learn about environmental processes such as pollination or changes in weather patterns, soil conditions, and how they all affect plant growth. This provides participants with a way to increase their knowledge and appreciation of nature and natural processes.

All of this is because you have brought about biophilic design right there in your own yard. By choosing species, learning about your plants’ needs, planting them properly, caring for, feeding, watering and nurturing them, you have created a biophilic design.

The variety of trees, shrubs, flowers, vegetables and fruits, and the structures to support them, as well as the soil and media to grow them in fosters an environment that calms and relaxes your psyche. In your home landscape, a semi-natural system, you mimic the natural biodiversity of an untouched environment — which attracts not only humans, but wildlife, as well.

The circle of life rolls on in the habitat of your plant-filled yard — plants feed insects, insects feed rodents, rodents feed reptiles: all of them feed birds. And all provide substance to the biophilic garden design.

That morning cup of coffee we enjoy while nestled into a little corner of the garden, protected by greenery, listening to the birds and the insects, can be one of our most relaxing moments of the day. That’s the result of “humanity’s innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes.”

By creating your garden rooms and habitats, you’ve fulfilled that inherent need to be in and around nature. It’s beyond thinking “I like to garden”. Biophilia is the desire and need to garden, to bring nature into one’s own personal space.

City dwellers with no land of their own crave natural scenery, as well. These days, rooftop gardens have sprouted all over urban residential towers. Between buildings, there are pocket gardens, community gardens, balcony and terrace gardens. The desire for nature and green space drives urbanites out of the city on weekends to breathe in the natural air and scenery around them. Biophilia is that need to “commune with nature,” and city dwellers find it wherever they can.

“The successful application of biophilic design fundamentally depends on adopting a new consciousness toward nature, recognizing how much our physical and mental wellbeing continues to rely on the quality of our connections to the world beyond ourselves of which we still remain a part.” (Stephen R. Kellert, for Metropolis.)

For further information about growing vegetables, landscape plants and trees in West Georgia, contact the Master Gardener office at UGA Extension-Carroll County at the Ag Center, 900 Newnan Road in Carrollton, by phone 770-836-8546 or email ccmg@uga.edu.