GUARDIANS IN THE GARDEN

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Often, the most striking element of a garden or public space is its trees. Whether tough and evergreen or delicate and adorned with fleeting blooms, we are drawn to their strength and size, the shade they gift us on a hot day or their welcome shelter in the face of an icy wind.

Real estate advertisements frequently use ‘leafy suburb’ or ‘tree-lined street’ as key selling points – and sales figures suggest that buyers are happy to pay a premium to live near trees. On the surface, we love them for the beauty they bring to urban spaces, but there are many more benefits gained from living around trees that deserve to be celebrated.

It’s hardly surprising that humans experience a visceral connection to trees, after all, we breathe oxygen and release carbon dioxide, while the tree does precisely the opposite; cleaning the air via photosynthesis and filling a vital role in the health of our environment. Alongside this, their root systems work to prevent soil erosion, and to clean our waterways. In the face of climate change, planting trees is a tangible action we can take to help protect against the effects of global warming.

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On a personal level, we can all gain from the known health benefits of the presence of trees in an urban environment. Trees provide shade and reduce glare, but they also work to cool the air temperature by releasing water vapour from their leaves. Some varieties also do a particularly good job of removing pollutants and chemicals such as carbon from the air and storing it on their leaves and bark. And, they make us feel good. Just sitting under a tree can lift mood, lower blood pressure and reduce heart rate.

Within our communities, trees take on a formal role in our storytelling and mythology, often being planted as a memorial or to mark the location of a significant event. Trees also tend to feature strongly in our childhood memories, there would be few of us in New Zealand who can’t recall a favourite climbing tree or hut perched amongst the branches.

When planning outdoor spaces, we have access to a huge variety of tree species to serve as anchor points in the landscape; their varied aesthetic qualities helping to set the tone and style of a garden and attract birds and insects. Trees also provide shade, shelter and privacy in a garden, supporting local wildlife. Carefully placed, trees can make all the difference to the success of a garden, enhancing our enjoyment of our outdoor living spaces and improving our health. Trees help to protect the environment while they’re at it. With our trees doing so much to help us out, we owe these unsung heroes our protection and care – maybe even a hug.