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Gardening at Work?

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Employers like Aveda, Crayola, Google and Yahoo have branched out to include gardens at work!

Libby Znaimer (AM 740) recently showcased research in Toronto which found that office workers who took a brief walk through a tree filled arboretum  were 20% more productive when they returned to their desks.

As an HR professional by day and a recreational gardener in my spare time, I’m increasingly intrigued with how gardening can impact the workplace in so many positive ways.

First, some benefits:

  • Community:  Enhance your profile as a good corporate citizen;  grow veggies to donate to a local food bank or shelter.
  • Green:  Strengthen your reputation as an environmentally friendly organization that really does walk its talk.  Remember to include  plants inside to oxygenate the air especially over the winter months.  Open your gardens to the public after hours.
  • Health:  Support your employees to boost their health and stamina, both physically (aerobic, isotonic and isometric exercise combats diabetes, heart disease, obesity, osteoporosis;) and mentally (exercise lowers blood pressure;  getting outside induces sounder sleep).
  • Kids:  Imagine your child care centre having a play space where the kidlets can watch worms wiggling, hear birds singing, smell the flowers, pull a carrot from the earth and eat it on the spot.
  • Nutrition:  Supply your cafeteria with herbs and fresh veggies.  Entice employees to try foods they might not otherwise consider.  
  • Stress:  Day-dream, exercise (tai-chi, yoga), meditate, read, re-charge in a tranquil garden.
  • Team:  Reduce hierarchy, increase staff morale.  A junior employee may be your most skilled gardener and become the leader in the field!

Now some features:

  • Bug-free:  Green implies a “no pesticide zone”.  Ladybugs, companion planting (radishes and marigolds) can hold a wide range of enemies at bay.
  • Colour:  Choose a one or two colour only garden (e.g. your company colours) or a riot of hues.  Cut a fresh bouquet to brighten a common area.
  • Compost:  Think about all the stuff generated each day that could be converted into compost then returned to the earth.
  • Labyrinth:  Help employees become more creative.  Mazes have been used for years to facilitate group or individual meditation and thinking.
  • Scents:  Many people are soothed by aromatherapy.  Don’t forget the impact of scent (herbs, roses). 
  • Sounds:  A water feature (bubbler, fountain), crunchy pea gravel paths, plants that attract bees and birds, grasses that rustle in the wind all combat street noise.
  • Trees:  Even one tree that provides shades becomes a key focus.

Some quick tips to get growing:

  • Work with an experienced gardener:  Someone who’s passionate about gardening will rally and motivate others.
  • Draft a plan:  Keep it simple (but not simplistic).  Make sure you address things like:  high vs. low maintenance plants, health and safety issues (pesticides), showers (you may be in a meeting after digging for an hour), who gets the produce (if it’s not being donated).
  • Start small:  You don’t need a lot of space.  Consider container gardens (like patio pots), a living rooftop garden (it can help your heating-cooling costs too).  You can always expand.
  • Find free resources:  Many cities have Master Gardener groups and/or colleges with Horticultural Technician programs who will provide advice and support.
  • Have fun:  Who doesn’t want to escape their cube and get down and dirty?  Look at how popular mudder races have become.

It used to be that smokers were the best informed (although maybe not the most engaged or productive) employees in an organization as they chatted, regardless of rank or department,  over a smoke (or two) outside the back door.  Why not convert those smokers into gardeners and exchange those pails of stinky butts for a pot of fragrant herbs?

What are you waiting for?  Grow to it!