Why A Secret Garden Would Be Good For Your Office

There is increasing interest in the role that the natural environment has to play in human health and wellbeing. There has been quite a lot of research from the US and also here in the UK to prove that being in and around nature can reduce stress, increase your productivity and instil feelings of wellbeing and calmness. This can be linked to survival instincts in the past – just as spiders, snakes and heights make us scared, trees and plants signal safety. To add to the human health factor, the building sector has the largest potential for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions compared to other major emitting sectors -  green roofs provide shade, remove heat from the air, and reduce temperatures of the roof surface and surrounding air. Also, the London Bee Keeping Society, are promoting the use of pollinator-friendly plants and setting aside a ‘wild’ undisturbed area of your garden to help the bees of London!

Mindy Hadi from BRE is currently conducting an experiment in their own campus at Watford, finding out for herself the benefits of biophilia in the workplace. One year working in an office with no views of nature vs one year working in an office designed around biophilic principles. Employees will monitor levels of attention and concentration; they will also be asked to keep a sleep diary to help monitor their mood and health one year leading up to the refurb, then one year after the refurb. Some physiological and business measures (absenteeism, turnover etc) will also be taken into consideration to help measure productivity. This experiment is currently underway, and results will be published next year. In 2011 in the US, Erin Largo-Wright conducted a similar experiment to the one that Mindy Haling is currently performing – her findings were as predicted: those who had been in contact with nature had lower perceived stress levels and health scores represented fewer health concerns. Diana E Bowler found during research in 2010 that nature provides the particular environmental stimuli to allow restoration from attention fatigue, which occurs during the performance of cognitive tasks that require prolonged maintenance of directed attention.

Research from the US surrounding not only biophilia in the workplace but restorative gardens in the office too, shows that having these settings make you a nicer person! “Therapeutic landscapes are shown to improve individual self-understanding and to enhance the capacity to empathise with others.” Rose, E (2012). A study showed that after staring at a picture of nature for 2 minutes, people would be more likely to give away the $5 they had been given at the start of the experiment. When asked which they valued more – a) close relationships and serving of the wider community vs b) to be financially successful and to be admired by many, those who had been shown pictures of nature revealed they valued the relationships and community more than the extrinsic aspirations.

At the Reading International and Solidarity Centre in Reading,  they have installed a sustainable rooftop garden. This includes water harvesting and conservation, waste minimization and the use of reused and recyclable materials. They also have created their own renewable energy system with a wind turbine and solar panels on the chimney that powers the building. The garden was a practical solution for a leaking roof and heat insulation issues but has turned into a huge feature for the centre that draws in members of the public and scholars alike.

One London office building has gone above and beyond. At the White Collar Factory in Old Street, they added a 150m running track around the existing roof terrace where they would have otherwise installed a cleaning track. Employees of the building have access to a changing area and shower, with a track protected from the wind and with fantastic views of the city. The roof terrace itself has a café and bar and seating for the sunnier London days.

There are many other offices in London who are converting the roof space or top floor into a garden amenity accessible to all occupants. 80 Fenchurch Street has released images of its future 5 landscape terraces – the largest number of roof gardens in the city. They are seen as a huge selling point when looking for tenants, and offices that include this facility can achieve higher rent prices in London.

If none of that was enough, having a restorative garden or walking trail in/close to your office space is a Fitwel and WELL Building credit, so it is something that is recognized globally as being a positive factor for your office. The rationale is: “Providing a therapeutic landscape such as a restorative garden improves employee mental health, reduces stress levels and improves productivity”. Other countries actively promote green roofs. Sweden’s Scandinavian Green Roof Institute has important research facilities, Germany provides government subsidies and Tokyo has introduced laws which stipulate that 20% of new buildings should have green roofs.

As far as maintenance goes, why not create a gardening society within your team? Once every two weeks, ask them to get together at a lunchtime and spend some time pruning the plants, watering them and keep the maintenance costs down where you can! You could implement a smoke-free site too, so everyone can enjoy the space.

As more and more of our green spaces around the country are being built on for roads and houses, I think it is imperative that we utilize the floor plate on the roofs of our existing buildings to the best of its ability.  Wouldn’t it be great to look over London and see nothing but green rooftops?  


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