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  • Author or Editor: Erja Rappe x
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There is considerable evidence that children in modern society are losing their contact with nature and, more precisely, with green plants. Is this also the case in Finland, a northern country famous for its forests and wild nature? This study examines the relationship of 9- to 10-year-old Finnish schoolchildren with the green environment and plants. The data were gathered by a questionnaire comprising structured and open-ended questions. The focus of the research was on two comparisons: first, on the nature and child relationship in rural and urban neighborhoods and, second, among boys and girls. Participants in the study amounted to a total of 76 children, 42 in the Helsinki suburb area and 34 in Paltamo. The results suggested that the children in rural surroundings had closer contact with nature than their urban associates. For example, the children of Paltamo reported to know the trees better, and considered human beings to be part of nature more often (100% vs. 76% of the pupils in Helsinki, P = 0,003). Similarly, the results showed that girls in the study (N = 48) were more interested in plants than boys (N = 28). For the girls, the beauty and joy of plants was important, whereas the boys appreciated plants as the source of life. After the pre-questioning, the children of Helsinki participated in an in-class horticultural intervention and 10 days later, answered a similar questionnaire again. The results of the open-ended questions revealed that equally to children in other Western countries, Finnish children may also be in danger of losing their direct contact with the natural environment. It was common to pass free time in organized sports such as hockey or football (boys), or by just walking and talking with friends (girls). Rural children told that they still built huts, pick berries, and climb trees, whereas urban children played in parks and city groves. The results suggest that it is essential to research further the children's own experiences if we are to understand, and subsequently, to enhance, the crucial role of the green environment in their lives. Horticultural interventions can be effective starting points to add to children's knowledge, affection, and interest toward greenery, but it is highly recommended that they take place outdoors rather than indoors.

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Depression is a major health problem among the elderly. Its prevalence is high among those in long-term care. Exposure to the garden environment may alleviate depressive symptoms, but there is little research evidence to confirm this hypothesis. In this study we investigated the perceived effects and meanings related to garden visits among older individuals living in long-term care and assessed whether there are associations between experiences from garden visits and self-rated depression. Data were gathered by surveying 30 elderly people living in Kustaankartano, a nursing home and service center for elderly people in Helsinki, Finland. Prevalence of self-rated depression was high; 46% of the participants were depressed. Both being in the garden and seeing it from the balcony and observing nature were of great significance for most of the participants. For more than half of the participants, visiting the garden improved mood, quality of sleep, and ability to concentrate; it generated feelings of recovery and promoted peace of mind. Affective effects of visiting the garden tended to be more pronounced among the depressed than among those not depressed. The depressed did not consider social interaction and participation in social activities very important for their well-being. Depression tended to be related to perception of the residents that they experienced hindrances and distresses associated with visiting the garden. Although there were indicative differences between the depressed and nondepressed participants in garden experiences, the results suggest that visiting the garden may affect the subjective well-being of both groups positively.

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In this qualitative research conducted in Finland, 12 residents in sheltered housing for aged people were interviewed to explore the meanings they associate with the growing of plants. Growing plants had both individual and social meanings for the interviewees. The individual meanings were categorized into three groups: one's own growing skills, the continuity of time, and creating experiences. The category “one's own growing skills” was coded into three subcategories: individual settings and growing methods, interpretation of the plants' needs and responses, and adaptation to current situation. The social meanings identified in the data were also divided into three categories: significant acts undertaken for other people, indications about the gardener, and the feeling of togetherness. The results of the research suggest that growing plants may have an effect on the well-being of the elderly who have a rural background and are living in institutional settings, especially for those aspects threatened by institutional environments: autonomy, a sense of control, identity, and the opportunity to form social relationships.

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The restorative effects of nature in enhancing human well-being are well documented. However, the effects of exposure to a green environment on health in institutional settings have not been adequately studied. Our study describes the relationship between the reported frequency of visits to an outdoor green environment and self-rated health, including hindrances experienced during outdoor visits among older people living in a nursing home. Forty-five women assessed their health and answered a questionnaire containing the Nottingham Health Profile (NHP) during an interview. A strong positive association was established between the reported frequency of visiting outdoors and self-rated health even when taking into account health-related distresses measured using the NHP (B = 0.235, P < 0.01). The main hindrances related to outdoor visits were lack of assistance and uncomfortable weather conditions. The results suggest that it might be possible to promote the well-being of older individuals living in nursing homes by providing them with opportunities to visit outdoor green environments. By increasing the accessibility and attractiveness of the outdoor environment, the frequency of outdoor visits could increase, resulting in better perceived health. Implementation of environmental interventions that facilitate year-round outdoor visits are recommended.

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Approaches using human issues in horticulture (HIH) offer new possibilities to develop nearby nature in cities, especially during a period of rapid urbanization in Finland. New initiatives have been developed in school gardening, environmental education, gardening in training programs for disabled people, therapeutic environments in hospitals and institutions, and in the University of Helsinki horticultural education and research programs. At the University of Helsinki, two contact teaching courses and national seminars were organized in 1996 and 1998. Initial studies in the HIH approach have three main themes: 1) gardening as a tool for better quality of life in homes for the elderly, 2) ecology, native plants and extensive maintenance in parks, and 3) the use of horticulture in environment and science education at the lower level of the comprehensive school.

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