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Enjoying autumn beauty has health benefits

With blue skies, crisp breezes and the rustle of dried falling leaves it is hard to resist the appeal of an autumn spent outdoors in Ohio. By early October, the first glimpses of fall color were becoming more common around the state as Ohio’s trees began their colorful transformation. Each year the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) offers updates throughout October to help people maximize their chances for enjoying the fall color around the state.

“The weather is settling in nicely with bright, sunny days and cool evenings, which will provide the vibrant colors of fall in Ohio,” said Casey Burdick, ODNR fall color forester. “Honeylocusts are showing golden and yellow shades while maples, especially along the edges of woods and in urban areas, are showing some early blushes of red.”

People interested in finding the most eye-catching leaves throughout the fall color season should check fallcolor.ohiodnr.gov, Ohio’s official guide to the changing colors.

As far as maximizing the beauty of autumn around homes and gardens for future years, Paul Snyder, program assistant at Secrest Arboretum in Wooster, has some great suggestions of trees and shrubs that really showcase autumn beauty.

  • Blackgum, or black tupelo, and specifically the types called Wildfire and Tupelo Tower. Both blaze red in autumn.
  • Hybrid witch hazel, whose fiery fall foliage is red, orange or yellow. “They’re great plants that everyone asks about, but very few garden centers sell them,” he said.
  • Fragrant abelia, a shrub whose leaves turn fiery, too — in shades of red, orange and yellow.
  • Carolina allspice, also a shrub, whose leaves glow golden-yellow.
  • Bald cypress, a deciduous conifer, whose needles — before they drop — turn copper.
  • Golden larch, another deciduous conifer, whose needles become, yes, golden.
  • Large fothergilla. “It’s my favorite shrub for fall color,” Snyder said. “The color lasts three weeks at least and is a mix of red, orange, yellow or purple.”

While autumn may be one of the best times of year to be outdoors, there is growing evidence quantifying something those involved in agriculture have long known — spending time outside is good for you all year round. To gain a better understanding of the therapeutic value of gardens and other outdoor areas, in mid-September Ohio State University’s Secrest Arboretum dedicated the Lemmon and Rice Health and Wellness Garden was designed to boost visitors’ sense of well-being and to provide opportunities for research into the impact gardens and nature have on human health.

Located on the campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, the 115-acre arboretum encompasses a variety of demonstration and research plantings that support the state’s horticulture industry and also provide spaces for community engagement and enjoyment.

“Secrest currently has many visitors who enjoy and use the arboretum as a part of their wellness program,” said Joe Cochran, Secrest’s interim director. “For example, one visitor recently told me that he had lost 36 pounds somewhere on the paths throughout the gardens — jokingly saying that if we found them, we did not need to return them. The new garden will provide even more opportunities to give visitors a sense of well-being.”

Secrest Arboretum partnered with Ohio State’s College of Nursing to come up with a concept for the garden, make decisions about its design elements, and to conduct future research projects.

“The Lemmon and Rice Health and Wellness Garden is one of the country’s few gardens designed around the concept of the pillars of wellness,” said Usha Menon, former professor and director of graduate nursing science programs in the College of Nursing. “We recommended following this concept because the pillars tie into how well a person feels overall.”

There are nine pillars of wellness: emotional, social, physical, spiritual, career, financial, creative, environmental and intellectual. The garden focuses on six of them: environmental, physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual and social.

“There is little research conducted specifically on wellness gardens,” Menon said. “Given the formative nature of this research, the Lemmon and Rice Health and Wellness Garden will offer several research opportunities, including the influence on quality of life of community residents with or without a chronic illness, the influence on urban adolescents who may not have access to such a space regularly, and around specific components of the pillars of wellness — which has not been researched, either.”

The garden was constructed thanks to donations from Bill Lemmon, president and owner of development company Lemmon & Lemmon Inc., and Kevin Rice, vice president of Rice’s Nursery and Landscaping — both located in the Canton, Ohio, area. Rice also designed the garden.

“I’m an Ohio State graduate. My grandfather and father came from Wooster. This is something I wanted to do for the university,” Lemmon said about the garden. “I believe plants are very important in people’s health, and I hope this garden will be beneficial for people of all ages in the community as well as for research.”

While the field of wellness garden research is still in its infancy, several studies have shown the benefits of gardening, gardens and other outdoor spaces on health. For example:

  • Gardening three to five times a week has been found to be a good strategy to combat obesity and lower stress.
  • Patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain taking part in horticultural therapy programs experience an improved ability to cope with chronic pain.
  • Children with attention deficit disorder who play in grassy, outdoor spaces have less severe symptoms than those who play in windowless, indoor settings.
  • Patients with clinical depression who participated in routine therapeutic gardening activities experienced a reduction of severity of depression and increased attentional capacity —benefits that lasted up to three months after the program ended.
  • Dementia patients who have access to gardens are less likely to display aggression or suffer injuries, and they display improved sleep patterns, balanced hormones and decreased agitation.

For Cochran, Secrest Arboretum is the perfect place to conduct new and innovative research into the benefits of garden and green spaces and further collaborations between Ohio State campuses and colleges, communities and other partners.

“I feel that this garden and the entire arboretum go hand in hand with The Ohio State University’s discovery theme of Health and Wellness,” Cochran said. “We are committed to helping people learn, explore, wonder and connect with the natural world and, in doing so, we hope that their lives become less stressful and that their overall wellness improves.”

For those looking for some great fall getaway ideas outside of the farm fields visit discoverohio.com. ODNR and TourismOhio are offering a Best of #OhioFall15 Photo Contest. Post your Ohio Fall Foliage photos to Instagram or Facebook using the hashtag #ohiofall15 by Nov. 30, and follow @OhioDNR and @ohiogram and like the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Discover Ohio on Facebook.




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