Native Plants are the Best! The great out-of-doors is becoming an increasingly popular destination in our communities. On one of the guided plant-walks this spring, organized by the City of San Luis Obispo’s Park and Recreation Dept. in the Reservoir Canyon Natural Reserve, more than 100 participants turned up at the trailhead, on a Sunday afternoon. There were people of all ages from toddlers in backpacks to seniors, all prepared for a guided tour through the natural splendor of our coastal hills. As I observed all the excitement of getting out in nature, I recalled the results of a study I had seen, emphasizing that children spend more time outside their homes and class rooms, in natural surroundings – just being kids.

The crowd at the Reservoir Canyon Trailhead. Photo by Bill Waycott.

In the article published in The Guardian newspaper, Aug. 16, 2010, Jon Henley reports there is a growing body of knowledge illustrating the importance for children to be out in nature. Results of studies done in the past several years suggest that if children don’t spend time in nature as they mature, their development as individuals is impacted, and the whole society, is too. In one Kaiser Family Foundation study, the average amount of time eight-to-18-year-old Americans spend using “entertainment media”, has grown to more than 53 hours a week; that’s about 7.5 hours per day.

The study said this is a problem that needs to be addressed, because the consequences of not allowing our children to play independently, out-of-doors are becoming commonplace. And, that time spent in nature, playing independently – a free-range childhood, as it were – can have a large beneficial effect on health.

Free and unstructured play in the outdoors boosts problem-solving skills, focus and self-discipline. Socially, it improves cooperation, flexibility, and self-awareness. Emotional benefits include reduced aggression and increased happiness.  The use of “green exercise” has been shown to produce rapid improvements in mental wellbeing and self-esteem, even when done only five minutes a day, especially by young people.

Therefore, the consequences of not getting outdoors and learning what nature has in store for us, can be sobering.  It’s a problem that modern technology cannot address, at least not at this stage, since excessive dependency on technology is what brought us to this point in the first place.

And, while in nature, our curiosity for what’s all around us grows and flourishes to the point where the natural images that we often see, begin to repeat themselves and by repeating, bring us to a greater appreciation of whatever surrounds us.  In this part of the world, it’s our unique assortment of verdant native plants that cover the landscapes, that help to restore our sanity.  Just five minutes in nature will help to equilibrate my senses and give me a more positive outlook on life.  And, while I am there, I will greet my old friends Ceanothus, Carex, Castilleja, and Coreopsis, just to name a few!!

-Bill Waycott