Final Report on The First National Symposium on the Role of Horticulture in Human Well-Being & Social Development

Paula Diane Relf
Extension Specialist
Virginia Tech
[Originally published at Virginia Tech]

In November 1988, a meeting was sponsored by the Office of Consumer Horticulture at Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University (VPI&SU) in Washington, D.C. to discuss a plan for gaining documentation of the benefits plants provide for human well-being and quality of life. Participants represented horticulture trade and professional associations. This meeting resulted in the agreement that it was time to take action on this idea. The first step agreed upon was to conduct a national symposium on the topic. The purpose of the symposium was to draw together those concerned individuals from among researchers, educators, users of research findings, and funding agencies to create a network for cooperative, sustained research and the sharing of findings for their rapid implementation. The Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) provided a grant to initiate the planning and implementation of such a symposium.

An organizing committee was formed consisting of: Diane Relf, VPI&SU; Charles Lewis, Morton Arboretum; Harold Tukey, University of Washington; Skip McAfee, American Society for Horticultural Science; Susan Lathrop, American Association of Botanical Gardens & Arboreta; and Chuck Richman, American Horticultural Therapy Association. Diane Relf and the staff of the Office of Consumer Horticulture at VPI&SU assumed the leadership role in this effort. The objectives and focus of the Symposium were determined, possible participants were identified, and a program was developed. This information was used in the funding proposal.

Funding for the symposium was solicitated from the horticulture industry and government agencies. Endorsement was requested from trade and professional associations. There were 18 financial contributors to the symposium and 17 endorsers from all areas within the horticulture industry.

In January 1990, adequate funding had been solicited to insure successful implementation of the symposium. The First National Symposium on The Role of Horticulture in Human Well-Being and Social Development was held April 19-21, 1990 in Arlington, Virginia. The objectives and focus of the symposium were:

to collect current research-based information on the psychological, physiological, and social responses of people to plants and publish it in symposium proceedings

to identify research priorities which will lead to an understanding of the relationships between people and plants and to seek ways horticulturists can work with social scientists and others to more fully understand and utilize these relationships

to initiate the development of a network for researchers, implementors of research findings, funding sources, and information dispersal systems.

The symposium began with an evening reception at the United States Botanic Garden. Thomas Fretz, Associate Dean and Director of the College of Agriculture, Iowa State University and Symposium Moderator; David Scheid, Director of the United States Botanic Garden; Charles Hess, Assistant Secretary for Science and Education for the United States Department of Agriculture; and James Nichols, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at VPI&SU welcomed the participants to the symposium and the Washington D.C. area.

Six topics were explored during the conference. They were:

Plants and Human Culture

Plants and the Community -- human interaction in communities as altered by plants in the environment

Plants and the Individual -- their influence on human behavior, physical health, and perceptions of comfort

Developing a Conceptual Framework -- the psycho- physiological responses of people to vegetation in a man-made context

Exploring a Specific Application -- Horticultural Therapy

Research Implementation.

A keynote address was given by an invited speaker for each of the six topics; three the first morning, the other three the next morning. Concurrent sessions corresponding to the morning keynote speeches were held each afternoon. At each concurrent session, three to five contributed papers and two to five posters were presented. Published proceedings of all keynote speeches, oral and poster presentations will be available in early 1991.

Over 160 people participated in the symposium, representing the countries of Japan, Norway, Germany, India, Canada, New Zealand, and Great Britain as well as 27 states and the District of Columbia. The horticulture industry, academia, professional and trade associations were represented at the symposium. The cross- discipline nature of this symposium was evident by the varied university departments that were represented -- biology, forestry, architecture, psychology, sociology, natural resources, landscape architecture, parks and recreation, as well as horticulture.

After the symposium the Office of Consumer Horticulture at VPI&SU mailed a press release and photos (if relevant) to all participants to put in their local newspapers and/or association newsletters. Articles on the symposium as well as information on people/plant interaction (PPI) have appeared in Nursery News, Interior Landscape Industry, Florist Magazine, and Greenhouse Grower in addition to the newsletters of the American Society for Horticultural Science, American Horticultural Therapy Association, Professional Plant Growers Association, and the Virginia Nurserymen's Association.

The day after the symposium, an Agenda-setting committee of 35 prominent people in this area met and decided the concepts unveiled during the meeting warranted concrete action. The internal and external assets and liabilities that can be attributed to the Human Issues in Horticulture (HIH) research initiative were determined. Several distinct recommendations were made, a follow-up meeting of this committee 6 months later was agreed upon, and a smaller, ad hoc committee was appointed to take specific actions immediately.

The ad hoc committee met on May 24 and formed the People-Plant Counsel (PPC). The PPC will carry on the work and sustain the drive that was started with the April symposium. The mission of this group is to improve the quality of life through horticulture. This mission is to be carried out through a five- part strategy focusing on the benefits that plants provide for human well-being through the psychological, sociological, physiological, economic, and environmental effects they produce:

Communication - maintain an interdisciplinary network between researchers, funders, users, and affiliates; provide research-based information to the horticulture community and allied users as well as the general public

Research - provide direction in identifiying research priorities and establish interdisciplinary research methodologies

Funding - establish a network to link researchers to funding sources including government agencies, public and private foundations, and co-operatives

Implementation - provide consulting services to users to implement research data; work with legislative staff of affiliated associations to provide information for legislative action in people-plant interaction

Education - encourage curriculum development to include people-plant interaction as an essential subject for courses at introductory and advanced levels.

The PPC will be comprised of organizations and associations which represent all facets of the horticulture community as well as associated disciplines, actively working to understand and utilize the intrinsic value of horticulture to improve life quality.

The follow-up meeting of the Agenda-setting committee was October 7 at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. The purpose of this meeting was to review the progress of this initiative, to review the prospectus for the PPC, identify potential affiliates of the PPC, and make firm commitments to the advancement of the PPC.

In the nearly two years since the start of this initiative, much has been accomplished. The funding you provided was the backbone for what has been achieved. The following are highlights of some of the major results of the symposium:

Formation of the People-Plant Counsel

Internationally distributed proceedings in early 1991

Increased publication on people/plant interaction

Presentations on people/plant interaction at several state, national, and international trade and professional horticultural association conferences

Recognition of this initiative and the value of PPI research by the USDA and other government organizations

Greater research efforts and funding for Human Issues in Horticulture research

Public education on people/plant interaction.

It is planned that the PPC will continue the development of this initiative, however, until the PPC is established and has a budget to work with, the Office of Consumer Horticulture has continued with the responsibility of keeping this initiative moving forward. A grant proposal has been submitted to several foundations to provide funds to establish:

a computer-accessed "Human Issues in Horticulture" bulletin board/database at VPI&SU, allowing international access to this information via the BITNET computer network or through direct subscription

the publication of a bi-monthly newsletter of current events, a new publications bibliography, abstracts, requests for assistance, grant sources, legislation, etc. relevant to PPI research and application.

The support you have shown for human issues in horticulture research is greatly appreciated and has led to a greater awareness of the benefits that plants provide for human life quality. This information is valuable not only from a humanistic viewpoint, but also for improved public relations for the horticulture industry. We look forward to working with you in the future as the People/Plant Counsel develops and influences research, education, public opinion, and someday, perhaps, legislation, on the use of plants to improve the quality of life.

Thank you.

submitted by: P. Diane Relf, Chair Organizing Committee