An Eco-Active Imagination

Hello, readers! I'm Jennifer Downs, a graduate student here at Louisiana Tech University and intern in grant-writing at NCLAC. As this is the first post in my series "An Eco-Active Imagination," allow me to explain my premise. Even though my studies in technical writing keep me busy with grants, memos, and reports, there are few things I enjoy more than being creative and imaginative in my free time. However, I do not consider myself an artist or a performer in a traditional sense (not counting that time I played a witch in a high school production of Macbeth). Creativity and artistic expression are still very important, even for people like me who do not have a penchant for the more traditional artistic disciplines. In fact, studies of the human brain have shown that creativity is an active and essential element of human development. “Creative people are more responsive to sensory stimulation ... and increased goal-directed behavior.” Even more interesting is that scientists do not define creative outlets as just painting or music, for example; creative outlets can also include language, mathematics, or any other activity that involves multiple regions of the brain, especially those that enable “interactions between the temporal and frontal lobe.” (Source: Psychology Today) In short, when you use your imagination, you are giving your brain the kind of work-out that it needs to both stay alert and help keep you motivated.

Therefore, when I was presented with the opportunity to write a weekly blog post, I decided to keep the importance of creative expression in mind. "An Eco-Active Imagination" is all about incorporating three of my interests in daily activities, art (of course), green living, and health and wellness. “Green living” is a lifestyle focused on sustainability and a broad, positive environmental impact outside of oneself, whereas “health and wellness” includes the personal benefits. These two themes can be significant in nontraditional art, helping people exercise their creative muscles, so to speak, and feel the benefits within themselves while witnessing positive changes around them as well.

In this blog series “An Eco-Active Imagination,” I will write about activities and projects that (1) encourage creativity and artistic expression, (2) are in the spirit of “green living” or eco-friendly, and (3) benefit the mind and the body. All of my entries will include some kind of outdoor element, and my hope is that readers will be inspired to get out and enjoy their summer by taking part of activities with a artistic side to them. Most importantly, each of my entries will have a scientific study to support the claims I made about health and wellness benefits so that you can go forth and research it further, should you desire. Now, without further ado, this week's topic on "An Eco-Friendly Imagination" is ...


I know what you are thinking. Wow, gardening? I bet she thought for all of five minutes to come up with this “original” idea.

Ladies and gents, if you will allow me to explain: gardening is one of the most obvious outdoorsy, eco-friendly activities out there, but it is also open to all kinds of new variations, interpretations, and iterations. You don't have to know landscape architecture or be able to name every perennial flower in Louisiana to be a gardener. You don't even have to have land to convert into flower beds or a collection of gnomes to litter your front lawn. No, you merely need the time and the passion in order to create a garden, and the rest of the details will work themselves out.

Artistic Expression

Simple arrangement of planters and decorative pieces On the right is an example of a simple, unconventional little garden that belongs to a friend of mine. I use the term “garden” loosely, because these flowers and cacti are not planted in the ground, nor do they follow a pathway.

However, this arrangement was made with thought and care. She tends these plants daily, and these potted plants accent the doorway and the flowering bushes on either side of the steps. There are also wind chimes and an aged, weathered chair used as decorative pieces. She did not have much room or land to work with, but she was still able to create this welcoming image for visitors to enjoy.

In the image, my friend used traditional clay pots as planters, but there are other ways to place flowers and cacti around your home. For instance, you can purchase premade, mountable planters like these off-the-wall planters or steel, three-ring mountable planters from the designer collective Poketo. Or if you prefer to create your own planters, DIY blogs like Elsie Larson's A Beautiful Mess can show you how to turn baskets into a multi-level hanging planter. The possibilities for creativity are numerous, as you are free to choose the material and structural properties of the planters. Experiment!

Additional decorative pieces can make your planter arrangement look beautiful and nostalgic. My friend used an old wooden chair that she repainted and hung wind chimes, but, as with planters, there are numerous possibilities. You can create sculptures, hang chimes or mobiles, or place aged or “vintage” furniture that you have. Second-hand stores are a great place to start, and there are several places you can go in the Ruston area, including: Rolling Hills Thrift Store on the Farmerville Hwy, Callie's Corner, and “Second Chance” Consignment on Monroe St. in Ruston. You can also try the nearest Goodwill outlet. For Saturday morning garage sales, check the Ruston Daily Leader to see suggested routes and maps or refer to the announcements in your area's newspaper.


In its purest form, gardening can be eco-friendly and part of sustainable living.

  1. Reuse or repurpose old jars, cans, crates, and baskets as planters. Now you don't have to throw those old objects away, where they will ultimately go to a landfill. You can save money, gas, and materials by not going out to buy a new planter.
  2. Avoid overworking the land or having to clear away plant life in order to find place for you garden. Clearing land is sometimes a necessity, but remember that destroying an environment, however small, can affect local wildlife.
  3. Avoid pesticides and other harmful chemicals that are present in some fertilizers, for example. Pesticides can harm local plant and wildlife. For fertilizer, consider a natural alternative like compost, which is made biodegradable waste, such as banana peals, raked-up leaves, and rotten vegetables. It is easy to start a compost pile in your backyard.
  4. Whenever possible, plant your own herbs, vegetables, and fruits rather than buying them from elsewhere. You save money by not having to travel to the store and buy those same vegetables. Plus, the quality of your food will improve. For example, a home-grown tomato tastes much better than a store-bought tomato, because it is not overproduced and modified for quantity over quality.

By taking these steps, you can create and enjoy your garden without taking away from the environment.

Health and Wellness

Personally, I associate gardening with meditation, as planting flowers or vegetables is a methodical and peaceful act. It requires concentration and attention to detail. In fact, gardening is used in rehabilitative settings (called horticultural therapy) because it “reduces stress and calms the nerves.” In several studies, gardening also had a “positive impact” on people with behavioral problems who chose to “make changes in their lives for the better.” (Source: NPR)

Gardening can relieve a stressed mind. When coupled with the creative elements, including planters and decorations, gardening also stirs the creative juices and, as a result, activates multiple areas of the brain and, in turn, increases awareness and motivation.

Finally, gardening is not a passive hobby; you become active when you get up and go outside, till soil, and arrange furniture and planters. Being active is part of a healthy lifestyle.

You may have noticed that I did not include pictures of my adventures in gardening, but I have my reasons. I'm in the process of moving across town at the moment, but a few months ago I tried my hand at growing herbs. Sadly, the mint that I planted did not last long (especially when finals week rolled around). Once I'm settled in my new home, I plan to try again.

Do you have any gardening tips and advice to share? Or do you have any pictures of your garden, including creative planters or decorations?