Horticulture + Health: an Interview with Dr. Andrea Faber Taylor

by Sandra Bjerga, RORG Student Team

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Andrea Faber Taylor about her background with horticulture, how she incorporates RORG service learning into her classes, and her research with nature and children.

A little about her:
Dr. Faber Taylor is a Teaching Assistant Professor in the Department of Crop Sciences who specializes in horticulture classes. She has been teaching at the University of Illinois since 2009. Prior to this, she was a PhD student and a Post-Doctoral Researcher. 

How horticulture relates to the Red Oak Rain Garden
Horticulture is the art and science of growing and caring for plants for means of garden maintenance, production of medicine, as well as comfort and ornamental purposes. The Red Oak Rain Garden relies heavily on horticulture, as it is home to 54 species of plants that need proper care. 

How did horticulture classes connect with the Red Oak Rain Garden?
RORG Director Eliana Brown knew Dr. Faber Taylor from a multi-functional landscapes class she audited a few years ago. Remembering what a great teacher she is, Eliana invited her and her students to participate in the garden installation. Subsequently in the fall of 2019, Dr. Faber Taylor brought her HORT 344: Planting for Biodiversity and Aesthetics class to one of RORG’s renovation work days. During this time, students were able to utilize hands-on experience and apply class information to tangible situations. She notes that the class loved planting the plugs of perennial flowers!

The following year, the service learning continued when she brought the fall 2020 HORT 344 class to gain valuable experience installing native plants and bulbs, while learning about them. RORG Designer Layne Knoche was onsite to teach the students about the rain garden plants. Dr. Faber Taylor emphasized that the opportunity to have this experience was unique and convenient, as there are only a few outdoor labs on campus! 

Andrea Faber Taylor and her HORT 344 Class with Layne Knoche at RORG, Fall 2020

Dr. Faber Taylor’s research
Dr. Faber Taylor’s research focuses mainly on the relationship between children’s experience of nature and how it can support healthy child development. She focuses on children’s cognitive functioning such as being able to concentrate, inhibit impulses, and self-regulate. More recently, she has been researching the relationship between planting design and supporting pollinators and other beneficial insects. She spends a portion of her time growing a variety of native perennials while taking a great deal of photos and videos to use in instruction courses and textbooks. Dr. Faber Taylor loves exploring the overlaps between designing supportive spaces for both children and pollinators!

How did she first become interested in exploring the relationship between nature and children? 
Dr. Faber Taylor first studied Ornamental Horticulture and Landscape Design for her Bachelor’s Degree and learned about the field of Environment and Behavior along the way. She earned her MS and PhD in Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences from the University of Illinois.

She explained, “I became curious about how landscape design impacts human functioning. As a child I had a lot of freedom to explore nature independently – in preschool years within my neighborhood in Ames, Iowa, and in elementary years on our wooded property and the surrounding farmland in Decatur, Indiana. I believe that had a profound impact on my interest in supporting children’s access to and connection with natural areas and designed greenspaces.”

Comparison between children and college-aged students engaging in nature
According to Dr. Faber Taylor, anyone can benefit from time in a greenspace, regardless of age. Greenspaces help improve quality of life, as they reduce stress while supporting mental and physical health. College students might find greenspaces especially helpful as a brain-break from their academic workload. She went on to explain that students can use greenspaces to recover from attentional fatigue.

She also notes that more frequent exposure to nature can increase its positive heath benefits. Visits to greenspaces help both in the moment and over the long run, acting as a buffer against the daily causes of stress and mental fatigue. Take this as your cue to go outside and enjoy natural areas! 🙂

RORG’s Tulips and native Foamflower. Photo by Sandra Bjerga, April 2021

I’d like to give a huge thank you to Dr. Faber Taylor for this exciting interview and her willingness to share her experience with others! We hope you enjoyed reading about horticulture and how it relates to the Red Oak Rain Garden! – Sandra

Cover photo by Eliana Brown.

Sandra Bjerga is a member of the Red Oak Rain Garden Student Team. She is a Senior at UIUC majoring in Communication and dual minoring in Public Relations & Psychology. 

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