Discussing Biophilic Design Principles

A lush garden in Texas with petunias, daylilies, and kale in the foreground with a pergola framing a mother and teenage son on a bench swing hung from the structure. The path in front of them is walled with mixed annual display beds accenting perennial lavender, catmint, and boxwood, as they wind to the right holding red feather celosia as a feature with a lush grassy lawn opening up to evergreens in a woodland garden in the distance.
Two chairs sit at a table on a deck which is laden with containers filled with elephant ear, wandering jew, succulents, alyssum, floss flower, petunias, creeping jenny, and Algerian ivy. All are placed on the wooden deck, table, and suspended throughout from both hangers and metal art.
A view of a colorful container garden

We spent some time this past week on the east coast getting to know quite a few individuals and groups that are working on ways to incorporate nature into their lives. We also got a lot of really good recommendations, one of which lead us to a detailed article discussing biophilic design. In “The Practice of Biophilic Design”Stephen R. Kellert and Elizabeth F. Calabrese go into great detail about biophilia and what it means to us as individuals and communities, with respect to “design and development of the modern built environment.”

This article describes five basic principles that, although in the written work are geared toward designing buildings and landscapes, are relative to the general discussion of how we can benefit from connecting with nature. The idea is to work with these principles as new designs are developed, but we can also use these directives to guide us in our daily efforts to connect with nature.

The first principle: “Biophilic design requires repeated and sustained engagement with nature.” This is a very important point. A trip to the “country” once a year isn’t enough. If we live in urban environments we must connect with nature on a regular basis for a reasonable length of time.

“Biophilic design focuses on human adaptations to the natural world that over evolutionary time have advanced people’s health, fitness and well-being.” A literal example of this adaptation is the use of natural materials, like wood, to build a home that offers us shelter. But it is not just the direct benefit, there is an added benefit, to our physical and mental health when we incorporate aspects of nature.


A lush garden in Texas with petunias, daylilies, and kale in the foreground with a pergola framing a mother and teenage son on a bench swing hung from the structure. The path in front of them is walled with mixed annual display beds accenting perennial lavender, catmint, and boxwood, as they wind to the right holding red feather celosia as a feature with a lush grassy lawn opening up to evergreens in a woodland garden in the distance.
A mother and son take a break to connect with nature.


“Biophilic design encourages an emotional attachment to particular settings and places.” We feel a connection with nature and want to be in the places that feed our love of life and living things.  We may even long to return after a time, which goes back to the first point, of needing to engage with nature regularly.

“Biophilic design promotes positive interactions between people and nature that encourage an expanded sense of relationship and responsibility for the human and natural communities.” This point is of great value when considering the development of communities. Every block, school district, neighborhood, or city is a community, which as a whole can benefit from a connection to nature.


Two children are led along a simple path around a garden pond. Water plants frame the edge of the pond and draw the eye to the background where the children are engrossed in a myriad of plant life and garden inhabitants.
Children are captivated with the details of a garden.


“Biophilic design encourages mutual reinforcing, interconnected, and integrated architectural solutions.” This point is directly related to design and can be considered even with existing structures. Even if a building is already standing it can work to connect us to nature with some additions, changes, or even simple adjustments.

Just after sunset at the Chicago Botanic Garden we see the silhouette of a fowl sculpture depicting what appears to be ducks in midflight entering and leaving the reflecting pond in the background. The pond has a fountain streaming high in to the air with a single light at the bottom to help backlight the metal sculpture against the twilight sky.
Metal sculpture of birds in flight.

These principles are a good starting point. The article goes on at length about many aspects of biophilic design, which we will touch upon here in future posts. You can find the link to this article, and many other papers, on our Resources page. We leave you with the true motivation…When we live in environments that connect us to nature and support biophilia the results can be more than substantial…

“The successful application of biophilic design should also result in a wide spectrum of physical, mental and behavioral benefits. Physical outcomes include enhanced physical fitness, lower blood pressure, increased comfort and satisfaction, fewer illness symptoms, and improved health. Mental benefits range from increased satisfaction and motivation, less stress and anxiety, to improved problem solving and creativity. Positive behavioral change includes better coping and mastery skills, enhanced attention and concentration, improved social interaction, and less hostility and aggression.”

The goal of our efforts in our community and into yours is to see all these benefits, the improvements of strengths and the decline of weaknesses, with the simple act of connecting with nature.  Tell us, in the comments below, how would you like to incorporate these principles in your community?


This image is taken at the English Walled Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden. It has multiple layers almost like a reverse tiered cake. In the front we have a small reflecting pond with water lilies and allium. Our eye moves up a foot along a stone wall to a flat stone walk way surrounding the water. Before the two stone steps up to the grassy lawn area we see the path wall bordered by sun loving perennials, backed with hydrangea and climbing ivy surrounding a stone water fountain.
A multi-leveled garden space with many points of interest.

A New Year at Keeler Gardens

Viewing from the perspective of an ant on the ground we look through what appears to be a giant forest of tulips of a rainbow of colors. The tulips in the foreground seem to match the Chicago Skyline behind with the Sears Tower prominently anchoring the buildings.

Welcome to 2017


This is our first winter as a formal non-profit, Keeler Gardens. Keeler Gardens is all about biophilia so we thought we would introduce ourselves, and the term, here in our first formal blog post of the year. Biophilia is defined as the love of living things or the love of life, and you’ll find that definition along with a lot of descriptors on our Biophilia page. Here today we’re going to talk about a wide variety of different things that will give us fodder for the entire year.


Deep below the hiking trails above the bluffs we see the calm stream that helped to carve these giant limestone bluffs. Aside from a few ripples from a stone or branch colliding upstream it is almost a mirror image of the landscape above.
A calming view of a stream near Starved Rock in Illinois.


So we love living things, we love life, we’re inspired by that which is filled with life around us. All of us actually have a desire to be connected to nature and living things. It’s one of the reasons why we love pictures of kittens and puppies, and when we see beautiful landscapes it just warms us from the inside out. Those feelings, those are our connections to nature. And when we feed that connection, and we give ourselves that respite, it actually does something to our brains and our bodies that makes us healthier, happier people.


A beautiful gray tabby with a hint of dark smoke rings adorn her from head to toes to tail. Her yellow eyes staring towards the ground as she lets a paw dangle off the couch as she wonders why she has been woken up from her nap. In the background her dark gray brother appears to be sound asleep except for one ear that stands at attention.
Cats and all pets help us to connect with nature.


This giant weeping willow tree stands as a giant guardian almost all but blocking the view of the water behind it. It's huge branches arch down towards the water like a hundred horses stopping to drink at a river.
An inspiring weeping willow tree.

Now this isn’t a touchy-feely kind of post, this is really meant to introduce you to some of the aspects of what we’re trying to educate on. For example, we’ll talk about that beautiful landscape…you ever need a break to go outside and take a breath of fresh air, you walk around the neighborhood, you walk through a park, take your dog for a walk, and then you find that when you return, you’re more focused. There is a study on our Resources page that actually shows given an hour or so of time in a natural setting a group of participants were able to perform better on a cognitive test. I could go into a lot of details about this backward digit-span test but it would confuse us all, so suffice it to say these tests are considered standard procedure for gauging your level of focus and cognitive abilities, and when you do better on these tests it means your cognitive abilities have improved. So these studies are showing that cognitive ability actually does improve when you spend a little bit of time connected to nature; they had a control group that spent time in the urban downtown area instead and they did not have improved cognitive performance. So you spend a little time outdoors, you get smarter. And although it’s not that simple, we are trying to teach a bit about the simplicity of connecting with nature here at Keeler Gardens.


Sun barely shines through the fence
Multiple aspects call us to connect, stone steps, ground cover, flowers, and a peek at the sun.


Metal lion heads adorn this decorative base to a light pole. The black metal iron is a popular place for these little salamanders to sun themselves. This one freezes after trying to make a break for it hoping no one notices a grey lizard on a black metal lion.
A lizard caught on a iron rail, which itself is a work of art.

How to connect with nature?

Our programs will educate on horticulture, of course, and there’s all living things, like animals, wild and domestic. But there’s also all the elements, the soil, stone, mountains, stars in the sky, and the sun, that all have a connection to us and our lives, by providing for us, by sheltering us, by warming us, and more.

Some other options for ways to connect with nature are art and using all the senses. That study we mentioned earlier also showed just looking at images of landscapes improved or “restored” cognitive function. There are so many different ways we can participate and our educational programs discuss macro issues, like conservation, and also micro issues, you as an individual and our community, the block we live on, our neighborhood. We hope we will soon be reaching our whole city, our county, and the entire Midwest and beyond.

So how would it work?

How does this innate desire and connecting to nature change our lives? Well, let’s just say we could teach everyone to find their personal outlet to nature and every day they made an effort to spend 15 minutes, half an hour, or even an hour feeding that connection. They would have less fatigue, more time to do more things, they might make better decisions and have better problem solving skills, and they might want to build a better community. And if everyone in the community participates, the values of the community improve. The goals sounds lofty but they are so very achievable. All we need is our community members to participate, teachers, students, garden club members, local businesses, kids, parents, grandparents, people of all ages and any level of knowledge can learn and grow.


Viewing from the perspective of an ant on the ground we look through what appears to be a giant forest of tulips of a rainbow of colors. The tulips in the foreground seem to match the Chicago Skyline behind with the Sears Tower prominently anchoring the buildings.
The Chicago skyline from the perspective of the ants.


So briefly, our programs can be here at Keeler Gardens.  At our site you can spend some time in nature with us, we can have discussions, presentations, some hands-on activities, we can even teach you a lot about working in an urban space. We can come to your site, your school, your group, your event. We can come once, we can come on a regular basis. It all depends on what you want to learn, how intense you want the experience to be, and how much information there is to share.


A yellow, black, and white caterpillar is eating a milkweed leaf that it is holding on to the bottom of. In the background there is a blue sprig of saliva.
A hungry caterpillar fills up for her upcoming metamorphosis.


Content of programs will range widely from environmental issues, like conservation and native plants and habitats, all the way to the other end of the spectrum with art, music, and anything that motivates anyone to communicate and connect with nature. We will customize any program or series of programs to whatever a groups’ needs are.


At first glance it looks like a table of leaves, sticks, and antlers. After closer inspection each piece of nature reveals that they are silver and copper metal work, that other then it's metallic shine, is hard to tell from nature's real thing. It is metalwork by Ben & Lael, INC
An example of nature-inspired metalwork art.
Two tall canvas paintings by Meg Fine Art, sit side by side at an art show. Heavy blue tones cover both with as the one on the left depicts a vining flower with accents of a red cardinal and the one on the right features a beautiful blue butterfly.
Original art on cloth draws nature indoors.

So take advantage of one of our programs, recommend us to a group, find us on social media, and join our mailing list. We are certain to find a way to connect you with nature so we can all reap the benefits. And just to give you a little incentive a quote from our Biophilia page regarding the benefits of connecting with nature:

Some tangible results are rejuvenation and increased attention. Fatigue and stress lessen, while productivity, problem-solving and mastery skills improve. Decision-making and self-discipline improve, and it fosters creativity and personality development. Healing is enhanced while childhood diagnoses are reduced.


Two benchs positioned perfectly at the end of the dock are drenched with the orange tones of sunset looking southward on Saginaw Bay on Lake Huron in northern Michigan.
Two benches wait for the us to enjoy the sunset in northern Michigan.

Have a question?

You can comment below. You can reach us on social media @KeelerGardens or you can always email me at gg@keelergardens.com

Let us know in the comments, “What connects you with nature?”


A lush landscape bathed in yellow light as the sun starts to set. The shrubs adorn the hillside that is home to the waterfall garden. In a break towards the top one can see the top of one of the waterfalls and almost hear the water trickle down the hill.
Fall view touched by the sun.