From lemon balm tea in a Martian house to lemon verbena in the woods

Exterior shot of the Martian house in situ in Bristol, UK, September 2022
Exterior shot of the Martian house in situ in Bristol, UK, September 2022
The Martian House in Bristol, UK, September 2022

Sometimes you don’t know how you feel about something until the morning after. Yesterday I visited a prototype Martian house, learnt about growing plants hydroponically and participated in a ‘plant-bathing’ meditation and tea ceremony. We picked lemon balm leaves from the indoor garden to make our tea.

Over tea, we talked about how extraordinary growing plants would be for the wellbeing of anyone living on Mars.

How the plants would be the only green thing they would see on that planet.

About ‘viriditas’, a term coined by Hildegard von Bingen (everyone’s favourite C12th abbess and also a musical genius) to refer to the life force and vitality of green leaves and also within us.

How witnessing a plant grow would be a measure of time in an alien environment, where days, years and seasons are unlike those on Earth. How the plants would become companions, and how one Russian cosmonaut became particularly attached to an onion he grew in space, effectively keeping it as a pet.

About shinrin-yoku, the Japanese practice of forest-bathing (like sun-bathing but under the trees) and the discovery of phytoncides. These chemicals, emitted by plants, affect our mood and health, offering a rational explanation for why being amongst plants can make us feel better.

From a Martian house back to Earth…

A poster reading 'CAN DESIGNING FOR MARS GIVE US THE PERSPECTIVE WE NEED FOR LIVING ON EARTH?'

The Martian house has been created by artists Ella Good and Nicki Kent in collaboration with Hugh Broughton Architects and Pearce+, with Katy Connor bringing the plants. Its purpose is not an earnest attempt to get us to Mars. It’s more a thought project in what we really need and how we can fulfil our needs sustainably, which is most immediately applicable to our lives on Earth.

It’s fascinating, and a credit to the impact of the project, that the day after visiting I find myself in the woods. It wasn’t my plan for the day; my usual luxury is to go to a cafe to write and enjoy some form of rainbow latte (matcha, tumeric, yet to try beetroot but intrigued).

Today I woke up and felt like walking to the woods. This was fairly impractical because I had work to do. But I looked at the weather forecast, and it looked dry. I considered how we’re getting towards the end of September and there won’t be many more decent days before winter. So I packed my writing things and prepared to endure weird looks from dog-walkers for sitting using a laptop in the woods.

All those things we talked about being valuable on Mars: the green, the viriditas, the seasons, the companionship of plants, the phytoncides… they’re valuable here too. And I woke up wanting them here on Earth. I took lemon verbena leaves grown at home, brewed them into tea, and took it with me into the woods.

And it was an apt place to work on my The Word for World is Forest presentation!