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Researchers Avoid Dreary Winter Landscapes By Creating Those With Year-Round Visual Appeal

Dec 29, 2015 05:33 PM EST
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Although the appearance of plants and trees are known to change between seasons, a new study from Temple University offers recommendations for designing landscapes in temperate climates that people can enjoy year-round. Using photographs depicting landscapes in various seasons, researchers were able to determine peoples' perceptions and preferences for the color complexity of changing scenes.

"Plant and vegetative color changes may influence human perception and affect preference ratings and complexity estimations," Rob Kuper, lead researcher from the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture at Temple University, explained in a news release

According to Kuper, determining whether and how measures of categorical colors (that is, plants and vegetation in tones of red, green, blue, etc.) and perceptual colors (landscapes with variations of reds, greens, and blues) affect consumers' landscape preferences can ultimately be used to create landscapes with a year-round visual appeal. 

"Plant growers, scientists, designers, and installers can benefit from understanding and predicting whether people prefer landscapes containing categorical colors, perceptual colors, or neither," he added. 

Study participants at architecture project sites in New York and Pennsylvania were asked to rate how much they liked the landscape scenery in each of 48 color photographs depicting four visual states of plant growth -- winter dormancy, foliation, flowering, and senescence. Furthermore, participants were asked to estimate the complexity or richness of the landscapes depicted in each of the photos. 

Overall, researchers found participants preferred foliated landscapes over winter dormancy and senescent plants and vegetation. However, preferences for flowering scenes were not significantly different from those for foliated scenes. This suggests study participants generally liked scenes that were green more than those that were brown. 

"The significant and strong effect on preference ratings implies that participants' perceptions may have been affected by the plant and vegetative visual changes that were depicted between the photographs," Kuper said. "Environmental designers and managers should generally consider the colors that plants and vegetation display during foliation, flowering, senescence, and dormancy. For example, using evergreen trees and shrubs in landscapes could help consumers' preferences hold steady rather than drop during winter."

Another solution, Kuper explained, is to use plants that produce colorful berries or stems, as well as plants that emerge from winter dormancy early and enter winter dormancy later. His analysis was recently published in the journal HortTechnology.

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