Monthly Archives: October 2016

Here The Healing Garden

In the best of times flowers help us celebrate the joyous occasions in our lives—the birth of a child, a wedding, career or personal success. In more difficult times plants give us hope and inspiration to meet the challenges of life.

The role of the plants and gardens in healing is ancient. As early as 3000 B.C. the Chinese were using medicinal herbs. The Greeks built a temple for Aesclepius, their god of healing, set among mineral springs, bathing pools, and healing gardens. Green was a sacred color in ancient Egypt and represented the hope of spring that brought new vegetation and life.

In colonial America, the Quakers felt a deep attachment to nature and believed gardens were a place of creativity for the mind and body. Growing plants was a way to relax and restore the soul. One of the first programs to use plants in a therapeutic setting was established in 1879 at Philadelphia’s Friends Hospital after a physician noticed that psychiatric patients working in the hospital’s fields and flower gardens were calmer and that the gardens had a “curative” effect on them.

In more recent times, advances in technology and new drugs have been the focus of treatment at medical institutions. However, within the past few decades, the medical community around the world is rediscovering the healing power of gardens. Many hospitals and health care facilities are incorporating green spaces, flowerbeds and views of gardens into their surroundings and horticultural therapy programs are often an important part of a patient’s course of treatment.

Healing gardens can be found in a variety of institutions including substance abuse treatment centers, outpatient clinics, long-term care facilities, hospices and retirement homes, as well as in botanic gardens and arboreta around the world. In Cleveland, Ohio the Men’s Garden Club worked with homeless women in temporary housing to create The Serenity Garden, a therapeutic green space that replaced the bleak asphalt paving that had filled the back yard of the facility. The Center for Victims of Torture in Minneapolis, Minnesota developed their Garden of Healing to aid in the healing process of people who have suffered psychological and physical abuse. Oregon’s Portland Memory Garden provides a safe and enjoyable setting that addresses the restorative power of gardens for patients with Alzheimer’s.

Doctors at the Jupiter Medical Center in Florida found that cardiology patients in rehab who had a view of that facility’s Jacqueline Fiske Healing Garden from their room took less pain medication and had shorter hospital stays than those patients who could not see the garden.

For an individual recovering from a serious illness such as cancer or stroke, gardens can be an important part of healing by providing hope and inspiration. Hope in Bloom is a non-profit organization in Massachusetts that installs gardens at no cost at the homes of women (and men) undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Each garden is developed specifically to the home and lifestyle of each recipient in order to give them a tranquil place to escape from the world of doctors, hospitals and sickness.

Clare Cooper Marcus, Professor Emerita in the College of Environmental Design at the University of California at Berkeley, found her garden had a strong impact on her coping and healing during several bouts with cancer. A gardener since childhood, she has always found the garden to be a comforting retreat—a place where her anxieties dissipate into the ground.

Throughout her illness and treatment Cooper Marcus wrote in a journal and discovered that working in the garden had symbolic parallels to her illness. When Cooper Marcus decided to clear a corner of her garden cluttered and overgrown with brambles, she realized it was similar to the chemo drugs eliminating the cancer cells from her body and making her healthy again. Cooper Marcus now focuses on the therapeutic aspects of gardens and their design through her consulting business, Healing Landscapes.

Whether tending to a houseplant, growing some flowers or turning an outdoor garden into a relaxing retreat, plants have the power to heal our body and our soul. Research has shown that working in the garden can benefit everyone. The physical efforts of gardening—digging, planting, bending and walking—are great forms of exercise to keep the body healthy. Strenuous yard work such as digging or weeding not only burns calories, it is similar to weight training in building bones and preventing osteoporosis. Gardens and gardening activity can also improve mental outlook and our emotional mood by reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Studies have found that gardening can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, which reduces the risk of heart disease. Researchers at the Cleveland Botanical Garden found that the blood pressure of many visitors dropped the longer they stayed in the gardens.

A healing garden can take many forms but always provides interaction with nature. Visually plants provide inspirational colors or peaceful tones. We can hear the relaxing sound of water or the stimulating activity of visiting wildlife. The rich aroma of fresh earth and the delightful scent of perfumed herbs fill the air we breathe, while the fresh flavor of a crispy pea pod or sweet berry tempts our taste buds. We can touch the velvety smoothness of a flower petal or be touched by the movement of leaves in the wind.

Begin to create your own garden of healing today simply by planting a container filled with colorful flowers, a nutritious vegetable, or an herb such as lavender, sage, basil or thyme. In addition to being attractive and aromatic, these and many other herbs have been used medicinally for centuries. Watching and nurturing any plant as it grows provides power and energy to enhance your well-being.

In an outdoor setting, incorporating a few simple design elements turns any garden into a place of healing and inspiration.

  • Grow plants that you find pleasing. Are you energized by bright colors? Then include annuals such as zinnias, petunias, sunflowers or cosmos. If you enjoy cooking, incorporate herbs, vegetables and edible flowers into your garden. Plants such as sage or lavender can be harvested and used for aromatherapy.
  • Include a place to sit and observe the beauty of nature or a path for walking through the garden. Enclose it with shrubs or fencing to create a secluded retreat.
  • Add a focal point for meditation and reflection such as a piece of sculpture, a special plant, interesting rocks, wind chimes or a water fountain.
  • Encourage butterflies, birds, insects and other wildlife to the garden for their healing energy. Birdfeeders and birdhouses quickly and easily begin attracting garden visitors. Choose plants that supply nectar and food including coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), butterfly flower (Aesclepias tuberosa) salvias (Salvia spp.), dill, parsley and sunflowers.

The design and development of a healing garden, just like the process of healing and recovery, takes place over time. It is that journey and the time spent with nature that heals our body and soul.

For additional resources about therapeutic gardens, visit the Therapeutic Landscapes Database (, which lists healing gardens throughout the United States and Canada, as well as links to other informational websites and organizations.

This Bountiful Harvest from Your Patio

At National Garden Bureau, we like to encourage even the brown thumbs out there to attempt gardening, even if on a small scale. And what better way to start than with produce grown on your own patio?

Container growing offers many benefits, not the least of which is that you can put a “garden” just about anywhere. Cement balconies on a highrise building can become urban gardens, and a backyard deck or patio becomes a produce garden at your fingertips. Some of the top vegetable breeders are encouraging this trend by breeding smaller more compact varieties that still are prolific producers.

Without a doubt, container gardens will require less weeding than their in-ground counterparts. This makes them ideal for busy people who love gardening but have limited time. However, watering has to be monitored more closely. Containers in hot sun can dry out quickly, and even a gentle summer breeze will wick moisture from plants. Be prepared to water daily or even twice daily during long, hot, dry spells.

As for supplies, the shopping list is small:

* Appropriately sized container (bigger is usually better)
* Good quality growing medium
* Young plants or seeds
* Stakes or cages if growing vining edibles

After that, with a little sun, a little water and a little patience, you’ll soon have fresh delicious vegetables and herbs at your back door (or front door!). We always feel a little “Martha Stewartish” when we can step out the back door, snip a few herbs, grab a handful of tomatoes and a pepper or two then go back inside to continue with our meal preparation.

Helpful tips from NGB and our members:

Tips on selecting the right container can be found herefrom National Garden Bureau.

A list of varieties appropriate for container growing are detailed by Renee’s Garden.

Johnny’s Seeds has a blog post about mixing vegetables herbs and flowers all in the same container for a very trendy look. (It’s the January 26, 2010 blog post in this link.)

Thompson & Morgan offers several books and we like this one, “Fresh Food from Small Spaces.”

A large selection of suitable containers can be found herefrom Gardener’s Supply as well as a helpful article about self-watering containers for vegetables. And more: ideas and advice on which herbs and vegetables grow well together.

Botanical Interests offers some fun tips for crazy containers and combinations you can try.

For more on growing container edibles, click here for the “Veggies in Containers” article from NGB.

Happy Gardening, Cooking, and Eating!

How Using Flower Color Effectively

Few topics are as interesting as color, and few things affect the overall look of a garden as much as color. Used effectively, color can create a feeling of calm, graciousness, spaciousness, excitement, or just about any mood a gardener wants to achieve.

Home Improvement

If you are planning gardens near or around your home, it is natural to want the color scheme of the flowers to complement the exterior colors. If your home is basically neutral – beige, gray or white – you have a relatively easy task because you can use just about any color scheme you like. If, however, your home is accented with a colorful trim, you may want to pick colors that echo that color or complement it. Red, for example, is the direct complement of green, so red geraniums, salvia or petunias, etc., would be a good choice for a neutral house with green trim. Unless you are an expert at using color, stick to two or three colors that you repeat in your annual plantings. This will give a planned, unified look to all your garden spots, and avoid the hodgepodge look that lacks focus and distracts from the overall look you want to achieve.

      Professionally landscaped homes, public parks, botanical gardens, and gardening magazines can often give you “free advice” on effectively using color.

Take a Ride on the Color Wheel

If you don’t have a color wheel, you should be able to purchase one at an art supply store or possibly a paint store. If you don’t want to buy one, check out books on color at your library or find one on the Internet. A color wheel will show you what colors are complementary, analogous, triadic, and monochromatic.

Let’s look at each of these four-color harmonies:

      A monochromatic color scheme means that all the flowers are the same color or lighter and/or darker shades of the same color. One example of a monochromatic harmony would be red, pink, and burgundy impatiens. A truly monochromatic scheme, where all the flowers are more or less the same color and shade, can create a feeling of spaciousness because the eye is not interrupted by another color. However, having everything the same color could get boring. Introducing lighter and darker versions of the same color can add more interest, while maintaining your overall color scheme.

      An analogous color scheme uses colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. Reading around a basic color wheel, the colors go from red to orange to yellow to green to blue to violet, and then back to red. For an analogous harmony, you can start anywhere on the wheel and go forward and/or backward to get a harmonious scheme. For example, orange calendulas, yellow-orange coreopsis, and yellow cosmos would make an analogous planting in the garden.

      The complementary color scheme uses colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel. Examples are red and green, orange and blue, yellow and violet. Some very striking uses of color can be made with complements. Orange and its complement blue could be combined in a planting of tall blue lavender with a border of orange marigolds. Yellow petunias planted with blue saliva in a terra cotta pot would be a complementary color scheme.

      The triadic harmony uses three colors that are an equal distance from each other on the color wheel. For example, yellow sunflowers, red zinnias, and blue morning glories form a triadic harmony. This unusual, but very attractive scheme not only gives you more color, but it gives you the opportunity to have a greater variety of plants.

Everyone likes a bright, colorful garden, but did you know that you can use the colors of flowers and plants to create a mood, shorten or lengthen the look of a garden, or really call attention to a special feature? It’s possible because of the way we perceive colors.

Hey Look Me Over!

Red and yellow are two colors that immediately capture our attention. Scientists tell us that we actually see these two colors faster than others. Our eyes are drawn to displays of red or yellow, so they are excellent choices to put around a fountain, or to plant in a key area that you want people to see. Likewise, if you have something in your garden you DON’T want people to look at, plant bright yellow flowers opposite that area to draw attention away from there. Ideally, they will look at the yellow flowers and turn their backs on whatever eyesore it is you want to hide.

      If you have some steps leading to your garden or in your garden, consider planting a border of yellow flowers next to them. The yellow will catch people’s eyes and alert them in an attractive way that there are steps there and they should be careful.

      One color expert has said that a house will even sell faster if it has yellow trim or has borders of yellow flowers out front. This advice isn’t guaranteed, but if you are trying to sell your house quickly, this is certainly worth a try.

      Is your garden area long and narrow, and would you like to square it off a little with minimal effort? Plant lots of bright red flowers at the far end and this will visually pull that end in closer and it won’t seem so long and narrow. This can be done with anything you want to bring closer, because red advances visually.

      Red also physically arouses us and gets our adrenaline pumping. If you want to excite people, put lots of red around. Experiments have shown that food tastes better around red, so red flowers around your outdoor eating area will stimulate conversation and make the food taste better, too.

      Masses of red or yellow are guaranteed attention-getters and will not go unnoticed. In a full-sun garden consider the red blooms of petunias, celosia or wax begonias. Yellow is most often found in marigolds, but for taller plants with golden yellow blooms try sunflowers.

      And, by the way, men tend to favor yellow-based reds (like scarlet) while women tend to favor blue-based reds (like burgundy). If you and your spouse don’t agree on what “red” to plant, this could be why.

How Sweet It Is

The color pink is perceived as being sweet tasting and fragrant. You may not have noticed it, but people will usually try to smell pink flowers even when they don’t have any fragrance. And pink is a soothing, calming color as well. One researcher has said that people are less likely to argue with someone who is wearing a lot of pink, so lots of pink plants around your outdoor patio could contribute to amiable conversation when you entertain.

      In sunny locations consider pink blooms from dianthus, geraniums or tall cosmos. In shade, pink wax begonias or impatiens will brighten the area.

Crisp and Clean

If you are the type of person who likes things neat, tidy, and precise, white is the color for you. We think of doctors in their white coats and laboratories with white walls and equipment because we associate white with cleanliness, orderliness, and precision. Crisp flowerbeds or border plantings of white will give your garden a well-planned and orderly look. But don’t expect the color alone to do all the work – you will still need to tend your garden. Masses of white can be hard on the eyes, so you may want to include areas of other colors as well.

      White is also the last color to fade from sight as darkness falls, so it’s a good choice for areas you want to look at in the evening, and also a good choice for bordering pathways since you can follow your way easier even as it gets dark.

      Garden annuals that deliver good white booms are nicotianas, vincas and zinnias. These three will perform best in sunny locations.

      Green is an excellent complement to white because it actually helps your eyes recover quickly from strain. (Old-time engravers, who had to do very detailed work, often kept a green gemstone nearby so that they could look at it to relieve their eye strain – honest!) Mid-tone to deep greens can impart an air of richness and luxury to a garden, while lighter and yellow greens give a more casual look. You might want to consider this if you are planting up some areas with lots of plants you’ve chosen more for their foliage than their flowers.

Keeping Your Cool

Have you ever wondered why swimming pools are usually painted blue? It’s because we perceive blue as being cool and calming. If swimming pools were painted red, we’d think the water was hot.

      When our field of vision is filled with blue, our bodies actually slow down and we begin to get calmer. You can use this attribute of blue to create a feeling of coolness even in a full-sun garden by planting lots of blue flowers (lighter blues are better than dark blues). Even if it’s 95 degrees, you’ll feel cooler in the “blue” area of your garden.

      And blue tones can help you widen or lengthen the look of a garden because blue recedes, or falls back, from our sight. Lots of blue flowers and blue-toned foliage planted on the long sides of a long and narrow garden will actually seem to make it wider because the blue “falls back” visually.

      Blues are the first colors to fade from sight as dusk falls, so you may want to choose a brighter color if there is an area in your garden that you like to look at in the evening.

      Cool blue tones are borne on salvia, eustoma, morning glory, and ageratum plants.

Creative Gray

There aren’t a lot of plants that come in gray, but Dusty Miller (cineraria) and a few other foliage plants do come in silvery gray tones. What’s interesting about gray is that it is the only color that doesn’t produce an after-image. Usually, if you stare at a color for a while and then close your eyes and look away, you will “see” its complementary color in your mind’s eye. This doesn’t happen with gray. Gray is said to promote creativity (you’ll often find gray walls in an advertising agency), so if you often go into your garden to think, consider planting a bed of gray to look at.

Let The Good Times Roll

What if you like lots of different colors mixed in among each other? That’s great. Mixes of bright colors give a happy, festive look to an area. Mix different flowers, different colors and different texture to your heart’s delight, but just be careful not to overdo it. Too much mixing can look more disorganized than festive, so using three or four colors over and over can help tie the look together.

      For a wide range of colors, try mixtures of zinnias, petunias or portulacas. For a more limited but still festive look, a marigold mixture can display the four colors of yellow, orange, gold and maroon.

Color You Can Eat

While we often focus on flowers for color in a garden, vegetables can be as decorative as they are delicious. A compact zucchini with a small trellis in a pot provides lush foliage, bright yellow flowers, and the attractive texture and shape of maturing fruit. Eggplants, tomatoes, ornamental cabbages, and other vegetables can be used creatively in pots and in among flowers to add height, color, and texture to a garden.

If you haven’t thought about the psychological effects of color before, these tips may give you a starting point for creating not only the look you want in your garden, but also the “feel” you want as well.

The Magic of Seeds For Your Garden

It’s no surprise that Jack (of fairy tale fame) was traded “magic” seeds for his cow. By their very nature, seeds are magical. They’ve laid dormant, just waiting for the right conditions to come along so they can burst forth with entertaining growth and continue the fanfare to a summer long display of flowers or vegetables.

Seeds let you start at the beginning. It’s a satisfying, personal involvement that starts with your decision of which seeds to grow. Seed catalogs and seed packet displays offer you a much wider selection of flowers and vegetables than you will find among started plants. You get to choose exactly which plants you will end up with – size, shape, color and even the name you like. Seeds are inexpensive, so you can afford to “try something new,” or go a little “crazy” and buy all your favorites.

Seeds are as “natural” as you can get. You can watch their life cycle from beginning to end. Even if you aren’t an aggressive recycler, seeds naturally lend themselves to being started in egg cartons or other “throw away” containers that let you feel good about what you are doing.

For most of us, seeds take only a little time each day to be cared for properly, fitting into even the most active schedules. They comprise the almost ideal hobby, needing little time, little money, and returning tremendous rewards in relaxation and satisfaction.

Decisions, Decisions

Perhaps the most difficult part of growing seeds is making the selections. If you are planning to grow vegetables you need to first decide what vegetables and then what varieties. A review of your personal and your family’s likes and dislikes will probably narrow the list quickly.

Choosing flowers requires a lot of decisions – but you can “mix and match and choose” to fit a wide range of options. Basically, you need to decide if the flower will ultimately be planted in full-sun, partial-sun or shady location. Seed packets and catalog descriptions will tell you the light requirements for a particular class and variety.

Starting Indoors

Read the packet instructions on when to plant indoors. Generally, you will want to start six to eight weeks before the “final frost” date in your area.

After the seeds, the first thing you will need is a container to grow them in. The best containers are those made for the purpose. There are seed starting containers made of plastic or pressed fiber, peat strips and pots, and peat pellets of different types, as well as growing cubes and even complete seed-starter kits available. You can base your choice on price, convenience and even curiosity to decide which to use.

If you use your own containers (even the ones you used last year), be sure they are thoroughly washed to make them as sterile as possible. A few days in the sun after washing is a good idea.

Drainage is important. Containers made for seed sowing will come with drainage holes. If you use recyclables such as egg cartons or cans, be sure to punch drainage holes in the bottom.

Germinating Media

For seed starting, the best choice is a sterile, soilless germinating mixture that you can buy at the store. Although garden soil might seem like a good idea for starting seeds, it isn’t.

Sowing Seeds

Dry growing mix is difficult to wet completely, so before filling your containers put the mixture in a plastic bag and thoroughly wet it by kneading to your heart’s content. Then fill your containers with the mix to about one-quarter inch from the top and let them sit for a while. Drain off any excess water. If you are using peat pots, water them thoroughly first, and then fill with the moist mix. Pat the moist mix down firmly, flattening it with a spoon or label. Nothing is perfect, and you will have to face the fact that not every seed will germinate. Plus you might lose a plant or two when you transplant, so you will need to sow more seeds (double is a good bet) than you actually think you want.

Large seeds can be easily handled and placed individually in the mix. Smaller seeds can be sown by snipping off a corner of the seed packet and tapping them gently out of the packet as you sow them. If too many seeds fall out at once, gently spread them with the tip of a pencil. Seeds need room to grow, so don’t plant them too thickly. Place two large seeds and two to three small seeds in each container where you want at least one plant to grow.

Check the directions to see if the seeds need light or dark to germinate. Those that need light should not be covered with the soil mix, but should be pressed down (not buried) so that they make contact with the moist medium. Those that need dark should be lightly covered with the mix (about 1 to 2 times the seed thickness) and can be placed in a dark place or covered with black plastic or something else that will keep the light out.

Labels are a must for keeping track of what’s what. All seedlings tend to look alike, and you might forget what you sowed where. Write the plant names on Popsicle sticks or unmarked labels available from your garden center, and stick them in the containers.

To give the proper humidity for germination and eliminate the need to water until the seeds sprout, place the container in a plastic bag and tie it shut. To keep the plastic from resting on the mix, pencils or those all-important plant labels placed at the corners of the container will do the job.

With few exceptions, containers should be placed in good light but not direct sun during germination. Keep the containers warm. Seeds that require high temperatures to germinate can be placed in a sunny location.


Germination times vary, so don’t get too anxious and think nothing is happening if your seeds don’t sprout “immediately.” For seeds with long germination times (seed packets usually give you some idea of how many days the wait will be), check the flat occasionally to make sure it hasn’t dried out. Water or mist gently if it seems dry. If the soil seems too wet (from condensation), remove the flat from the bag for a few hours and then replace it. Never let the growing mix dry out completely.

When most of the seeds have sprouted, you can remove the cover and keep the flat in good light, but out of direct sun. Keep the growing mix moist.


When seedlings have developed four true leaves, it’s time to thin them out. Where you have two or more seedlings growing together, snip off the weakest looking one with scissors, so the remaining plant can grow stronger. Gradually move them into more and more sunlight each day. Feed the plant with a water-soluble fertilizer once a week, using half the strength recommended. Keep your seedlings watered until the proper planting time.

About one week before you are ready to plant into the garden, place the young plants outside in a shady, sheltered area. After a few days, move them into more light, gradually working them up to full sun. If the nights are very cool, move them in at night and back out during the day. This gets the plant used to the outdoor conditions.

Getting Started Outdoors

While part of the fun of seed gardening is often said to be watching them get started indoors, you don’t have to start everything inside. Many flowers and vegetables are best handled by sowing them directly into the garden soil. But, the soil must be prepared to ensure success. This preparation is also necessary for plants that are started indoors and transplanted to the garden.

Soil Preparation

Outdoor soil must be loose and rich for most plants. Heavy soils will need the addition of organic material such as peat or composted materials, or incorporation of soil looseners such as gypsum or vermiculite.

Start by using a spade or fork to turn over the top layer of soil to a depth of 12 to 18 inches (6 to 8 inches is okay if that’s all you can do). Break up large clumps of soil and remove rocks, branches and other debris. If your garden is a large one, using a roto-tiller can make the job much easier.

Spread a one-inch layer of peat moss or organic compost over the top and rake it into the top two inches of soil. Level the garden surface as much as possible.

Soil pH (acidity) is very important. Most plants and vegetables do well in a pH of approximately 6.5. You can test your soil pH with a home soil test kit (available at garden centers or through catalogs) or check with your County Extension Agent who can tell you how to get this done locally. A soil test will also indicate the fertility of your soil as well. If your soil is too acidic or too alkaline, your garden center or County Agent can make recommendations.

Lastly, an application of dry fertilizer such as 5-10-5 is a good idea. Follow the directions on the package, but generally about two pounds should be applied to each 100 square feet. Level the soil after adding the fertilizer.

Sow seeds directly into the prepared soil as you would for container growing. Keep soil most until seedlings appear, then water regularly.

Enjoy. Enjoy. Enjoy.

It won’t take a lot of effort to keep your garden growing well. In extra hot weather you may have to water a little more, and of course you will want to watch out for weeds, bugs and pests, but the small effort will pay off in big dividends. Having started from seeds, you will appreciate the real magic of a garden.