Plants and Horticulture

Snapshots from the Chicago Botanic Garden

It’s a beautiful day at the Chicago Botanic Garden, Day #6 of the CBG Healthcare Garden Design Certificate Program. Today we’ve had presentations by Marni Barnes, Gwenn Fried, Nilda Cosco, and Clare Cooper Marcus; and Mark Epstein led a super discussion about “real nature vs. virtual nature” outside in the Walled Garden. Here are some snapshots from my walk today…

Cercis canadensis (redbud). Photo by Naomi Sachs

Cercis canadensis (redbud). Photo by Naomi Sachs

Cercis canadensis. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Cercis canadensis (redbud), with blossoms springing right from the branches. Photo by Naomi Sachs

New soft leaves. Photo by Naomi Sachs.

I wish you could feel these new leaves. So velvety soft! Photo by Naomi Sachs.


(Almost) Wordless Wednesday – March 4, 2015

Chicksaw plum (Prunus angustifolia). Photo by Naomi Sachs

Chicksaw plum (Prunus angustifolia). Photo by Naomi Sachs

In Central Texas, things are already blooming, including the Chicksaw plum. The scent is gorgeous – sweet and a little bit spicy. I can always tell when I’m about to see one of these shrubby trees (tree-e shrubs?) in blossom because I smell it first.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena' blooming in January. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ blooming in January. Photo by Naomi Sachs

If you are in colder climates and are feeling frozenly jealous right now, stop! Once spring comes, go out and get a witch hazel; you will not be disappointed, especially when she blooms – a fragrance that is also quite spicy – in the darkest days of winter. My favorite type is Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’ (which in my NY garden usually bloomed in late December and kept on going for over a month) but there are many to choose from. Amazing fall foliage, too. If you want a winter blooming witch hazel, make sure you get one; Hamamelis virginica and some others bloom in the late fall. Or if you’re a plantaholic like me, ignore the fact that there’s no room in your garden for both…and then get both.


(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

I know it’s hard to believe for many people in the U.S., but spring really is coming. One way to hasten its arrival is to cut a few branches from what will be a flowering shrub or tree. When you bring the branches inside and put them in water, you “fool” them into thinking that spring has arrived, and they bloom. Sometimes the sight of those blossoms is enough to give us hope for the not-too-distant future of warmth and rebirth.

Here’s an older post, “Forcing Spring,” on the subject that has links to some good how-to sites.


Happy Arbor Day!

Tree and pond, Stonecrop Gardens, Cold Spring, NY. Photo by Naomi Sachs Happy Arbor Day, 2012!

It has been over 135 years since J. Sterling Morton founded Arbor Day. His simple idea of setting aside a special day for tree planting is now more important than ever.Arbor Day Foundation

The New York Times just published a great opinion piece by Jim Robbins, titled “Why Trees Matter.” I never know which articles non-subscribers can access, so please accept my apologies if access is restricted. Below are some excerpts, just in case.

We have underestimated the importance of trees. They are not merely pleasant sources of shade but a potentially major answer to some of our most pressing environmental problems. We take them for granted, but they are a near miracle. In a bit of natural alchemy called photosynthesis, for example, trees turn one of the seemingly most insubstantial things of all — sunlight — into food for insects, wildlife and people, and use it to create shade, beauty and wood for fuel, furniture and homes.

This paragraph on “forest bathing” is particularly appropriate for our Network:

In Japan, researchers have long studied what they call “forest bathing.” A walk in the woods, they say, reduces the level of stress chemicals in the body and increases natural killer cells in the immune system, which fight tumors and viruses. Studies in inner cities show that anxiety, depression and even crime are lower in a landscaped environment.

Below are some past TLN Blog posts about the role of trees in restorative landscapes:

If you can plant one thing, plant a tree

Planting the healing garden: Trees, please!

Forget the chocolate, gimme a tree

Plant a tree: A truly “green” gift

See the Arbor Day Foundation’s website for more information and ideas about how to celebrate this day:


Wordless Wednesday, 8/10/11 – Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Milkweed (Asclepius syriaca). Photo by Naomi Sachs

Milkweed (Asclepius syriaca). Photo by Naomi Sachs

It’s only fitting that we feature a photo of milkweed (this one is Asclepias syriaca) named by Carl Linneaus for the Greek god medicine and healing, Asclepius.

Son of Apollo and Coronis, father of five daughters: Hygia (“Hygiene”), Laso (“Medicine”), Aceso (“Healing”), Aglæa/Ægle (“Healthy glow), and Panacea (“Universal remedy”). The snake-entwined staff, often used as symbol in the medical world, is the rod of Asclepius.


Designing a Landscape for Color Blind People – Guest blog post by Genevieve Schmidt

Daylilies photo by Naomi Sachs

Can you see the summer daylilies? Photo by Naomi Sachs

This is the time of year when the orange daylilies bloom – bright orange sparks waving from slender green wands held above lush green foliage…that my father can’t see. Because he is color blind.

Last year, Genevieve Schmidt wrote a wonderful post, “Designing a Landscape for Color Blind People” for the Garden Designers Roundtable‘s forum on Therapy and Healing in the Garden (I wrote one called “Thoughts and Evidence on Therapy and Healing in the Garden.”)

Genevieve’s post was a big hit and got about a million comments. I’ve been thinking about it lately, last weekend being Father’s Day and all. I’m including a couple of images and the opening paragraphs to hook you in, and then linking to Genevieve’s original post for you to read on.

Designing a Landscape for Color Blind People: The Garden Designers Roundtable on Therapy and Healing

Garden Design for Color Blind People. Image courtesy of Genevieve Schmidt, North Coast Gardening.

Image courtesy of Genevieve Schmidt, North Coast Gardening

People who are color blind make up about 8% of men and .5% of women, and of those people, the vast majority aren’t actually color blind, it’s more that they see colors differently. Though we think of color blindness as seeing the world in black and white, the most common form of color blindness is where people have a weakness in the green receptors of their eyes. What would it be like to experience color that way?

Bob Davis, a dear client whose landscape I designed last year, described it by asking me to imagine a continuum of yellow, green and blue. Along that continuum, most of us see any number of subtle shades of yellow, yellow-green, green, green-blue, and blue. Bob sees yellow, green and blue, period. So all those gently contrasting greens rolling through the garden? It’s all pretty much the same color.

In addition, many tones of red actually appear green to him, making what might otherwise be a bold contrast of red flower against green foliage, well, kind of lackluster. Every spring, his wife Judy raves about the gorgeous red Camellia out back, but Bob just sees the same greenery he sees all year. He can make out the shapes of the flowers, but the color contrast of red against green is lost on him.

For us landscapers, color is the easy button for designing a garden. You come up with an awesome color combo, and even if your textural contrasts aren’t what they could be – eh, who’s gonna notice with all that splashy color? Those of us who can see the full color range notice color first. But for people who see limited numbers of colors, composition and contrast become key.

Bob was kind enough to give me some tips about what stands out most to him in a garden, what elements he sees most boldly and clearly, and which seem to be lacking to his eye.

To read the rest, link to Genevieve Schmidt’s North Coast Gardening blog’s original post, “Designing a Landscape for Color Blind People.

Thank you, Genevieve!

If you can only plant one thing, plant a tree

White oak. Photo by Henry Domke,

White oak. Photo by Henry Domke,

The best friend of earth of man is the tree.  When we use the tree respectfully and economically, we have one of the greatest resources on the earth.
–   Frank Lloyd Wright

Let’s say you are designing a healing garden – for a client or yourself – and you only have 10 square feet of planting space. You could plant a few shrubs, or a few more perennials, or a bunch of annuals. Or you could plant a tree. If there’s enough vertical space, and there usually is, go for the tree. Why? Here are some reasons:

Shade is one of the most important components of any therapeutic landscape, and yet it is overlooked so often that sometimes I just want to cry. I’ve seen countless designs that might be successful if enough shade were provided for people to actually enjoy the garden even on hot, sunny days. I’m going to do a whole post on this soon, but I’ll point out a couple key things here. Especially in the healthcare setting, shade is crucial. Many people are “photosensitive” – sensitive to sun and bright light, either because of their condition or from the medication that they’re on. Imagine a garden in a cancer center without shade. I’ve seen those! If you include trees in your design, make sure they are big enough when they go in to provide shade right away. See that mother who is visiting her sick child and wants to sit with him under a nice, shady tree for a few minutes? Look her in the eye and tell her to come back in five years when the tree will be big enough to provide adequate shade. Or plant a big tree and watch as people gravitate to and gather under its soothing, protective boughs. Speaking of which…

You can’t beat trees for symbolism. They are so strong and resilient, and yet so graceful, flexible, and nurturing. And they can live for hundreds of years. Pretty inspiring. Furthermore, lots of trees are used for medicinal purposes. Even if a willow isn’t actually harvested for its analgesic properties, it can still be a good symbol of pain relief in a setting where healing is the goal.

Alone with myself
The trees bend to caress me
The shade hugs my heart.
~Candy Polgar

Sensory engagement
Sight is the most obvious sense, and we can appreciate a tree from a distance, from below looking up at the leaves and the patterns of light filtered through them, from above looking down through a window onto green rather than brown or grey. Remember Roger Ulrich’s seminal study* of patients recovering from surgery? The view that the patients had who recovered faster and needed pain medication was of a grove of trees. (more…)

Happy Earth Day, Happy Year of the Forests!

White oak. Photo by Henry Domke

White oak. Photo by Henry Domke,

Wow, under the wire here to get this post out before Earth Day ends. But really, every day is Earth Day, right?

2011 is also the Year of the Tree, or the Year of the Forests, another thing I’ve been meaning to blog about since January.

The International Year of the Tree/Year of the Forests was launched at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to heighten awareness of the value of forests in people’s lives and to galvanize action for trees and forests around the world. Here’s the UN website, with lots of great information, pictures, and videos and here’s their Facebook page. And here’s another nice website/blog, The Tree Year, with all sorts of good information and activities to help you celebrate.

Just one of the many reasons that trees are so awesome: One tree can absorb about a ton of carbon dioxide over its lifetime, and produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen each year – the equivalent of the amount consumed by 18 people annually. For more fun facts about trees and their importance, see Trees Are Good, by the International Society of Arboriculture.

“Shinrin-yoku,” or “forest bathing,” is a practice in Japan in which people visit a forest while breathing in phytoncides – wood essential oils – that are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds derived from trees. According to Wikipedia (yes, I am cutting corners) it has now become a recognized relaxation and/or stress management activity in Japan.

A great article (“Really? The Claim: Exposure to Plants and Parks Can Boost Immunity,” by Anahad O’Connor for The New York Times, July 5, 2010) about this practice was published last year. I’m hoping the intellectual copyright people won’t sue me for posting two paragraphs from the article here:

“One study published in January included data on 280 healthy people in Japan, where visiting nature parks for therapeutic effect has become a popular practice called “Shinrin-yoku,” or “forest bathing.” On one day, some people were instructed to walk through a forest or wooded area for a few hours, while others walked through a city area. On the second day, they traded places. The scientists found that being among plants produced “lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure,” among other things.

A number of other studies have shown that visiting parks and forests seems to raise levels of white blood cells, including one in 2007 in which men who took two-hour walks in a forest over two days had a 50-percent spike in levels of natural killer cells. And another found an increase in white blood cells that lasted a week in women exposed to phytoncides in forest air.

The main study that O’Connor is referring to is:
Li Q, Morimoto K, Kobayashi M, Inagaki H, Katsumata M, Hirata Y, et al. Visiting a forest, but not a city, increases human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins. Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol. 2008;21:117–28. Visit that same Wikipedia page for more.

So, happy Earth Day, and happy Year of the Forests!

Planting the Healing Garden: Joys of Early Spring (Redux)

Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) in bloom. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) in bloom. Photo by Naomi Sachs

I wrote a post last year on this subject, and as it’s April again and I still feel the same way about the wonders of early spring (in my neck of the woods, anyway – I realize that down south things are much further along, and that things are way different in other parts of the country and world), I’m pointing you to that post from last year. Lots of pretty pictures in addition to my usual words of wisdom:) Planting the Healing Garden: The Quiet Joys of Early Spring. Enjoy!

The Healing Garden in Early Spring: A good time for planning

Crocuses and an early pollinator. Photo courtesy of Chiot's Run,

Photo courtesy of Chiot's Run,

Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born.
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow.

– Joni Mitchell, ‘Little Green’

Every year at this time, I kick myself for not having planted spring-blooming bulbs last fall. Other people are mooning about their snowdrops and crocuses, and I spy them blooming gayly, in spite of the cold, from gardens all over town. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s crocuses…

So don’t follow my example. In other words, do as I say, not as I do: Now is the time to look at your (or your clients’) garden – as depressing a sight as it may be if you live in northern climes – and think about what and where you might like to see things that will tide you over until everything starts going gangbusters in April or May. Take notes so that when fall rolls around, you will remember what to buy and where to plant. Write yourself a letter or a poem pleading with your future self to follow through with your plans. Take pictures of the barren ground from which, in your mind’s eye, you see brilliant sparks of hope waving to you like little beacons, and attach them to your letter/poem. I would (will!) plant crocuses and other early bloomers where I could see them from my kitchen window, which is the window that I most often gaze out of all year long. Perhaps also near the front door and outside my office window.

Crocuses, March. Photo by Philomena Kiernan

Crocuses, March. Photo by Philomena Kiernan

Also think about other plants, like evergreens – where could they be placed, as large statements or as small whispers tucked in here and there to provide green relief from the monotony of winter’s browns and greys? (more…)