Plants and Horticulture

Finally! A Sure Sign of Spring

Hamamelis 'Jelena,' 2008. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Hamamelis 'Jelena,' 2008. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Well, it wasn’t easy coming home to below-freezing temperatures yesterday after spending a week of summer in tropical Peru. My “office” on Saturday was in the hotel courtyard in Lima.

TLN branch office, Lima, Peru. Photo by Naomi Sachs

TLN branch office, Lima, Peru. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Today I’m back inside, working by the glow of the pellet stove, once again bundled in long underwear and wool, with a freshly fallen blanket of snow on the ground outside.

But yesterday as I was walking through the mostly snowcovered landscape of my winter garden, I encountered a welcome surprise: My witch hazel has bloomed! This variety, Hamemelis x intermedia ‘Jelena,’ tends to bloom earlier than some of the others like ‘Arnold’s Promise.’ Last year, a mild winter, flowers were already appearing at the end of December. Not so this year – record cold and snow has kept those buds closed up tight. I was beginning to wonder whether they would ever release their grip. A couple of warm days last week were enough to coax them into emerging.

One of my first blog posts ever, from January 2008, was about Jelena. Here’s an excerpt:

Hamamelis 'Jelena,' 2008. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Hamamelis 'Jelena,' 2008. Photo by Naomi Sachs

It’s 23 degrees Fahrenheit outside, the warmest it’s been all day, and this is the view from my office window here in Beacon, NY. Now, to some of you this may look rather bleak – the last windswept vestiges of last week’s snowfall, the winter sunlight just barely lighting up that north side of the garden, and a puny tree with no leaves, only bare branches. Well, let me tell you, that tree is a witch hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena,’ and every time I look at her, a smile creeps across my face. You see, “Jelena,” as I like to call her, holds great promise: The promise of spring, and soon. I learned to appreciate witch hazels in Providence, RI on wintry walks to and from work, and have wanted one (at least one!) in my own garden ever since. I knew when I planted Jelena that long before anything else was even thinking about emerging from dormancy, this intrepid tree would begin to bloom, pushing forth bright red (or yellow or orange, depending on the variety) fingers of delightfully scented blossoms from soft, velvety buds. And today I checked and sure enough, inside of those tight fists of buds are bright red spots promising blossoms in a month, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. Spring in February/March in New York, not too shabby.

My harbinger has announced spring’s imminent arrival. What about you? What signs of spring are you seeing in your garden?

To Rake or Not to Rake? Good Question!

Autumn leaves photo by Allison Vallin,

Photo courtesy of Allison Vallin,

Well, it’s November, and if your yard looks anything like mine, the leaves are starting to pile up. So, do you rake them, do you let them be, does a landscaping crew come with their leaf-blowers and haul them away? This year, I’ve seen several articles suggesting that gardeners not rake. Leaves make excellent mulch and they attract and protect all kinds of beneficial wildlife. And they’re free! Personally, as I live under two giant white oak trees, I feel the need to rake some (in fact, in Ellen Sousa’s recent blog post “Leave those leaves!” in which she advocates for not raking, she makes an exception for oak leaves). Carole Brown of Ecosystem Gardening and co-founder of Beautiful Wildlife Garden posted a good “to rake or not to rake” discussion that touches on many reasons why people do and don’t (and even should and shouldn’t) rake: “I am the Lorax, I Speak for the Leaves.”

Autumn leaves photo by Allison Vallin

Photo courtesy of Allison Vallin

A recent article in Fine Gardening (“Improve Your Soil by Raking Less“) provides lots of ideas about how to turn your leaves into gold. For leaves on the lawn, you can run them over with a mulching mower. Rather than smothering it, the organic matter and nutrients in the leaves will improve turf quality. You can rake leaves into garden beds to create mulch that both protects and feeds. You can even build planting beds with leaves. I highly recommend all three of the above-mentioned online articles for information and inspiration.

If you do choose to rake, think of it as an exercise opportunity rather than a burdensome chore. Who needs the gym when you’ve got leaves! Raking is one of many gardening activities that, if done for 30 minutes a day, can increase metabolic rate, reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, tone muscles, improve flexibility, and even improve cardiovascular fitness – enough to reduce the risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes. Raking burns approximately 375 calories per hour (for comparison, jogging burns about 430 calories per hour).

Autumn leaves photo by Allison Vallin

Photo courtesy of Allison Vallin

Many horticultural therapy programs include raking, both for the physical and psychological benefits. It’s something most of us have done at some point in our lives, and it often brings back fond memories (mine are a lot like these pictures, jumping into and playing in big piles of leaves).

So if you’ve got leaves, the decision is yours what to do with them. But whether you rake them up, leave them be (sorry, couldn’t resist) or something in between, try to think of them as yet another gift from the garden.

Many thanks to Allison Vallin and her lovely blog, A Tasteful Garden, for the photos.

Garden Designers Roundtable: Thoughts and Evidence on Therapy and Healing in the Garden

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.
~ John Burroughs

Autumn crocus, The High Line, New York City. Photo by Naomi Sachs

This blog post comes courtesy of the Garden Designers Roundtable, who invited me to be their first-ever guest blogger. I’m honored and excited to be participating in today’s roundtable discussion, the theme of which is “Therapy and healing in the garden.” All photos are by Naomi Sachs.

Some Thoughts and Evidence on Therapy and Healing in the Garden

The idea that gardens and landscapes foster good health seems like a no-brainer, especially to gardeners and garden/landscape designers/architects. It’s like telling Newton that apples really do fall down. Sadly, though I’m preaching to the choir here today, many people still haven’t grasped this concept, and we can find all too many examples of landscapes that are anything but healing (picture, if you will, a parking lot at the mall…). At the Therapeutic Landscape Network, we focus a lot of our attention on the design of hospitals and other healthcare environments because – oddly enough – they tend to be so far behind as places that facilitate health and well-being on a holistic level. We’re getting there, but we still have a long way to go.

For today, since a big part of the TLN’s mission is to connect designers and health and human service providers with the research they need to design beautiful, nurturing, successfully restorative spaces, I thought I’d highlight some of the evidence that we’ve blogged about over the years. In this case, research that “proves” that being in and interacting with nature is, indeed, restorative for body and soul. This research is important because it’s positive ammunition. It’s what makes CEOs, and policy makers, and grant funders and our clients sit up and take notice (and change the laws and sign the checks!). I’ve provided a one-sentence summary of the research, with the title of each related blog post that you can link to for more information and full citations.

But first, for background, the seminal ‘View Through a Window’ study:
In 1984, Roger Ulrich studied two sets of patients, both in the same hospital, both recovering from the same surgery. The key difference: One group’s view from their window was of nature – grass, trees and sky; the other’s was of a brick wall. Ulrich found that the patients with the nature view complained less, required less pain medication, and made a faster recovery. Here, finally, was empirical proof of the salutary benefits of nature. Ulrich’s paper, published in the journal Science, got the attention of the medical community and legitimized the field of evidence-based design. Evidence-based design being the use of quantitative, and sometimes qualitative, research to design environments that facilitate health and improve outcomes. Since then, hundreds of studies have been published. Some, like those cited below, continue to demonstrate that contact with nature is good for people; some explore how people benefit, and what conditions are best for specific groups, needs, and situations (e.g., children; seniors with dementia; gardens for people who are immuno-compromised).

Innisfree, Millbrook, NY

The evidence since ‘View Through a Window.’ A few good examples:

Trees, greenery, and other vegetation make neighborhoods safer and more desirable. They even play a role in boosting students’ grades and reducing the risk of domestic violence.
See “Healing the Neighborhood: The Power of Gardens.”

Plants in an office setting improve worker satisfaction, creativity, and productivity.
See “I Demand Satisfaction! The Role of Nature in Job Satisfaction.”

As little as 10 minutes spent outside improves attention in children with ADHD; neighborhoods with more green space improve body mass index of children and youth.
See “Nature Deficit Disorder: Getting Kids Outdoors.” For many more resources on nature-based learning and play for kids, visit our Get Out and Play! page.

Uma, picking serviceberries. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Gardening improves health and happiness, including reducing heart rate and blood pressure.
See “Horticultural Therapy in the Wall Street Journal.” Horticultural Therapy is “a professional practice that uses the cultivation of plants and gardening activities to improve the mental and physical health of its participants,” (definition courtesy of the Horticultural Therapy Institute). Hort therapists often work with occupational and physical therapists in a garden setting; gardens that are designed specifically for this kind of therapy are called rehabilitation gardens. For more information, see the horticultural therapy page on our website and for a really inspiring post about the power of horticultural therapy, see A Life Worth Living: The Garden as Healer.

Exposure to nature makes people more altruistic and generous.
It’s true, Nature Makes Us Nicer!

Autumn leaves. Photo by Naomi Sachs

I hope that now that you’ve been introduced to the Therapeutic Landscapes Network Blog, you’ll stay awhile and read some of our older posts, and that you’ll visit us again for new ones (you can also sign up to have posts emailed to you). I welcome your comments, which can often lead to great dialog on the TLN Blog.

Many thanks again to the Garden Designers Roundtable for the invitation and warm welcome as a guest blogger. Visit the GDRT website (, or click on the links below, to read other bloggers’ posts (and to see some great pictures) – it’s an excellent group, and each blogger has something interesting to say on the topic.

Genevieve Schmidt, North Coast Gardening: Designing a Landscape for Colorblind People
Ivette Soler, The Germinatrix: Plant a Garden, The Life You Save Might Be Your Own
Jenny Petersen, J Petersen Garden Design: Therapeutic Spaces
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber, Hegarty Webber Partnership: Homage to Ariadne: Labyrinthine Therapy
Rochelle Greayer, Studio “G”: A Tale About What Makes a Garden Healing

Planting the Healing Garden: Plant Bulbs Now for Spring Joy

Siberian squill (Scilla siberica). Photo by Naomi Sachs

Siberian squill. Photo by Naomi Sachs

The growing season may be winding down, but the gardening season is still in full-swing (and I don’t just mean raking!). Fall is a great time for planting many shrubs, trees and perennials (it’s a good time to divide those perennials as well). It’s also the only time to plant most spring-blooming bulbs. After enduring a long winter with few signs of life in the garden, is there anything more exciting than seeing the first snowdrops appear? They are a sorely needed sign that spring – and more importantly, the end of winter – is imminent. Spring bulbs cheer up any landscape, and they give interest to a garden when most plants are either still dormant or just starting to leaf out.


Daffodils in April. Photo by Naomi Sach

Just like it’s hard to bring ourselves to buy a wool sweater in summer, even if it’s on sale, it’s a challenge to think about spring bulbs when summer is in her full glory. Which is fine, since that’s not the time to plant them anyway. If your garden is like mine, then its major bloom-time is now over, and you’re starting to see some holes, which is also what you’ll see in early spring. The perfect time to assess your garden and decide where to plant the earliest bloomers.

Some of my favorite bulbs are snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), crocuses, daffodils (Narcissus spp.), Siberian squill, and early iris (Iris reticulata), but there are many more. The Better Homes and Gardens website has a nice slideshow of early bloomers, and BBC Gardening Guides has a good primer on bulb basics. So go ahead, get some bulbs in the ground – you’ll be delighted in the spring!

Postscript: I got this wonderful comment from a member on the TLN’s Facebook page and would like to share it here, because I think she summed it up so perfectly: “I think bulbs are especially important in healing gardens because of their early awakening in the gray thaw of early spring; always the promise of renewed life!”

Planting the Healing Garden: Trees, Please!

American Basswood by Henry Domke

Photo of American Basswood by Henry Domke,

Here’s a simple but effective exercise: Go sit down.
Okay, a couple more details: First, at high noon, go sit somewhere in full sun for a minute or two (you actually don’t have to sit; this exercise can be accomplished standing as well). Now get up and go do the same thing (sit or stand for a minute or two) under a big shade tree. Notice anything different? Feel cooler? Feel a sense of ahhhhhhh? Now that you’re in the shade, maybe you don’t even want to get up!

Ever notice how, in the summer, all of the parking spaces near trees, even if they offer the skimpiest of shade patches, are taken? And how the shady park benches are always full? And so on. I like trees at all times of the year, but I am especially grateful for them in high summer. And particularly for healing gardens, whether public or private, where physical and emotional comfort are paramount, trees are a necessity. Sure, an umbrella or other shade structure can suffice, but they only do one thing, whereas a tree multitasks so nicely. In addition to giving shade, trees provide vertical and seasonal interest, wildlife habitat, and broader environmental benefits.

A few fun tree facts (these from the SavATree website):

  • The shade and wind buffering provided by trees reduces annual heating and cooling costs by 2.1 billion dollars.
  • One tree can absorb as much carbon in a year as a car produces while driving 26,000 miles.
  • A single tree produces ca. 260 lbs of oxygen a year. That means two mature trees can supply enough oxygen annually to support a family of four.
  • Over the course of its life, a single tree can absorb one ton of carbon dioxide.

As part of New York City’s Million Trees NYC campaign, posters with pictures of and facts about trees were spread throughout the city, especially in subways. I wasn’t able to get a decent picture of any of them, but here are excerpts from two that seem especially appropriate to the subject of restorative landscapes:

Zen Masters
Trees do more than you think. They promote relaxation and fitness, enhance our emotional and mental health, and even encourage us to drive a little slower.

Exercise Partners
Trees do more than you think. While protecting us from the sun, they encourage outdoor play and exercise – helping in our fight against obesity.

NYC is definitely on to something, and they are putting a lot of money into this effort. This from their website:

Why plant a million trees?

Trees enrich and improve our environment and dramatically increase the overall quality of life in New York City. The benefits provided by trees are numerous and diverse, making it important to quantify their value to our city and its residents. The primary benefits provided by New York City’s urban forest come in three key areas:

  • Environmental Benefits: Urban trees help offset climate change, capture rainfall, remove dust and other pollutants from the air, lower summer air temperature, reduce our use of fossil fuels, and provide habitat for wildlife.
  • Economic Benefits: Trees provide $5.60 in benefits for every dollar spent on tree planting and care, increase property values, and appeal to community and business investment.
  • Health and Lifestyle Benefits: There is growing evidence that trees help reduce air pollutants that can trigger asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Green spaces also encourage physical activity – a healthy habit for any New Yorker.

So if you’re designing you’re own residential garden, or a public park, or a garden for a hospital or nursing home, remember your trees. They are an investment that will give back for generations to come!

Lerner Garden of the Five Senses – A Sensory Garden Worth Visiting

Lerner Garden of the Five Senses

Now that summer is officially here (hurrah!), Maine is a big vacation destination. So it seems like a good time to publish this terrific guest blog post by Amy Wagenfeld about the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses. Amy consults and collaborates with architectural, design, and building professionals on design, installation, post occupancy programming, and evidence-based research of universally designed green spaces. In this post, she gives us a personal guided tour of this new and very successful example of a sensory garden. If you can go visit this summer, let this post be your inspiration (and if you can get there on Saturday, Amy’s giving a talk on ergonomic gardening). And if not, at least we get to go there now with Amy. The Therapeutic Landscapes Network is developing a page on sensory gardens, as the sensory experience is an important part of restorative landscapes. If you know of other good examples of sensory gardens, or have links to good websites, leave a comment below. Thank you, and thank you, Amy, for this post!

All photo for this post are by A. Wagenfeld and E. Kaye. To see more images of the garden, including the labyrinth, visit the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens website.

Lerner Garden of the Five Senses

There is a new sensory garden on the scene! For those of us intrigued and enchanted by – not to mention committed to – these spaces, The Lerner Garden of the Five Senses is a MUST see (hear, touch, smell, and taste!). Completed in June, 2009, and designed by Herb Schaal, FASLA of EDAW Inc., The Lerner Garden of the Five Senses is seamlessly nestled within the sprawling 248 acre waterfront Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Privately financed by Dan and Lyn Lerner, the scope of the project entailed design and construction of a world class universally designed sensory garden.

Lerner Garden of the Five Senses

Calling the Lerner Garden anything less than a gem is an understatement. Located adjacent to the entrance of the 20 acre main campus, each turn and curve along the wide and smooth, and most gentle of sloped paths – less than or equal to 5% grade length wise and less than or equal to 2% width wise, to be exact – of the 3/4 acre garden entices visitors of all ages and abilities to absorb all the garden has to offer. Striker stones border the main paths to assist the visually disabled, and a set of directional high-low stones indicate an entrance to a different garden area. Benches with backs and arm rests are located in each area so that visitors can rest and reflect on the jewels of the Lerner Garden. A 3-D bronze Braille and tactile map of the garden as well as a large pictorial representation of the garden are located at the entrance arch. The plantings and multitude of sculptural elements are labeled with large font signage. Resplendent with innovative sensory plantings, water features, sculpture, a bridge, and an open classroom pavilion, the Lerner Garden is arranged in five sectors that represent the five basic senses. Enough talk; let’s go on a tour!

lerner garden map

Come into the garden through an archway to the smell area resplendent with fragrant flowers and herbs, beckoning to be touched and smelled. Set into raised beds suitable for seated or standing users, the interactive taste area contains edible vegetables and herbs. The taste area also contains an accessible pavilion, unique vertical planters, and compost bins.

Lerner Garden of the Five Senses Located at the garden’s highest elevation is the sight area. The interior of the area contains several water features. One of many environmentally sustainable features, a stream flows from under a wooden bridge constructed from two native trees into the upper pond. A water fountain in the upper pond acts as a centralized focal point to see and listen. The fountain is cleverly located off-center to create gentle waves that pass over a stone veneer weir dam at a forty-five degree angle and flow through a series of parallel channels into the lower pond. The walkway between the ponds beckons visitors to view and touch the flowing water. The pathway level is particularly well suited for wheeled mobility users to gaze at the upper pond surface, and well, the entire Lerner Garden. A labyrinth constructed of raised river stones awaits you in the tactile area. Designed as a reflexology path, take off your shoes and socks and have a walk or place your bare feet on the raised stones. Touch the lamb’s ear, thyme, pineapple lily, and hobbit’s foot, strategically planted, just for you. Listen to the weir dam with its flowing water gently gliding over channels creating peaceful and soothing sounds. Two large vertical stones with recessed holes cut into one side – one at standing height and the other at sitting height – are another a unique feature of the garden. Place your head inside a hole and sing away – the opera singer in you will be captivated as your voice resonates as boisterous sound. Located in the breathtakingly beautiful rural region of Boothbay, Maine, The Costal Maine Botanical Gardens and its newest installation, the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses is a destination not to be missed.

Planting the Healing Garden: The Quiet Joys of Early Spring

And now it is April. I was walking in a friend’s garden this afternoon and everywhere we turned, things were budding and leafing out. He kept saying “It’s all happening!” And it truly is. Actually, it has been for a little while now, but it a quiet sort of way.

I never used to like March. Growing up in northeastern Connecticut, March always felt much more like the last, grey, dreary, incredibly long month of winter rather than the first month of spring. When I lived in Berkeley during graduate school, March was lovely, of course. The incessant winter rains finally ceased, and the Ceanothus and rosemary bloomed, and the world felt right again. Then I moved to Santa Fe, NM, where March meant fierce winds that blew the ever-present dust into every nook and cranny of everything. And then I moved to the Hudson Valley. And after five years of thinking that I hated March (and very early April), I finally this year have come to realize that it’s actually one of my favorite times.

And here is why: March (or very early spring, really, which is March where I live) is about discovery. Before spring really takes off and everything bursts forth with verdant new growth and loud, colorful flowers like some tacky prom fashion show, we see spring’s emergence more slowly and subtly. Each new discovery is cause for celebration, a light at the end of winter’s tunnel. One day I see yellow on the fat Forsythia buds. The next day, they began to open, and I also notice the first new soft green growth of lady’s mantle pushing up through the soil amidst last fall’s leaves. The next day, I see the downy buds of the service berries, and every day they get bigger and bigger and soon they will open into delicate white flowers which will last only a week or two before the branches’ bright leaves begin to emerge.

To me, this time of year feels like falling in love. There is so much to discover, and it’s all wonderful. As in, I walk around filled with wonder and delight, like my “it’s all happening!” friend.

So if you can appreciate these small joys, before spring kicks into overdrive, please share them with others. Take a walk with your children and point out the little treasures that are emerging each day. Instill in them your love of nature so that they will become stewards for the next generation. Walk in the garden, or even just gaze out the window, with your mother or grandmother or the old man who lives next door and see what you both can see. Older eyes don’t always catch the small things, but they will appreciate the new life if it’s pointed out to them. I promise you, your world, and theirs, will feel all the richer and more meaningful for it. And that’s what a “healing garden” is all about.

Project Bud Burst – Be a Citizen Scientist!

Photo of flowering dogwood by Henry Domke

At this time of year, one sure-fire way to get yourself (and others) outside is to look for signs of spring. And like the Great Backyard Bird Count, Project BudBurst empowers us to become “citizen scientists,” observing the phenology, or recurring first phases, of plants.

For a good explanation of phenology, see Shawn Moriarty’s blog post, “How do you know it is spring?” A phenophase is the first phase of a plant’s cycle (first leaf, leaves unfolding, first flower, etc.).
By reporting when we see what, we contribute valuable environmental and climate change information. So go ahead, get out there, and get your kids and students and parents out there, too! It’s a great way to learn about the environment, connect to nature, and contribute to science, all at the same time.
Thanks to the Grass Stain Guru for her post about Project BudBurst; that’s how I found out about it, so thanks, Bethe!

Surviving the Winter by Connecting with Nature…from Indoors (Part V)

Sometimes it’s best to stay indoors…

I’ve managed to string this series of posts out long enough that it feels like spring is just around the corner…and perhaps for some of you in milder areas, it is. Here in Zone 5 New York, we still have a good few inches of snow on the ground, and the wind is making what is technically an above-freezing day feel like it’s well below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. So, I’m enjoying writing this post from the comfort of my office, which overlooks part of the garden, including a witch hazel in full bloom. Seeing this harbinger of spring, with her strange beautiful blossoms, always lifts my spirits and gives me hope. For more on other early spring bloomers, take a look at this post.

witch hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’

During this series on “surviving the winter by staying connected to nature,” I’ve mentioned those times when we just can’t get outside. Maybe the weather or the walking conditions are just too harsh or dangerous. Maybe our physical condition limits how much we can get out. Fortunately, there are still things that we can do, from the comfort of our homes, to keep us connected to nature until spring. That’s what this post is about: Connecting with nature, from indoors.

Watch the birds, and other wildlife, through your window
We covered birdwatching in a recent post (as well as other wildlife, if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where you can see it), and I hope that some of you were able to participate in this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count. You can participate all year long with Project Feeder Watch – click on the link to learn more.

Enjoy your indoor plants
Did you know that people who work in places with live indoor plants have significantly higher levels of job satisfaction than those with no plants? It’s true! See this blog post for more on that. Another recent study found that postoperative patients with flowering and foliage plants in their rooms fared better than those with no plants, including needing less pain medication and recovering faster. So there’s a real scientific reason for taking flowers to people in the hospital. This TLN Blog post lists that and several other similar research studies. If indoor plants are good in the workplace and at the hospital, you can bet that they’re good for us at home, too. Indoor plants are also excellent air purifiers. Here are some more resources:

1. Plants That Heal: Indoor Therapeutic Gardens – An article by Planterra about one of their indoor hospital gardens, with great information about how plants purify the air.

2.’s list of the Top 5 Plants for Improving Indoor Air Quality.

3. Living on Earth’s list of “Ten Eco-Friendly House Plants.”

4. A really heartwarming story (also from Living on Earth) about students at Stuyvesant High School (above), which is just blocks away from Ground Zero, who received indoor plants from nurseries after the attacks on September 11, 2001, as a way to purify the air.

Image from

Force bulbs and branches
When spring just won’t hurry up and get here fast enough, we can do something to hurry it along called “forcing,” with bulbs and flowering branches of shrubs and trees. Putting these plants in water in the warmth of our homes fools them into thinking that spring has arrived, and they go about sending up shoots and flowers. I do this every year with forsythia, and this year I think I’ll try it with serviceberry as well. Here’s a good article on forcing bulbs, and here’s a nice article from Fine Gardening about forcing branches, including a list of some good trees and shrubs to use. The blog Heirloom Gardener has some really beautiful images of forced branches, along with a good forcing calendar.

Plan for next year’s winter garden
Now is a great time of year to look out onto your (or your clients’) garden and see what’s missing in the winter-time. Are you hungry for more color? Perhaps you should plan for some more evergreens, or shrubs with brightly-colored branches (such as red-twig dogwood, coral maple, and several willow species) or berries for next year. Or perhaps your garden needs more structure – what we designers call “the bones” of the garden. Maybe an unexpected tree or shrub form would help to add interest and even levity to the garden: For example, the Dr. Suess-like branches of Henry Lauder’s walking stick or corkscrew willow.

Start seeds
There’s something so promising about seeing little seedlings of herbs and vegetables nosing their way through the soil and emerging into the light and warmth of our homes. Lots of good information on the web, but two of my favorite sources are One Green Generation and Fine Gardening’ 10 Seed-Starting Tips. You’ll find some informative videos on that page as well.

Look at garden books and catalogs
Here’s one comment that I received from an earlier post in this series:

When I lived in Michigan, I took up cross country skiing to make winter bearable. Still found the long winters with flat gray sky day after day tough – I always felt starved for color. Looking at art books and garden books helped.

Curling up with a good, juicy garden book, or a plant or seed catalog, can be just what the Winter Doldrums Doctor ordered. And now is the time to do it, which leads me to my last suggestion:

Enjoy the down time

In some ways, winter forces us to slow down and turn inward. This can actually be a good thing, allowing us to rest, recharge our batteries, and emerge in the spring like new buds from recently dormant branches , rejuvenated and ready for a productive and fruitful growing season. So go ahead, for the remainder of the winter, allow yourself to revel in its quiet coziness: Curl up by the fire with a cup of hot something and a good garden book and allow yourself to dream…spring will be here before you know it.

Watching the Birds – Connecting with Nature in Winter, Part III

Photo courtesy of Kelly Riccetti at Red and the Peanut

Continuing our series on “Surviving the Winter by Staying Connected to Nature,” today’s post is about enjoying nature from inside, and in particular, feeding and watching the birds.

It’s true that one of the keys to making it through the winter is getting outside (more on that in the next post). But let’s face it: Even if we do venture forth, we’re probably not going to be out very long. So what is a “healing garden” in winter? One that we can gaze upon and enjoy from indoors. And what better way to hold our attention than watching the birds? It’s certainly been keeping me going this winter. This is the first year that I’ve noticed white-breasted nuthatches flitting back and forth from the bird feeder to the white oak. And in addition to the usual sparrows, crows, dark-eyed juncos, starlings, and cardinals, we seem to have more chickadees and tufted titmice (titmouses?) this year as well. Such a delight!

I want to especially encourage nurses, administrators, volunteers and family members who care for seniors to do more to attract birds. Place bird feeders and baths (you can even buy heated ones) outside of private and community windows. Watching, identifying, and counting birds can bring a great deal of meaning (and social interaction) into people’s lives. Bird-watching is an excellent antidote to the common problems of boredom, loneliness, and isolation.

No matter what your age, here are some resources to get you started. There are two primary ways to attract birds to the garden. First, plant things that birds are attracted to for food and habitat. The following books and websites will help you choose what to plant and how to keep a garden that’s bird-friendly throughout the year:

Second to providing natural food and habitat in your garden, supplement with birdfeeders and bird baths. The National Bird-Feeding Society is a great place to start. Learn about bird feed and feeder preference; how to prevent disease at bird feeders; best backyard bird-feeding practices, and more. And many of the websites listed above also provide information about this aspect of backyard bird-care as well.

All of these resources, plus a few more, are on the Therapeutic Landscapes Network’s Sensory & Wildlife Plants page. Stop on by, and if you have other recommendations, let us know.

Photo by Henry Domke,

Photo courtesy of Henry Domke