Plants and Horticulture

Green Walls for Healing Gardens


Patrick Blanc's 'Mur Vegetal' in Paris -Quai Branly

Patrick Blanc's 'Mur Vegetal' in Paris -Quai Branly

One of the key elements of a healing garden – a garden designed to facilitate and even improve people’s health and well-being – is a high ration of plant material (“softscape”) to paving, walls, stairs, etc. (“hardscape”). More plants, less paving.

And especially if we’re talking about hospitals and other healthcare facilities, which is where healing gardens are needed most, people like a lot of softness and greenery to balance out the hard, sterile surfaces indoors. People also prefer a feeling of enclosure – it makes them feel safe and secure, and can delineate spaces for private reflection and conversation.

So, what better design element than a green, living wall? Patrick Blanc made a big splash with his (absolutely gorgeous) vertical gardens a few years ago, and since then, the market for green walls has exploded. I’ve been surprised at how slowly it’s catching on in the healthcare environment. Seriously, wouldn’t it be great if all of the hospitals and clinics and hospices and nursing homes had soft, green, living vertical surfaces instead of concrete walls and vinyl fences and strange partitions that don’t really work in delineating space?

Image courtesy Annabel Harrold from Echo Studio's post on Blanc

Image courtesy Annabel Harrold from Echo Studio's post on Blanc

Another plus about vertical gardens: They are easily accessible to just about everyone. Whether you’re standing on two feet or wheeling in a wheelchair or a stroller, the plants are at your height where you can reach out to touch and smell, or even to garden in. What a fantastic tool for horticultural therapists!

Here’s an example of a custom-designed wall by Hitchcock Design Group for a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Hyde Park, Chicago:

Hitchcock Design Group green wall. Photo by Naomi Sachs

Hitchcock Design Group green wall. Photo by Naomi Sachs

If you’re interested in the confluence of plants and architecture, definitely check out Jason King’s blog Veg.itecture (their tagline is “investigating green architecture.”).

And if you know of any healthcare facilities with vertical green walls – fixed or freestanding – please leave a comment. We’re trying to build a list for the Therapeutic Landscapes Network.

Here’s one last image, from a new company called Woolly Pocket Garden Company. Check out their blog. I especially like the posts about the Edible Staircase and the Edible Schoolyard, two programs with kids in Los Angeles schools.

Green wall image courtesy of Woolly Pockets

Image courtesy of Woolly Pockets

Extending the Healing Garden’s Season: Fall Foliage

Fall foliage season has definitely wound down here in the Hudson Valley, but other parts of the country are still in full swing, so here’s a post about extending the healing garden’s season with fall foliage (and late-blooming flowers).

Autumn crocus at the High Line

Designing for fall color is an excellent way to keep people interested in the garden long after many of those summer blooms have faded. Of course, late-season bloomers like asters, mums, blanket flower, autumn crocus (pictured above), some kinds of roses, and anemones (to name a few) are great, and all the better for pairing with bright-colored foliage like the asters and serviceberries at the High Line (below). A great book for inspiration is Late Summer Flowers by Marina Christopher.

I also think there’s something poetic, inspiring, and strangely reassuring about something burning so bright just before going into dormancy.

Below are some of my favorites. All of these photos were taken by me (Naomi Sachs) in late October in Zone 5.

Serviceberry (also called Juneberry and shadbush)

Japanese maple

  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.)
  • Maples, especially Japanese, red, and sugar (Acer spp.) – not all maples put on a good show, so do your research before-hand
  • Black gum, or sour gum (Nyssa sylvatica) – brilliant red
  • Sassafrass – incredible range of reds, oranges, and yellows. Hard to transplant, but worth trying.
  • Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) – brilliant yellow. One of the things I miss most about living in Santa Fe, NM.
  • Gingko and honey locust are two more great trees for bright yellow splendor
  • Dogwood (Cornus florida and C. kousa, to name just two) – and those beautiful red berries that attract all kinds of birds; Cornus species is one of my favorites for multi-season interest (beautiful flowers in spring, nice foliage in summer, great fall color, red berries that attract wildlife, and a lovely form even without leaves).
  • Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) – deep red with long frothy white flowers for contrast.

Oakleaf hydrangea

Climbing hydrangea, happily co-existing with an oak, at Stonecrop Gardens

  • Sweetspire (Itea virginica, especially ‘Henry’s Garnet’); I have heard that they perform well even in part shade, which is great – many plants depend on full sun for a good show
  • Blueberry (Vaccinium spp.) – yes, delicious berries AND red fall color, too.
  • Several (but not all) Hydrangea species, including oakleaf (Hydrangea quercifolia), climbing (H. anomala subspecies petiolaris). Many hydrangeas, such as oakleaf and Pee Gee, also sport blossoms that turn to soft roses and buffs in the fall, and they often stay on after the leaves have fallen.
  • Fothergilla – let’s just say “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat”
  • Most of the sumacs, including Rhus typhina – they also get nice fuzzy red seedheads that persist through the winter and attract birds.
  • Witch hazel (Hamamelis spp.) – Some kinds, like ‘Arnold’s Promise’ and ‘Jelena’ vary from year to year. Last year, mine were bright reds and oranges, this year they were much more yellow. Go figure!

Geranium macrorrhizum

Perennials, grasses, ferns
  • Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) – low groundcover; leaves turn bright red
  • True geranium (esp. Geranium macrorrhizum and G. sanguinium)
  • Hosta (leaves turn a brilliant yellow, if only briefly before they look like they’ve melted into a strange puddle)
  • Several kinds of ferns, including Dryopteris erythrosa and Osmundia regalis
  • Bergenia – gorgeous bright red
  • Most ornamental grasses. Some personal favorites for brilliant autumn display are switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), big bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and some kinds of maiden grass (Miscanthus spp.). For more inspiration on ornamental grasses, see Planting the Healing Garden: Ornamental Grasses.
Some plants have tried-and-true stellar autumn color, while others vary depending on geographic location, the amount of sun they get, and even microclimate. To make sure something is going to be as bright as the books and websites say it is, I like to visit as many gardens, nurseries, and parks as I can in my area to see for myself. I did not list burning bush and barberry for two reasons: First, they are both overused in the landscape–those of is in the trade call them “gas station plants” because of their boring ubiquity; and second, they are both invasive in the northeast because they seed prolifically (birds carry the seeds everywhere and deer don’t eat them, so they are taking over our forests).

Resources: Though googling is always an option, some good books for reference and inspiration include: Fallscaping: Extending Your Garden Season Into Autumn; Autumn Gardens by Ethne Clarke; Gardening with Foliage Plants: Leaf, Bark, and Berry, also by Ethne Clarke; The Year in Trees: Superb Woody Plants for Four-Season Gardens; The Autumn Garden; and Fall Foliage: The Mystery, Science, and Folklore of Autumn Leaves by Charles W.G. Smith isn’t so much a planting guide but looks like a really fun read. Michael Dirr’s Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs is one book I use all the time because each plant gets several images, giving you a sense of what it looks like through the seasons.

Many thanks to @yardhalf ( for some great suggestions on twitter! Have other suggestions for fall color or resources? Leave a comment!

All images in this post are by Naomi Sachs.

Edible Gardens are Healing Gardens

Image courtesy of Anne Dailey

I can’t believe summer’s almost over. It flew by this year. Depending on where you are in this country, or in the world, your growing season is coming to a close (or just beginning, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere – lucky you!). Here in the Hudson Valley, we’ve got a couple of months left before a hard frost hits, with end-of-the-summer treats like corn, tomatoes (though many fewer this year due to the
blight), peppers, and melons. In my own tiny raised bed garden, I’ve got tomatoes, chard, arugula, and lots of herbs.

I’ve been thinking a lot about edible gardens as healing landscapes. After all, food is life. What could be more nurturing than good, healthy food? And not just nutritionally, though most of us know by now that the closer our food source is, the more nutrients (and flavor) it has to offer. On top of all that, there is something nurturing to the spirit about growing and eating your own food. Whether you have a few pots of herbs and tomatoes on the deck or fire escape, or an acre of land to tend, or a plot in a community garden or CSA (community-supported agriculture), an edible garden is a healing garden for body and soul.

Alice Waters, Deborah Madison, Michael Pollan, Barbara Kingsolver, and even Martha Stewart, to name just a few, are some of the more well-known advocates of eating locally, slowly, and sustainably. The locavore/backyard (and front yard!) farmer/victory garden movement has exploded, and lots of individuals, families, schools, communities, the New York Botanical Garden – heck, even the first family – are getting in on the grow-and-eat-your-own action. And there’s a plethora of information out there. On twitter alone, I’m following over two dozen people and organizations devoted to small-scale/local farming and agriculture and edible gardens. Not sure when to plant radishes? Debating about sowing a cover crop? Thinking of saving seeds from your heirloom squash? Just google it. A great example low-tech analog and high-tech digital living happily ever after.

And what a great learning experience for children, to know not only what real zucchini or blueberries or carrots taste like, but how they grow (vine, bush, in the ground below those frilly green tops).

Image courtesy of Allison Vallin and A Tasteful Garden

This New York TimesOne in 8 Million” piece on Buster English in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood really touched me, and hits on several of the ideas in this post.

To really get the most out of your edible garden as healing garden, here are some suggestions:

1. Grow organic: Avoid pesticides and herbicides. After all, a big part of growing your own food is creating a healthier alternative for you, your family and friends, and your neighbors. The people and the soil and the creatures who live in and around it will thank you.

2. Start small: If you’ve never “farmed” before, don’t take on too much at once. Plant what (or maybe even less than) you think you’ll need or that you have time to tend. Nothing puts a damper on your enjoyment of a garden like feeling overwhelmed, guilty, or inept. You can always do more next year.

3. Grow stuff you really like, or that you can’t get enough of locally (for example, even if I wanted to buy sorrel, it just isn’t available around here; and the first thing I’d plant if I had more space would be a fig tree); or that’s expensive to buy at the store/market (another example: I don’t grow potatoes or onions because I can get them cheap. Arugula, on the other hand…).

4. Teach the children: Put your kids to work! Or better yet, set aside a part of the garden that’s just for them. Radishes, carrots, tomatoes, zucchini, peas, and many herbs are easy to grow, even from seed. Here’s an article on the “top ten” kid-friendly veggies (and fruit) and another on the ones that might be a bit more of a challenge. What magic, to put a tiny radish seed into the ground, to water and care for it, to see a tiny shoot emerge, to tend it some more, and then pull it out of the ground and savor its bright pink, spicy peppery crispness. And what joy to be a part of that discovery and delight.

5. Include your elders. Maybe it’s your parents, or your grandparents, or other relatives, or the elderly couple that lives down the street. Maybe it’s residents of a nearby senior center. Many people from earlier generations grew up farming, or at least tending a kitchen garden, and they have knowledge and stories to share. In return, you can share some of your bounty with them. If I had my druthers, intergenerational gardening would be the next big thing.

6. And speaking of which: Share! If for no other reason than to impress your neighbors with your farming acumen, give some of your harvest away. What a truly generous gift.

7. And last but not least: Enjoy. Every time I bite into one of my home-grown tomatoes, I’m blown away not just by the taste; I also feel a deep sense of wonder and gratitude. Such beauty, such flavor, such nourishment. To me, that’s about as healing as it gets.

Image courtesy of Claire Brown and Plant Passion

Mountain Laurel and Russel Wright

Native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) at Manitoga today

I’m lucky enough to live in the lower Hudson Valley, home – among many other wonderful things – of the Russel Wright Design Center in Garrison, NY. When Wright found the property in 1942, it was a former quarry that had been marred by a century of quarrying and lumbering. He made it his home, and began to “heal” the damaged landscape where he lived and worked. He named the place “Manitoga,” which means Place of the Great Spirit in Algonquin. “Over the next three decades, until his death in 1976, he carefully redesigned and re-sculpted Manitoga’s 75 acres using native plants, his training as a theater designer and sculptor, and his innovative design ideas. Though the landscape appears natural, it is actually a careful design of native trees, rocks, ferns, mosses, and wild flowers.”* (He also built a beautiful house and studio there, and made some pretty cool dishware as well).

My favorite examples of healing gardens are those where the designers have done their part to heal the site, and in so doing, have created a place that restores and rejuvenates us, as well.

It’s a beautiful site throughout the year, and when the native mountain laurel is in bloom, it’s simply stunning. Wright once said, “When in full bloom, the mountain laurel reminds me of fields of strawberry ice cream.” Yum. But of course this wouldn’t be the TLDBlog without a caveat, so here goes: Mountain laurel may be beautiful, but it’s also quite toxic! Not for planting in gardens for children, the developmentally disabled, and people with dementia. You can read more about what plants use with caution on the Therapeutic Landscapes Database Plants page.

Beech sapling emerging from quarry stone

More on scent and memory – Guest post by Wendy Meyer

Image courtesy Henry Domke,

Photo by Henry Domke,

Wendy Meyer, a recent MLA graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington left such an informative comment on the last blog post, on scent as an emotional memory trigger, that I thought it was worth printing in its entirety, especially since she provides a link to her thesis, “Persistence of Memory: Scent Gardens for Therapeutic Life Review in Communities for the Elderly.”

Aha, I finally figured out how to post a comment! I wrote my master’s thesis in landscape architecture on this subject–specifically, on using fragrant plants in gardens for elderly people to help conduct reminiscence therapy. There is a ton of new brain science being done on the links between smells, emotions and memories. It turns out that early, emotional autobiographical memories are strongly related to smells, because of the way the brain evolved. I looked at how reminiscence helps older people come to terms with their lives, historic use of scent in gardens as well as history of therapeutic gardens. I also interviewed a group of practitioners for their advice and insights on using scent for therapy in gardens. I got different perspectives from landscape architects who design therapeutic gardens, nurses/therapists who work with elderly populations and horticultural therapists who work in all kinds of settings. One of the recurring themes was the need for everyone involved to work together in creating these gardens–not just garden designers and hospital/nursing home administrators, but the therapy staff, families, patients and (not to be forgotten!) the maintenance staff. I spent two and a half years reading and could have spent lots longer (but I needed to graduate)! You can see the thesis at this link: Or if that doesn’t work, I’m sending a PDF to the Therapeutic Landscapes Network website.

When I asked Wendy for permission to post this, and mentioned I might use a rose for the image, here’s what she had to say:

“Roses were probably the flower that came up the most–particularly rugosas, because the hips have a distinctive scent–but also lavender, gardenias, rosemary and lilac. People mentioned a lot of scents outside the garden as well–firs in the Northwest, sagebrush after a thunderstorm in the Southwest, crabapple blossoms in Wisconsin. I have a bunch of plant lists in the appendices–that was one of the fun parts to put together!”

Thanks so much, Wendy!

Scent as emotional memory trigger in the healing garden

Lilac image courtesy What Do I Know? blog

Image courtesy What Do I Know?

Lilacs. Roses. Jasmine. Gardenia. Freshly mown grass. Chaparral. Depending on where you grew up, these scents probably conjure up some pretty powerful emotions and memories. In fact, of the five, our olfactory sense is the strongest emotional memory trigger. According to a June ’09 issue of Organic Gardening, “That’s because the part of our brain responsible for basic memory evolved out of the tissue that makes up the olfactory cortex.” For a slightly more detailed explanation, see this article on the psychology of scent, “Whisking up a memory with a whiff: Rachel Herz explores the psychology of scent.“) And here’s another good one, from Science & Tech: “Can you really smell memories? How childhood scents get ‘etched’ on the brain.” See also our next blog post, a guest post by Wendy Meyer that includes a link to her thesis “Persistence of Memory: Scent Gardens for Therapeutic Life Review in Communities for the Elderly.

Fragrance in the healing garden

For this reason, using plants with fragrant flowers and foliage is an important part of designing the healing garden.* Especially in nursing homes, dementia gardens, and other landscapes for people with memory loss, scent can be very powerful. Consider this story, from Martha M. Tyson’s wonderful book The Healing Landscape: Therapeutic Outdoor Environments, about our colleague Vince Healy:

Vince’s grandmother was in her nineties. For quite some time she had not recognized Vince and was not really fully aware of what was going on around her. Since it was Easter time, Vince decided to pay her a visit. During his drive there, Vince came upon a roadside stand that advertised lilacs for sale. In southern California, lilacs do not grow well. This stand, however, had great quantities of them, and they were cheap. So Vince brought an enormous number of the lilacs and put them in the back of his van…By the time Vince arrived at the nursing home, the lilacs were looking very sad. When Vince walked into his grandmother’s room, she looked at him as always, blankly, and then she looked at the flowers. “They’re wilted! Throw them away!” After all this effort Vince was not about to throw them away, so he moved the lilacs closer, right under her nose. She drew in the fragrance with a deep breath and a sigh and said, “Lilacs….” Then she looked up at Vince and said, “Vinnie, how are you?”

Designing with fragrance as an emotional memory trigger

But even with less miraculous results, scents that elderly people remember fondly – “old-fashioned” flowers like lilacs, honeysuckle, gardenia, mock orange, roses – can evoke positive feelings and often facilitate conversations, thus providing something important but often lacking in places like nursing homes: Personal connection. Because our sense of smell often decreases as we age, strongly scented plants have a better chance of triggering a reaction than something subtle. I highly recommend Tyson’s book for more information, and Clare Cooper Marcus and Marni Barnes’ book Healing Gardens: Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations is also valuable, especially the Chapter 8 on nursing home gardens and Chapter 9 on Alzheimer’s treatment gardens. Several other books have been published on gardens for the elderly, including Jack Carman et al’s new book Recreating Neighborhoods for Successful Aging. If you know of books that specifically address this issue of scent as a memory trigger in healing gardens, I’ll add it to our list!

*One caveat: In some cases, such as with gardens for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, even a good scent may be too overwhelming, and even nauseating. I don’t know of any specific research on what to steer clear of – if anyone reading this knows, please pass the information my way and I’ll list it on the Therapeutic Landscapes Network’s website.

Planting the Healing Garden: Medicinal Herbs

Lavender fields image courtesy Oregon Lavender Festival website,

Lavender fields image courtesy Oregon Lavender Festival website,

One of the most frequently-asked questions at the Therapeutic Landscapes Network is about what grows in a healing garden. Many people assume that a “therapeutic landscape” is a garden filled with herbs grown and harvested for their medicinal properties – in essence, that the healing comes from the plants in the garden. And this is certainly true some of the time (for a more thorough explanation about and definition of healing gardens, therapeutic landscapes, and landscapes for health, see this post and this post). More often, though, a healing garden is simply a garden filled with plants; research has shown that the more heavily planted a garden is, the more restorative it will be. The type of plant seems to be less important, though a variety of flora that stimulates the senses is a good start.

That said, many healing gardens contain at least some medicinal herbs, which are grown for a variety reasons: Their scent, or texture, or aesthetic qualities, or for their symbolism (for example, Topher Delaney designed the Carolyn S. Stolman Healing Garden at the Avon Foundation Breast Center in San Francisco, CA with plants that were traditionally used to treat cancer). Are they always harvested, processed, and used for salutary purposes? Nope. The fact is that especially in a healthcare setting, there often isn’t time or knowledge or the right equipment for, say, distilling Echinacea flowers into the tincture that you would use to boost the immune system. Are they beautiful, native, easy-to-maintain flowers that attract butterflies and symbolize health? Absolutely! Do they get harvested to ward off the common cold? Not usually.

The wonderful thing about herbs is their versatility. Lavender, for example, is easy to grow; drought tolerant; beautiful; attracts honeybees; smells wonderful; and is easy to harvest for a variety of uses, including in tea, cooking, baking, and potpourri. Lavender is known for its calming properties, and, if distilled in a tincture, is an excellent anti-bacterial disinfectant.

Some other reasons to grow herbs:

1. Herbs are great for children’s gardens because they tend to be easy to grow and are a delight to the senses.

2. Many herbs do well in containers and small spaces, as they don’t take up much space and often need less water than other annuals or perennials. For many years, the only gardens I had were herb gardens in pots on steps or front porches.

3. To the delight of gardeners with deer, rabbits, and other ravenous garden invaders, many herbs are not attractive for nibbling. In fact, sometimes they can even act as a deterrent and a “mask” for other more inviting flora.

4. Herbs often do “double duty” as culinary and medicinal herbs. If you have a kitchen garden, you may already be growing medicinal herbs: Rosemary improves memory and circulation and relieves sore throats and gums; peppermint aids digestion and treats sore throats, colds, and toothaches; parsley cures urinary tract infections and also helps to alleviate bad breath; marjoram treats tonsillitis, asthma, and bronchitis; thyme is used to treat gastrointestinal problems as well as sore throats and coughs; lemon balm is calming; basil reduces fever, lowers blood pressure, and is also an analgesic.

Sometimes you don’t even have to grow medicinal herbs – you can simply find them in your backyard or woods; those dandelions and pursane plants that are “ruining” your lawn? Think of them (or better yet, use them!) as medicinal herbs and/or delicious, nutritious greens and maybe your grass will look greener on this side (who needs a full-blown victory garden when you can just graze from your weedy lawn, right?). Worried about the stinging nettle at the edge of the garden? Harvest it – carefully! – to treat a whole slew of ailments, as well as for delicious meals like nettle soup.

With any herb, a little research may be needed to find out what part of the plant to use and how to prepare it for use in an herbal remedy. Sometimes it’s as simple as harvesting the flowers (chamomile, lavender) or leaves (lemon balm, peppermint) and making tea, other times preparation may be a bit more complex.

There are so many good books and websites about medicinal herbs, but here are a few resources that we list on the Therapeutic Landscapes Network. If you know of a great book, website, organization, or garden as resource about medicinal herbs, please share it with us! We will gladly add it. We are also looking for more examples of healthcare gardens and horticultural therapy programs that use specific plant material, including medicinal herbs. Use the comments section at the end of this post to submit suggestions, ideas, and information.

To get you started, here’s a nice article from about common medicinal herbs that are easy to grow, harvest, and use.

And here are a few fairly comprehensive websites to bookmark as references:

Herbs to Herbs

Plants for a Future (Includes a 7,000 plant database for US and UK, and they have a book, too. Very impressive!)

Traditional Chinese Medicine Database System

The University of Washington Medicinal Herb Garden

And thanks to WMassHerbGarden on twitter for this recommendation: Growing 101 Herbs That Heal.

Planting the Healing Garden: Bring on the Bees!

This image is courtesy of
I haven’t been able to keep up with the regular blog posts lately (hm, same thing happened last spring, I wonder why?), and today is not much of an exception. I’m actually going to direct you to a great article on bumblebees and honeybees on the Fine Gardening website (“Bring the Buzzzzz Back to Your Garden”); it’s got some great information about various kinds of bees and what you can plant in your garden to attract them. And here’s another great website that I stumbled upon while looking for good bee pictures: The Science Museum’s “Bumblebees like it hot.”
As a landscape designer who specializes in restorative gardens, I have the funny experience of some clients wanting gardens that attract bees, and other clients wanting gardens that don’t. After a nasty yellowjacket incident when I was five (involving over 25 of the beasts attacking me after I accidentally stepped on their nest), I’ve struggled to master my stinging-insect phobia. I can relate to people who would be happy if the bees just stayed away. Nevertheless, I like to educate clients about the fact that honeybees and bumblebees rarely sting (something I’ve learned from my own gardening experience – I’ve been stung by many a wasp in my life, but never by a bee), and I also stress the importance of providing food and habitat for our wonderful pollinating friends who’ve been having a bit of a tough time lately (you can read about Colony Collapse Disorder on many websites and blogs, but here’s the Wikipedia article to get you started). Incidentally, beekeeping has really taken off in the past couple of years. A friend in Beacon has a great blog called Beacon Bee, and I’ve been learning a lot from her. There are even urban beekeepers; in france, they call it “concrete honey.”

Alzheimer’s Awareness Perennial Garden

Better Homes & Gardens has teamed up with the Alzheimer’s Association to offer an exclusive Alzheimer Awareness Perennial Garden to help champion Alzheimer’s research and programs.
The collection of five perennials (echinacea, aster, salvia, phlox, and sedum) in whites and blues creates a beautiful, fragrant display that also attracts butterflies, all while raising awareness about and funding for Alzheimer’s disease.
The Alzheimer’s Association receives 10% of the gross sales from all Alzheimer’s Awareness Perennial Gardens (which sell for $99.95) to support research and services in communities nationwide for people touched by Alzheimer’s and related types of dementia. Recipients get a personalized gift card, planting instructions, and a planting plan. 
Nice idea, right? Thanks to Jasmine’s Blog for blogging about this first! As she so eloquently put it, “Not only does the garden raise funds for the fight against Alzheimer’s, but part of the beauty of the concept is the stress-reduction offered by the pastime of gardening. The Alzheimer’s Association hopes that some of the 10 million unpaid caregivers in America will find relaxation through gardening. The kit also makes a beautiful tribute to a loved one.”

Forcing spring

Image from House Beautiful, 2008

It’s the third warm, sunny day here in the Hudson Valley, and it really feels like spring. Today I celebrated by cutting some stems from our giant forsythia hedge to force indoors. Even though forsythia and magnolia are three of the earliest spring-blooming shrubs (but later than witch hazel – see this post), we’ve still got a few weeks before they really burst into full glory. By taking cuttings and bringing them inside, you can trick trees and shrubs into thinking spring is further along, hence the term “forcing.” I actually could have done this weeks ago, but I always forget! You can force lots of other shrubs and trees, too, including azalea, flowering quince, pussywillow, witch hazel, serviceberry, redbud, rhododendron, beautybush, crabapple, and other fruit trees such as cherry, apricot, pear, and apple. To see some really gorgeous examples, check out this blog post from Habitually Chic: “Forcing Spring.” 

Forcing trees and shrubs is also a nice idea in the healthcare setting, particularly in long-term care facilities like nursing homes and hospices. Think how nice it would be in a place where residents have been cooped up indoors all winter, if the horticultural therapist or another health care worker or a family member took some cuttings and brought them indoors for a little spring preview. Or better yet, went with the residents on a “field trip” to prune a few branches on the grounds. Most long-term care facilities have flowering trees and shrubs, and as long as they are pruned carefully and not too overzealously, no one will miss a few branches here and there. If you are letting residents help, make sure to oversee the use of sharp tools, and of course no matter who’s doing the cutting, make sure to prune so that the actual tree or shrub isn’t harmed. Here’s a good article from, that tells you when and how: “Forcing Spring Flowering Trees and Shrubs.” A bouquet of twigs, then buds, then flowering branches becomes a great conversation piece and provides that joyful anticipation of spring’s arrival. 
Of course, people force bulbs, too. Paperwhites and hyacinths are the most popular two, but other spring bulbs work as well. Here’s a good article about that from “Forcing Flowering Bulbs for Winter Color.”