Plants and Horticulture

Planting the Healing Garden: Growing Your Own Bird Seed

Image of prairie warbler courtesy Henry Domke Fine Art

Not much time for blogging lately, but here’s a good
article about planting flowers that will attract birds into your garden. And if they don’t eat it all while it’s “on the vine,” you can harvest to feed the birds later. “How to Grow Your Own Bird Seed in the Garden.” Enjoy, and the birds will, too!

Gardening for Health – another good article

Image courtesy Henry Domke Fine Art

Twitter can sometimes be a supreme distraction, but it can also send good articles my way, including this one, “Gardening for Health.” It’s old (2000), and repeats a lot of the same stuff I and others have been saying again and again, but there’s a personal component to this piece that – in my opinion – makes it worth sharing. I hope you agree!

Sorry to not be keeping up with the daily blog postings. Work with the web designer on our “new improved” website for the Therapeutic Landscapes Network is progressing, and it’s taking a lot of my attention these days as we make decisions about images, layout, features to add to the site that aren’t there now (like a search feature – progress at last!). If you have any thoughts on what you like about the existing site ( and what you would really like to see different with the new site, I’d love to hear from you. The TLN will continue to provide all of the same information (plus more!), but in a juicier, more accessible, easier-to-search format. Think organic peaches rather than bran cereal. Above is one of the images that will be in our homepage slideshow. We’re shooting to launch at the end of this month, so get your comments and ideas to me soon!

Thanks to twitterbo for “tweeting” this! 

Planting the Healing Garden: Ornamental Grasses

This and other images for this post courtesy Henry Domke Fine Art

It’s a balmy 41 degrees here in the Hudson Valley today. I’m not being sarcastic! Anything over 40 degrees is a welcome change, and it’s sunny to add…hm, what’s the opposite of adding insult to injury? Icing to cake? 

Anyway, it was warm enough for me to get out and garden for the first time in months, and it felt really good. Not much to do yet, but it is the time to cut back any perennial stalks that you left up for the winter for vertical interest and birds, and it’s also time to cut back your ornamental grasses, which is what I did today. Note to self: Next fall, plant lots of bulbs amidst the grasses so that something green and colorful will be coming up after the grasses have been cut back and before they start to grow in again. More on this in a minute.

Ornamental grasses are a wonderful plant for any garden, including the healing garden. Many people think that a “healing garden” has to have medicinal plants. Not necessarily so! While herbs are certainly great – for actual medicinal use, or as symbols of healing, or just because they smell good and are therefore a delight to the senses – many more healing gardens don’t have any medicinal plants at all, or they have a mix of herbs, vegetables and fruit, trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and any other kind of plant material that seems appropriate for the intended user (the technical term for the person who will be enjoying the garden) and the space. 

Here are some reasons why I think ornamental grasses are ideal for healing gardens:

1. They are beautiful! Aesthetically speaking, ornamental grasses really do it for me. So reasons #1-6 all have to do with beauty.

2. Color: Who can resist the bright and rich greens, bronzes, tans, and even reds of grasses, a constantly shifting display of color throughout the year? From the moment they emerge from the ground to when they get cut back in the spring, grasses put on a show of sometimes subtle, sometimes stop-in-your tracks color variation. 

3. Play with light: If you’ve ever seen bright-red Japanese bloodgrass (Imperata) in summer or copper little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium, above) in autumn backlit by the sun, you have experienced a thing of true beauty. Sometimes it’s the foliage that gets highlighted, sometimes the flowers, and sometimes both; when you’re thinking about where to site grasses, keep in mind where the light comes from; backlighting can have a really dramatic effect. 

4. Movement: Most grasses are very light and airy, and therefore catch the slightest movement of air. There’s something enchanting about seeing grasses dancing and shimmering in the breeze.

5. Seasonal interest: Most grasses offer almost four whole seasons of interest. There’s about a month in the early spring when they get cut back (hence the note to self about bulbs to fill in the gaps), but other than that they put on a great show year-round with changing colors of foliage and flowers, and with texture as well. Like evergreens but with more variation, they provide a kind of structure and continuity in the garden as other plants around them appear, grow, bloom, fade, and go dormant again.

Other great reasons to use grasses:

7. Sound: Many ornamental grasses make a rustling sound when moved by the breeze, bringing an element of sound into the garden. That gentle “ssshhh” adds another layer to the sensory experience, and can even stand in for visual elements in gardens for the visually impaired. 

8. Critter-proof! Whether you’re battling squirrels, deer, Japanese beetles or any other kind of pest, grasses are pretty tough. Most animals (other than my dogs – they love to chew on some of my grasses!) don’t like them. 

9. Low maintenance: As mentioned above, most ornamental grasses are pretty good at fending for themselves. Other than being cut back in the spring, they don’t need the pruning, staking, deadheading, raking, etc. that we have to do for our other beloved garden inhabitants. 

10. Good in containers. Grasses do well in pots and other containers, making them excellent candidates for small-space, rooftop, and other types of container gardens. They can act as nice vertical and or/softening accents, they are often drought- and wind-tolerant, and they (usually -see below!) get along well with their neighbors. 

Caution Caveat: A few species of ornamental grasses (especially pampas grass) have very sharp blades (I guess they don’t call them blades for nothing); if you’re using grasses for a children’s garden or another space where people might grab hold or have to brush past, make sure to plant the kinder, gentler, touch-friendly species.

Also, a few species of ornamental grasses do not make good neighbors; they can be a garden nuisance (Hakonochlea and Stipa tennuissima, for example) or even a threat to native grasses and other flora (especially pampas grass, runner bamboos, and varieties of Miscanthus in some parts of the country). So whether it’s your own garden and especially if it’s a garden for a client, do your homework: Make sure you’re not saddling yourself or someone else with a lovely but unruly beast! Here are a couple of articles to start you off: “Native and Invasive Ornamental Grasses” and “Bad Boys of Ornamental Grasses.

Oh, and one more thing: Here’s an interesting article on caring for ornamental grasses – turns out it depends on whether they are really grasses (vs. sedges or rushes). Thanks to gardenmentor for sending me the link on twitter!

Daffodil Days with the American Cancer Society

Speaking of spring-blooming bulbs, the American Cancer Society‘s Daffodil Days program is now underway, through early March (exact dates vary by location). The ACS has been holding this particular fundraising campaign for over 35 years. Over the last 14 years, Daffodil Days has raised more than $240 million in gross revenue to support the ACS. Pretty cool, huh? 

Why daffodils? 

“As the first flower of spring, the daffodil represents hope and renewal. To the American Cancer Society, the daffodil symbolizes the hope we all share for a future where cancer no longer threatens those we love.” 
How it works: You order bunches of daffodils through the ACS now through early March, and they are then delivered to friends, family members, and people touched by cancer in mid-March. And/or you can send a Gift of Hope, a bouquet of ten daffodil stems in a vase that gets delivered as an anonymous gift from you to cancer patients in communities across the country. Daffodil Days options (dates, bouquets offered, etc.) vary by location, so click on the map for your specific community. You can also volunteer to help out with coordinating and delivering – see the website for that, too.
To learn more, get involved, or order up bunches of daffodils that will brighten someone’s day and help fight cancer, visit the Daffodils Days website, especially the FAQ’s page, or call the ACS directly: 1.800.ACS.2345.

Planting the Healing Garden: First Signs of Spring

Where I live in the northeast U.S., winter can get a little tiresome after awhile. Sure, it’s nice to pore over garden catalogs and watch the birds and the falling snow from the warmth of the house, but around February I’m done with shoveling and long underwear and root vegetables, and I start to look for signs of spring, thinking please, tell me winter isn’t going to last forever! 
For me, witch hazel (Hamemelis spp.) is one of the earliest and most wonderful spring harbingers. I blogged about this last year in one of my first posts (see this one, too, for more) and this year she’s doing it again, this time maybe even a little earlier, and still under a blanket of snow. Tiny little red buds appeared on the spare tan-colored branches about two weeks ago, and they have slowly unfurled to provide some much-needed color in the dreary end-of-winter landscape, as well as fragrance and the promise that spring will, indeed, come again. Different witch hazels bloom at different times: My ‘Jelena’ blooms at least a month earlier than my ‘Arnold’s Promise,’ whose fragrant blooms look like shredded Forsythia blossoms. A friend just turned me on to the New Jersey Botanical Garden, which apparently has a wonderful witch hazel collection. I sense a field trip coming on.

Some other early-spring bloomers ’round these parts are blue Siberian squills (Scilla), pictured above, which poke through last year’s fallen leaves around the same time as the skunkweed; blue snow glories, or glory of the snow (Chionodoxa); Iris reticulata; and snowdrops (Galanthus). I’m actually not sure if snowdrops’ common name is for the whiteness of the blossom or the fact that they often push through the snow to bloom, as you can see in this lovely photo from Anette Linnea Rasmussen, but regardless, they sure make for a welcome change.

And of course, Crocuses! Remember that Joni Mitchell song, Little Green: “There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow…” Curious about what other plants give people hope, I polled my network on twitter, and sure enough, Crocuses were the most popular early-spring bloomers. For perennials, Hellebores (also called Lenten rose for the bloom’s coinciding with Lent) were a favorite. And what about the rest of the country? In Maryland, the pussywillow is one person’s favorite, and a little south of there, in upstate South Carolina, Prunus mume does the trick. This photo by was taken in mid February, but they can bloom even earlier (though they do sometimes get damaged by frost). 

Prunus mume ‘Rosemary Clark.’ 
Photo by Karen Russ, © HGIC, Clemson Extension
In the Pacific northwest, primroses are the spring harbinger, as well as by Daphne odora – my Daphne blooms much later, so I don’t think of it as an early-spring plant, but I’m glad it is for somebody – the intoxicatingly fragrant blossoms must produce a Pavlovian like response up there in Seattle. 
One person responded that catnip was their favorite spring plant because as soon as its little green shoots start to emerge from the soil, the cats find it, get stoned, and frolick about. Now that’s spring fever! In Florida, it’s Viburnum and Hippeastrum. And in Los Angeles, though I would have thought it wouldn’t even matter, people still do like to mark the change of seasons. For some Angelinos, Freesias mean spring; for others, it’s miles of bright orange California poppies blanketing everything. Here’s a photo I took from the airplane in early March last year. No, the hills are not on fire, they are abloom with poppies.

And in case you want more inspiration, here’s a nice publication by Iowa State University Extension, Early Spring Blooming Perennials. So, dear readers, what about you? What plants help you get through those last few weeks of winter? Add a comment so we can see and take notes!

Sensory Gardens

Fountain at Carolyn S. Stolman Healing Garden, San Francisco, CA

Ever since someone contacted me looking for information on gardens for the blind, I’ve been meaning to write a post about sensory gardens. I’ll write more about this subject soon, but for now here’s a nice article from the Washington Post to get you started. Above is an image of a lovely interior courtyard at a cancer care center in San Francisco designed by Topher Delaney. The courtyard has a couple of bubbling fountains and a variety of scented plants that are are also symbolic for their use as medicinal herbs for treating cancer. Note that because cancer patients are so sensitive to smell, it’s best to use plants that release their scent most when touched (like lavender and thyme) rather than something like jasmine that might overwhelm.
Garden Beauty That the Eye Can’t Behold,” by Joel M. Lerner for the Washington Post (12/20/08, p. F05) article about sensory gardens – gardens that delight beyond sight; some nice ideas for plants and water features that stimulate the senses.

Plant a Tree: A truly “green” gift

Image courtesy Henry Domke Fine Art

Trying to think of something different, and preferably sustainable and economical for your Valentine this year? How ’bout planting a tree? Or two, or three, or an acre-full… 

Trees Instead and The Trees Remember are two companies that will plant a tree for any occasion, including Valentine’s Day. Heck you could also plant a tree for MLK Jr.’s birthday today, for Obama’s inauguration tomorrow…whatever the occasion, from births to weddings to memorials, Trees Instead and The Trees Remember have a tree for you. These companies both look great, so spread the love and support them both, o.k.?

Did you know that trees are the largest and longest living organisms on earth? That’s a pretty apt birth, birthday, Valentine’s, or memorial gift, if you ask me. Furthermore, 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.

So forget the diamonds, baby, give a tree!

Trees Instead: 
The Trees Remember:

What’s a healing garden?

For all you twitterers out there who have just started following the Therapeutic Landscapes Network Blog, this posting’s for you:

What’s a healing garden? 
Short answer: A healing garden is any outdoor space that facilitates health and well-being through contact with nature. 
It’s that simple. Sort of. If you want the longer answer, see an earlier two-part posting: ( and ( 

I haven’t written much about planting the healing garden yet, but I think it’s time to start doing so. I’ll devote at least two posts a week to this topic, and more if people want more. If you’ve been following this blog for a little while, you know I try to span the various bridges between design and healthcare and academia and home gardening – we’re all interested in the same thing: Learning and exchanging information about how nature improves health and well-being. We just sometimes talk about it in different ways. 

For those of you new to twitter, you can follow me and the Therapeutic Landscapes Network there at: And please, if you like this blog, please become a follower here as well! Just click on “Follow this blog” in the right-hand column.

Winter Solstice (and the need for natural light, part I)

Today is the winter solstice, and this weekend we got blasted with two snowstorms in a row. Winter has definitely arrived! I love the snow, and am delighted (especially since I don’t have to drive anywhere) with the winter-wonderland effect. White Christmas and all that. Almost everything looks better to me with a good dollop of the stuff. 

The only problem with snowstorms is that it tends to be cloudy when we have them. A cloudy winter solstice – already the shortest day of the year – even with the snow falling, can get rather gloomy. So I was happy just now when the storm ended and the sun broke through. I ran outside with my camera into the glittering, glowing whiteness of it all. Just what the doctor ordered: A little exercise, a little vitamin D, a little time appreciating nature close-up, cold fingers and all. 

Remember that post about seedheads? Now I can finally illustrate how beautiful they look (goldenrod, above). 

But I also got to thinking about the importance of light. Plants need light to photosynthesize; humans need light, too, and more research than ever is showing that natural light exceeds artificial when it comes to making us feel good. This means that buildings should be designed for their inhabitants to have as much natural light as possible. On this lovely winter solstice afternoon (and erev Channukah), it’s 4:00, the sun is setting, and it’s almost time to go inside and light the menorah. So stay tuned for tomorrow, when I’ll delve deeper into the research on natural light and the implications for therapeutic landscapes.

Seedheads for Winter Interest

It never ceases to amaze me how fast things change in the northeast when winter comes around. 
Here in the Hudson Valley, what was green and almost frighteningly verdant in September bursts into flames of yellow, orange, and red in October as the weather grows colder and the days become shorter. Then a hard frost hits in November and the landscape is transformed once again, this time into a muted tapestry of blondes, tans, browns and greys, with the blue sky and its early sunsets serving up the brightest colors of the day. If you, too, live in a cold climate and you haven’t already finished your garden cleanup for the year, it’s time to get out there before the snow hits (and transforms the landscape once again). 
I always encourage people not to cut their perennials and grasses back too fiercely in the fall. Leave some seed heads on those coneflowers, goldenrods (above), and the like – the birds will thank you for it, as will you on a snowy winter’s day when the seed heads sport delightful little snow caps and the grasses wave gracefully from a blanket of snow (or frozen mud in March). 
In a more institutional setting like a hospital, nursing home, or even a public park, this unkempt look may be a hard sell – many people like things to look neat and tidy because that’s what they’re used to. I don’t know of any studies that have looked specifically at people’s preferences between the wilder look and the more manicured, but I do know that education can go a long way. When people learn about the benefits to wildlife, or about collecting seeds, or even are just turned on to a different point of view, they may change their mind and appreciate those scraggly seed heads rather than just seeing them as “dead flowers that need cleaning up.” Hey, it’s worth a shot, right?  
Some good resources to inspire you and/or your clients: 
This is a great website with a wealth of resources: Winter Gardening: A Guide to Selected Resources.

Plus a few more:
Seedheads in the Garden, by Noel Kingsbury
Brooklyn Botanic Garden article: “Inviting Wildlife into Your Winter Garden.”
Lots more where that came from, just Google “garden in winter” or “planting for winter interest.”