Hi everyone, I’m giving away five copies of Leaf Your Troubles Behind this holiday season. To refresh your memory, this is my nonfiction book about how plants can help our mental health. With climate change, war, inflation, and all else, life can seem daunting and stressful. But the way to de-stress is often in plants. They’re simple, beautiful, and always there for us. What’s more, they’re free!
The book is divided into three parts: personal stories, scientific research, and fun activities. The personal stories are either from my life or from someone I know. They illustrate the experiences of how plants have improved people’s lives and made them feel better psychologically. The research section explains why and how plants do that, drawing on a rich body of scientific evidence from around the world. Lastly, the activities, nestled throughout the book, offer ways to relax, engage with, immerse yourself in, or even play with plants. Plus, decorative ideas! In the end, it’s really all about getting stress relief through plants.
Thanks, and happy holidays!
Recently, I wrote an article for The Washington Post on natural craft decorations for Halloween. It struck me afterward you could use a couple of these projects for Thanksgiving as well. Simply remove the ghosts and spookier elements to create nice autumn displays. Here are the basics of what I did.
My pumpkin vase was a fun, inexpensive project. Though the full directions are in The Post piece, I’ll share a bit about what I did to create this. I cut the top off a medium sized pumpkin and cleaned it out. Then I added pyracantha, mums, barberry, and grasses. My goal was to make a centerpiece that was nearly compostable. Outside of the water-soluble glue I used for the ghost’s head and the handkerchief, it pretty much is.
I thought it would be nice to make something with light so I created this candle centerpiece (see above photo). I started with a low basket to which I added black moss grass, gourds, pumpkins, and other assorted plants. I tucked in burgundy oak leaves for color and some structural interest. The prettiest part though was the beeswax candle in the center. Isn’t that fern pattern gorgeous? I love it. A couple in the Seattle area make these candles, which might still be available. Check out their website, Shipwreck Honey.
Natural Decor for the Holidays
These two projects, because they’re made from mostly natural materials, will last indoors for about a month. Afterward, if you remove the candle and glass, you can compost almost all of the materials. That was the idea, to offer an alternative to plastic, store-bought stuff.
Anyway, in a couple weeks, look for my article on natural holiday decor, which will also come out in The Post. Until then, enjoy your autumn!
Just a quick post to let you know my video interview on the “Let’s Get Growing” YouTube show is now available. I talked with gardener extraordinaire Enoch Graham about plants and wellness. The plants and wellness found, of course, in Leaf Your Troubles Behind. We touched on some impressive statistics about how engaging with plants lowers your stress. We also talked about easy activities you can do to get greenery in your life, and the positive psychological benefits of gardening. Plus, favorite plants!
Overall, the interview went great. I always feel self-conscious on video but hey, it is what it is. Goofy smile and all. My ring light burnt out during the last few minutes, so if you see me go a little dark, that’s why. Ah, technology.
Anyway, if you have 20 minutes, you might want to take a peek. I did the interview from my latest green sanctuary nook. It’s a very simple comfy chair, fairy lights, and houseplants arranged in the corner of my living room. A happy place. By the way, if you’d like help setting up your own green sanctuary nook or room, just give me a shout through my Contact page. I’m at your service.
In the meantime, here’s the show. Enjoy!
My favorite garden design book for mild weather gardens is, without a doubt, Garden Retreats: Creating An Outdoor Sanctuary. It’s not a giant compendium. It’s not a how-to design a garden book. And it’s not a plant encyclopedia. But it’s always been the one book I recommend to clients. In fact, it’s the one book I still turn to when I want to dream about a beautiful sanctuary.
Why does this little overlooked book beat out other books on gardening? Because of its simplicity. I’ve read a gazillion gardening books and most have a wealth of information, which is great, but at the same time that wealth can be overwhelming. They often say, “You can do this, or this, or this.” But if you’re a new gardener, you probably only need a few ideas to start.
How to Build a Backyard Sanctuary
Instead, author Barbara Ashmun will help you discover your own style. She takes readers on a tour of several gorgeous sanctuaries, many of which she’s helped design. And the photos by Allan Mandell help portray the sumptuousness. Meanwhile, you get a greatest hits list of the most interesting, easy-care plants for mild maritime climates. Though it’s written for the Pacific Northwest climate, the book applies not only to UK gardens but any milder weather climate, say zone 7 through 9, depending on annual rainfall.
What’s also special is Ashmun’s belief that flowers aren’t the star of a garden’s design but rather foliage, form, bark, fragrance, and privacy. She wisely guides readers into using all sizes of plants to create a beautiful space all year round. And that’s a valuable lesson for any new gardener in any climate zone. Don’t go for bright perennials that turn to mush in winter. Design with structure and year-round interest in mind. Luckily, this book shows you how.
Most homeowners at some point have faced the worrisome hassle of a messy overgrown yard. Maybe you were working a lot or on vacation or life just happened and now things are out of control. The dandelions are blooming, the grass is tall, and that old stack of leftover lumber is still around. What to do?
Well, I’m familiar with this feeling of angsty despair. Not only because I have a garden that occasionally transforms into a tangle of weeds and junk (see photo above) but because I help people whose yards have become that as well. Sometimes homeowners toss up their hands and hire professional help (like me). But if your budget doesn’t permit that, you can at least get a hold on the mess if you focus on three things.
Focus on the Most Traveled Spaces
When I meet with clients, they’re often overwhelmed by every part of their yard. They may have weeds along the front walkway, giant overgrown shrubs by the garage, a compacted lawn with bare spots, and so on. So the first question I ask is, “Where do you enter the house most often?” If the answer’s the front walkway, then we start there. If the answer is along this border that connects the driveway to the house, then we start there. In other words, we tackle the space they see the most in their daily lives.
You don’t have to clean up the junk by the garage if you don’t see it often. But those weeds by the front walkway you go past every morning and evening? You need to neutralize those as soon as possible. If you do, you’ll notice how you don’t feel instantly depressed when you come home from work every day. It’s a lot of bang for the buck.
Remove the Biggest Eyesore
The next thing to neutralize is whatever eyesore gives you the most worry. If, while washing dishes, you often glance out the window and see a dirty pile of lumber scraps, concrete pieces, and broken clay pots, you automatically feel crappy. And the reminder is constant because you’re probably at your sink, at least for a few minutes, every day. So take an hour, put on your gloves, get help if you can, and load up that stuff to take away. Sometimes you can even call a low-cost junk-hauling service if it won’t fit in your car. But removing that eye sore is the quickest way for your heart rate to lower and to feel much more at ease.
I also realize sometimes those eyesores are the result of an unfinished project. Maybe you wanted to build raised beds for a vegetable garden but you ran out of steam. Maybe you were going to install wall stones for terracing, or dig out a patio space and fill it in with gravel. But for whatever reason the project stopped and now you have to see it every day. If that’s the case, then stack it all nicely and get a brown or black, not blue, tarp and cover it as neatly as possible. Or move the materials to an area where you can’t see them every day. This will increase your happiness ten-fold.
Address the One Feature Used Most
This aligns with that unfinished project. If you haven’t finished a flagstone patio but your family likes to eat outside every warm day of the year, it’s worth your time, money, and peace of mind to finish that project. Same for a kids’ playset or a homemade fire pit. Even if the project’s big and difficult, it’s worth tackling. Afterward, each time you step into that space, you’ll feel great for not only following through but making your mental health a priority. A completed space is a healing space.
But what if, from that relaxing patio, all you see are weeds and/or overgrown shrubs? Then you prioritize. Branches that knock you in the face need to be pruned. Weeds that are blooming currently or are about to need pulling. I don’t weed often during the rainy days of March in Seattle but when I do, I focus on shotweed like a laser. Because shotweed throws off hundreds of seeds per plant, I’m preventing an explosion of weeds in summer. Similarly, when dandelions bloom, I walk around and pluck off their flowers to keep the population down until I can dig them out later. Each dandelion plant can produce up to 2000 seeds so if you don’t have time to weed, at least pluck their pretty little heads off. Mowing sometimes works but not always as their stems are rubbery and can slip past a mower’s blades.
Final Bit of Advice
The last thing I recommend is not to despair. Plants grow because they’re happy, even annoying ones like prickly thistles or blackberry brambles. Nature happens whether we want it to or not. So try to change your perspective and let go of your impulse to control. If you have dandelions, well, at least the bees have a temporary food source. If your shrubs are overgrown, at least birds can build safe nests inside. Forgive yourself for wanting to make your yard prettier but not having the energy to finish it all. A messy overgrown yard is really just a thriving natural space. Enjoy it for what it is until you can tidy up and appreciate a more finished beautiful garden.