During the pandemic, I found myself steering away from any dark or stressful content. I experienced enough illness and death in my own family. My sister was diagnosed with cancer. Three of our beloved pets died. Some of my kids struggled with depression. And extended family members caught covid. Even the news was, and still is, scarier than usual. It was a stressful, isolated time and I didn’t want to add to it by taking in content that strained my nervous system even more.
So I began watching and reading lighter entertainment. Instead of rewatching the epic Game of Thrones, my husband and I watched the goofy Shameless. Instead of reading intense crime fiction, I read cozy mysteries. I avoided threatening political and misleading health news. It was like I wrapped a blinding warm blanket around my psyche. And the redirection actually worked. It helped my mental health. Like a lot.
A Cozy Mystery Makes Me Feel Well, Cozy
Since there are so many cozy mysteries out there, I focused on books that were of my interest and taste. I started with Agatha Christie and jumped to mysteries set in the Pacific Northwest with yoga stories by Tracy Weber and outdoor adventures by Ellie Alexander. I explored gardening mysteries by authors Julia Henry, Marty Wingate, and Amanda Flower. Peter Quinn made me laugh and yearn for my own dear black dog with his Chet and Bernie series. And I had fun dabbling into baking and food mysteries with Joanna Fluke and Mia Manansala. All in all, it was a welcomed reprieve.
Spreading the Stress Relief as a Writer
I had so much fun reading these books. I’d never read a lot of cozies before because I’d dismissed them as too silly or lightweight literary-wise. But many were very well written with vivid details and tight plots. There was a lot to learn from them — and be inspired by. So much so that I felt the spark to write my own. I realized that that warm way of destressing was something I wanted to share with people via my own writerly life. With the pending publication of Leaf Your Troubles Behind, it seemed like a natural fit. In that book, I’m encouraging my readers to find stress relief wherever they can with plants. Well, one more way would be to read a cozy mystery story about them.
Now, I’ve taken that on. I’ve been inspired to see if I can write a fun cozy mystery about plants. Something new and original but still entertaining. I’ve been taking notes, dreaming of small towns, and creating characters. In fact, I think I even have a decent title. But it’s all so early that I won’t share too much just yet. As I progress in coming weeks, I’ll share more details, as I read and journal and dream on.
In the meantime, if you have any favorite cozies, let me know!
I realized in my post about small trees to remember a lost loved one by, I only included conifers. So today, let me correct that oversight and highlight three wonderful but small deciduous trees.
Coral Bark Maple
This little maple tree (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-Kaku’) sports coral colored stems in winter, lovely green-yellow leaves in summer, and nice yellow color in fall. It’s an elegant vase-shaped tree that grows to about 15 feet tall and maybe 6 feet wide. I have one at the back of my yard and it absolutely glows in winter when the sun hits it. Plus, you can under plant it with red or yellow twig dogwoods for an echoing pattern or dark green viburnums for bold contrasts. Either way, this tree is a sweet choice to memorialize a beloved person. Hardy to zone 5.
Redbuds (Cercis canadensis) mainly put on a show in spring. They bloom in fantastic strong magenta flowers on bare branches. This creates a cheery effect in spring when all else is barely leafing out. Though there’s no fragrance, the flowers will bloom for up to three weeks. Redbuds top out at about 20 feet and are good if you’d like to plant daffodils or other bulbs below as the branches aren’t that dense. Hardy to zone 4.
A dogwood tree is great if you have a partly shady space. They like protection from afternoon sun. If given that, they’ll bloom in pretty pink or white flowers. I’ve highlighted Cornus kousa here just because it’s the more disease-free cultivar. In late spring, it blooms in pretty white flower bracts, oftentimes covering the entire tree. It’s really a spectacular sight. This near perfect tree adds vibrance to the garden and nicely pays tribute to those you’ve loved. It grows to about 20 feet. Hardy to zone 5.
If you’ve lost a loved one during covid, I wish you peace.
European researchers recently conducted a survey of 323 Bulgarian students to learn whether seeing greenery in or near their home helped them avoid sadness and depression during Covid. Though it was a study where subjects self-reported symptoms, they found some interesting answers about greenery and depression.
One Dose of a Leafy View
They discovered that when subjects could see an abundance of greenery, either from their home or in their neighborhood, they reported lower depression and anxiety rates. Also, to a lesser extent, subjects who tended houseplants indoors or cared for a garden outside also had lower rates of depression and anxiety. Oftentimes, people explained that the greenery made them feel like they were “away” while at home. Perhaps, even like a mini green vacation. Neighborhood greenery also facilitated social support and more frequent engagement with the greenery. And that, in turn, also led to better mental health.
A Vacation in my Backyard
This totally mirrors my own experience during the Covid lockdown. As I’ve told more than one friend, during summer when I went deep into my backyard, like all the way down to my back fence, and worked in the garden, I felt removed from daily life. I felt far away from the pandemic and its limitations. Far away from the pain and sadness. As I focused on the plants, my mind settled. It quieted. By the time I finished, I felt restored and happy, as if I’d gotten away from it all. The effect was like a relaxing mini vacation during one afternoon.
The good news is spring is coming. We’ll be able to get into more outdoor greenery soon. What’s more, vaccinations are on the way. Being vaccinated will give us even more choices in enjoying outdoor greenery: parks, woods, outdoor barbecues, picnics. I hope you’ll make some time to take your own mini green vacation this spring!
Photo by Raychan.
For me, March 11th, 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of our Covid-19 lockdown. At this time last year, my kids were packing for a marching band trip to Ireland that sadly never happened. Schools closed and our lives changed drastically. Though we lost loved ones, they weren’t from Covid but we know several people who’ve lost loved ones from Covid. My friend’s father died. A friend’s bus driver died. A colleague’s mother died. Regardless of how our loved ones died, they died. Most of us are mourning someone. But if we plant trees to remember them, we honor their lives. Here are three trees that are beautiful but small enough to plant in a city garden.
Chandler’s Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Chandleri’) grows to 12 feet in an elegant wispy structure. It’s dense and darkly alluring. Also, this conifer is virtually disease-free. In full hot sun, I’d say it’s hardy to zone 8.
Wichita Blue Juniper
Conversely, Wichita Blue Juniper (Juniperus scopularum ‘Wichita Blue’) is hardy down to zone 3. This makes it a great choice for most of the U.S. It’s a tough conifer growing to about 15 feet tall and about 4 feet wide. It has an icy blue color and requires little to no maintenance or pruning. It loves full sun and is virtually disease free.
When I mentioned in my forest bathing article that breathing in a conifer’s essential oils boosted NK cells, I was referring to the oil from a Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gracilis’). This little tree’s slender and lovely, growing in evergreen fans that display a coppery tinge in winter. It’s a graceful tree native to Japan and often used in screening but works as a specimen too. Again, it’s hardy to zone 4 so most anyone in the U.S. can grow it.
If you’ve lost a loved one this year, I wish you comfort and peace.
Photos of Juniper and Hinoki Cypress courtesy of Monrovia.