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!
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!
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.
I started gardening with a very sad gardening tool kit. I used a rusty shovel, rickety rake, and a cheap trowel. While they served me well enough, I wish someone would have told me to save my money and buy fewer, higher quality tools. Here’s why.
When you use a cheap tool, you waste time and put extra strain on your tendons. For instance, I used a hack saw to clumsily cut branches. Because of this, I later had to prune more to clean up the cuts. I also had a thin trowel whose blade cracked within a few months after purchase. If I’d had the right basic gardening tool kit, I could have gotten a lot more done with a lot less effort.
Here are my favorite tools to help you create a pretty garden.
This Japanese tool is the only handheld digging tool you’ll ever need. Stiff, strong, serrated. So versatile. It’s been in my tool holster for years. You can dig down and pop out that dandelion root easily. And because of that thick blade, you can lift out an old staple from wood or a landscaping pin from compact soil.
Also, you can cut roots with the serrated side, break up thick soil with its point, and divide root balls with the smooth side. You can also plant bulbs with that long blade. Some come with a ruler inlaid into the steel, which is useful as well. These are pricey but utterly worth it.
Built from tough steel and quality parts, the Swiss-made Felco pruners are virtually indestructible. They come in varying sizes to match your hands, which makes them comfortable. You can prune branches cleanly and easily. I also love them because you can scrub the blade with steel wool and sharpen it with a sharpening rock. You can also buy replacement blades if you accidentally knick it. The best feature of Felco pruners is you can quickly swing the lock closed with your thumb, leaving your other hand free to hold or keep steady a branch.
Buy bypass pruners for pruning trees or shrubs, anvil pruners for cutting back bamboo or dead fallen branches.
I recommend Corona or Fiskar heavy duty loppers. You can buy Felco’s as well but they get pricey quickly. You just want a reliable quality brand. You don’t want dinky loppers because when cutting, they can turn and slip. That means the blade scrapes bark off a branch and maybe even skin from your wrist, leaving both you and the plant with wounds.
I like loppers with extending handles. Trees grow tall and the less you stretch, the less you strain. By the way, always make sure to cut at a branch crotch and never leave a stub of branch. Otherwise, disease will get inside and move through tree’s vascular system.
A quality pointed shovel. The brand doesn’t matter as much if you make sure to buy a heavier duty shovel. The Bully brand one has a nice big “shelf” on which to set your foot and push in to the soil. I’d make sure to get a composite or fiberglass handle and not wood (unless it’s thick). Wood can crack, especially if you leave it outside in rainy or wintry weather.
Also, you want at least a 48″ handle for better gripping and balance. I’ve never understood why people use short-handled shovels. They’re hard to maneuver and often slip. Plus, the crouching hurts your back.
A Metal Rake
A rake with metal tines! I can’t tell you how many plastic rakes I’ve seen, which immediately get clogged with leaves. Also, when it’s super cold, they crack from freezing. Rakes with metal tines have better action. They spring and snap back into place. They also capture the detritus better.
Brand here doesn’t matter as much as the metal tines. I like tines that are flat at the end, which more effectively scrape the ground.
Lastly, an all-purpose tarp. A 6-, 8-, or 10-foot rectangular shaped one is a must in your gardening tool kit. It’s a lot easier to rake leaves or toss weeds on a tarp, rather than wrestle with the narrow opening of a paper lawn bag. And when you collect material on a tarp, you bend down fewer times to empty it in a bin. Less repetitive motions equal less ache and fatigue. Plus, if you have a raised deck or patio, you can lay out the tarp on the ground and just rake off the steps or patio onto it.
If you want to splurge, buy a leather holster or scabbard for the hori hori and pruners. The holster helps you avoid losing your tools in the grass or cut material. A leather one in particular stretches to hold both tools. I love this set up. I’m never searching the ground for my tools because they’re always on my person. The kind I use clips onto your front pocket.
Also, you’ll use a decent-sized (at least 14″) pruning saw for years. I like Felco’s as the blades are stiff, durable, and cut thicker branches well. Plus, wooden handled saws are too large for my hands. Another nice feature is the Felco blades are replaceable. Foldable saws are handy as they fit into a back pocket but you’ll spend more time sawing with a foldable model.
Oh, and did I mention gloves? Perhaps that’s obvious. Nitriles give the best grip.
If your budget’s limited, I recommend splurging on the hori hori and Felco pruners. You’ll use them for decades. Happy shopping and happy planting!
Do you have a shady spot in your garden? An old established tree might take up an entire corner of your yard or a neighbor’s tall house might create a big cool shadow. You might feel discouraged and unsure what to do. Well, don’t worry because you can still grow a lot of colorful plants. If you mix in some fresh compost in the area and occasionally water, you can make several perennials for shade very happy. Here are six of my favorites.
Georgia Peach Coral Bells
Heucheras are wonderful because they don’t just bloom with color but sport colored foliage all season long. And is the orangey-red color on Georgia Peach stunning or what? This evergreen perennial grows to about 12″ tall and puts out tall spikes of teeny flowers that hummingbirds love. To keep it happy, give it a few applications of fish fertilizer in spring and summer. I grow it beside ‘Merlin’ Hellebore (see below) whose dusky rose-colored blooms recall Georgia Peach’s rosy foliage. Hardy to zone 4.
Hadspen Cream Brunnera
With its light blue flowers in April and spade-shaped leaves, Hadspen Cream Brunnera brightens dim areas nicely. It practically glows! I also like Hadspen Cream because the variegation is yellower than other cultivars and therefore, softer in beauty. I’ve also found it’s easier to design with in terms of perennial pairings. It grows to about a foot tall and flowers in delicate blue forget-me-not-like blooms. This photo shows it emerging, not fully grown yet. Herbaceous. Hardy to zone 3.
Fragrant Blue Hosta
I love hostas. They come in so many colors and sizes. And they’re tough. Yes, slugs might chew little holes in their leaves but a bit of Sluggo or beer will solve that problem. I have many favorites but one I think should be used more is Fragrant Blue. The large-ish leaves beam in the shade with a creamy, greenish-blue color, creating bold impact. The white flowers are fragrant. Grows to about ten inches tall. Herbaceous. Hardy to zone 3.
Blue Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) cheers up a garden in early spring with delicate, two-toned flowers: pink and smokey blue. The white speckles on the foliage add even more interest, and once this plant takes off, you’ll have lots of babies to either cover your bare ground or pass on to friends. The foliage looks a little tired by late summer but you can cut down the leaves and they’ll grow back in a tight happy mat. Herbaceous. Hardy to zone 3.
Lime Rickey Coral Bells
Heuchera ‘Lime Rickey’ is worth growing just for that chartreuse foliage. It glows as if someone turned on a neon sign! This Coral Bells cultivar creates pretty scalloped leaves and delicate white flowers. Plant it beside a dark hellebore for a brilliant contrast. Works great in containers. It’s mostly evergreen but may be die back in some areas. Hardy to zone 4.
Merlin Lenten Rose
If you need a reliably handsome hellebore, consider Helleborus x ballardiae ‘Merlin.’ It grows unusual blue-green foliage with white veins for an almost variegated look. It also blooms for weeks with dusky rose-colored flowers that echo the Georgia Peach’s foliage nicely. Hellebores are classified as evergreen but their leaves often look brown and anemic after winter. You can remedy that by cutting them all off at the base in early spring. Fresh new growth will appear soon afterward. Grows to about ten inches tall, hardy to zone 4.