In this last post about stress relief and plants, I’d like to spotlight a couple plants that are easy care yet powerful. They’re kinda the only two herbs you really need to lower stress. Many gardeners across America, at least living down to zone 5, can grow them. Both will thrive in full sun and light soil, like sand mixed with potting soil. Think Mediterranean conditions. And speaking of sun, they’re both drought tolerant. You can grow them in a container or the ground and snip off a few stems when needed.
Lavender (lavandula) lowers stress through its oils. One study, in Phytomedicine, showed it was as effective as the drug lorazepam in treating anxiety. What’s more, breathing in the oil vapor through a diffuser has shown to decrease postnatal depression. And it’s helped those with dementia. It’s really worth growing, if for nothing else, rubbing your hands on it and inhaling the scent everyday. It’s like a shot of destresser.
The Rosemary plant (rosmarinus) is also impressive. In addition to improving memory, digestion, hair health, and other amazing stuff, rosemary’s scent reduces stress. Studies have shown that a daily dose of its oil can lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is what our brains make when we’re stressed. So again, if you have a diffuser, you can put some essential oil in that or grow rosemary in a pot outside your front door. Breathing in the scent for a moment might help you relax after a bad day at work.
One More Herb to Lower Stress: Chamomile
I wanted to give a brief shout out for chamomile (chamaemelum). If you grow it, you can make tea from it. Drinking the tea lowers stress. But it doesn’t grow in the same conditions as lavender and rosemary though it’s very easy to grow and sometimes sprouts on its own in gardens. It likes cooler air and some shade. Check out this article for more on the benefits of chamomile.
And if you’d like more information on herbs for your health overall, check out the book, Homegrown Herbs by Tammi Hartung. It covers the basics of growing and harvesting herbs along with their medicinal applications.
Photos by Gemma Evans and Fiona Bossle
Like a lot of moms, when I had small children, I was super stressed out. Anyone with multiple kids knows how difficult life can be when the kids are young and active. Plus, in my case, my youngest child was cognitively delayed so when she went through the “terrible twos,” it lasted for about four years. There was a lot of crying and stomping and time outs. I smile when I think of it now because my daughter’s 14 and just graduated out of her special education classes. She’s become an impressive young lady, full of compassion and dedicated to hard work. But back then times were tough. I rarely had time to think or relax or even finish a sentence without interruption. Life was chaotic and packed with commitments. But one thing saved my sanity back then: plants.
Here are a few things I did when things got crazy.
-I went outside and raked leaves. Just the act of clearing away detritus in the fresh air got my blood flowing and made me feel like I could at least simply and directly improve one part of my garden. No complications.
-After the kids were in bed, I’d pick a gardening book off my shelf and peruse it. Occasionally I’d visit gardening sites on the web. Seeing images of tidy colorful spaces allowed me to forget that my own home and garden were less than perfect. I loved slipping into the dream of a quiet green sanctuary.
-During the summer, I’d weed, and weed, and weed some more. The rote action of pulling chickweed or dandelions or whatever brought me into a meditative state. I didn’t think, I didn’t worry, I just did the small task at hand, which calmed my mind and expanded my spirit.
-On a day when my husband could care for the kids, I’d take off for a brisk walk on a nearby trail. Seeing the trees elegantly touch the sky always soothed my spirit. Something about their silent majesty reminded me how temporary and small my problems really were.
-Inside, I tended my houseplants. I’d trim away brown leaves and spent flowers, then water while being in no rush. I’d lose my sense of time while working. In caring for the plants, I felt like I was successful in caring for at least a few living souls in my life.
-Sometimes I’d step outside and watch the wind blow through the bushes. I know that sounds weird. But the images of the leaves fluttering was beautiful and poetic. And the smell of the outdoors, even in the cold, gave me a new perspective. On days when it wasn’t windy, I’d step outside and watch the birds swoop through the yard, or bees buzz by. Nothing in the garden yearned for anything and therefore, neither did I.
If you’re in the throes of raising little kids, remember to retreat into a plant activity you like. It doesn’t have to involve gardening or houseplants. The point is to change your scenery and let the greenery relax you. In the meantime, I wish you peace.
Photo by Biel Morro
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.