Saturday, April 29, 2017

Why and How to Create a Healing Garden

In the best of times flowers help us celebrate
the joyous occasions in our lives. In more
difficult times plants give us hope and
inspiration to meet life’s challenges.

The role of plants and gardens in healing is ancient. As early as 3000 B.C. the 
Chinese were using medicinal herbs. The Greeks built a temple for Aesclepius, 
their god of healing, set among mineral springs, bathing pools, and healing gardens. 

In colonial America, the Quakers felt a deep attachment to nature and believed 
gardens were a place of creativity. One of the first programs to use plants in a 
therapeutic setting was established in 1879 at Philadelphia’s Friends Hospital 
after a physician noticed that psychiatric patients working in the hospital’s fields 
and flower gardens were calmer and that the gardens had a “curative” effect on them.
Within the past few decades, the medical community is rediscovering the healing 
power of gardens. Many hospitals and health care facilities are incorporating green 
spaces and gardens into their surroundings; horticultural therapy programs are often 
an important part of a patient’s treatment.

Healing gardens can be found in a variety of institutions including substance abuse 
treatment centers, outpatient clinics, long-term care facilities, hospices and retirement 
homes, as well as in botanic gardens and arboreta around the world. Positive results 
can be less pain medication and had shorter hospital stays.

For an individual recovering from a serious illness such as cancer or stroke, gardens 
can be an important part of healing by providing hope and inspiration. They can 
give patients a tranquil place to escape from the world of doctors, hospitals and 

The physical efforts of gardening—digging, planting, bending and walking—are 
great forms of exercise to keep the body healthy. Strenuous yard work such as 
digging or weeding not only burns calories, it is similar to weight training in 
building bones and preventing osteoporosis. Gardens and gardening activity 
can also improve mental outlook and our emotional mood by reducing stress, 
anxiety and depression. Studies have found that gardening can lower blood 
pressure and cholesterol, which reduces the risk of heart disease.

A healing garden can take many forms but always provides interaction with 
nature. Visually plants provide inspirational colors or peaceful tones. We can 
hear the relaxing sound of water or the stimulating activity of visiting wildlife. 
The rich aroma of fresh earth and the delightful scent of perfumed herbs fill 
the air we breathe, while the fresh flavor of a crispy pea pod or sweet berry 
tempts our taste buds. We can touch the velvety smoothness of a flower petal 
or be touched by the movement of leaves in the wind.
Begin to create your own garden of healing today simply by planting a container 
filled with colorful flowers, a nutritious vegetable, or a herb such as lavender, 
sage, basil or thyme. In addition to being attractive and aromatic, these and 
many other herbs have been used medicinally for centuries.

Incorporating a few simple design elements turns
any garden into a place of healing and inspiration.

  • Grow plants that you find pleasing. Are you energized by bright colors? 
Then include annuals such as zinnias, petunias, sunflowers or cosmos. If 
you enjoy cooking, incorporate herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers into 
your garden. Plants such as sage or lavender can be harvested and used for

  • Include a place to sit and observe the beauty of nature or a path for walking
 through the garden. Enclose it with shrubs or fencing to create a secluded

  • Add a focal point for meditation and reflection such as a piece of sculpture,
a special plant, interesting rocks, wind chimes or a water fountain.

  • Encourage butterflies, birds, insects and other wildlife to the garden for
their healing energy. Birdfeeders and birdhouses quickly and easily begin
attracting garden visitors. Choose plants that supply nectar and food
 including coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), butterfly flower
(Aesclepias tuberosa) salvias (Salvia spp.), dill, parsley, and sunflowers.

The design and development of a healing garden, just like the process of healing
and recovery, takes place over time. It is that journey and the time spent with
nature that heals our body and soul.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Growing and Using Herbs, part 2: Dill

Dill (Anethum graveolens), a member of the carrot family, 
and is valued both for its flavorful foliage and for its 
pungent seeds. As annuals, dill plants die each year, 
but their seeds can winter over in the soil to pop up the 
following year. Dill grows well in gardens throughout 
zones 3-10.

When growing from seed, reduce crowding by pulling 
up weak, spindly sprouts to allow 2 to 6 inches of space 
between them. Dill prefers fairly moist soil throughout 
the growing season. Once plants have established good 
root systems, water only when rainfall is sparse if your 
soil is decent and mulched. In thin, poor and unmulched 
soil, dill needs watering a couple of times a week when 
it does not rain. If possible, avoid overhead watering in 
favor of a drip or porous hose system. Spread mulch on 
the soil around the plants when they are about 6 inches 
tall to discourage weeds.Dill is fast-growing enough that 
some of its foliage is mature enough to harvest in only 
eight weeks. Plan to sow crops in succession, three weeks 
apart, for a good supply over the entire growing season. 
Dill does best in full sun (with a bit of afternoon shade 
in the South). While fairly tolerant of poor soil conditions, 
it prefers a sandy or loamy soil that drains well. It is a 
light feeder, so extra fertilizer is not necessary in 
reasonably fertile soil. It’s easiest to sow seeds directly 
into the garden in rows, ¼ to ½ inch deep. Firm soil 
over the seeds and water gently. For a more naturalistic 
planting, scatter the seeds over a patch of ground; cover 
with 1/2 inch of soil, and water. Space plants 8 to 10 
inches apart if harvesting leaves, or 10 to 12 inches apart 
if harvesting seed. If transplanting starts, take great pains 
to avoid disturbing the taproot that has formed. Dill can 
also be grown in containers and the dwarf varieties are 
especially suited for this use.

Harvesting and Storing Dill

Dill leaves taste best picked just before flowers form. 
Start picking the leaves as soon as they are large 
enough to use. Pick early in the morning or in the late 
evening, clipping close to the stem. If you wish to 
harvest dill seed, allow flowers to form then go to seed. 
Cut the seedheads when the majority of seeds have 
formed–about 2 to 3 weeks after the blossoming starts. 
Hang the seed heads upside down in a paper bag. 
The seeds will fall into the bag when they mature and 
dry out. Freshly picked dill leaves will keep for 
several days in the refrigerator if placed in a jar of 
water and covered with plastic. They store for several 
months if layered with pickling salt in a covered jar 
in the refrigerator. When you are ready to use the 
leaves, simply wash them and use them as fresh. 
For longer storage, dry by hanging bunches of stems 
upside down in a dark, dry, airy place until they are 
crumbly. Store them in a tightly sealed jar away from 
light and use within 4 to 6 months. Or use a food 
dehydrator according to instructions. Freeze dill by 
cutting the leaves–long stems and all–into sections 
short enough to fit into plastic bags. Do not chop the 
leaves. Keep in the freezer up to 6 months.