Gardening for Wellness
It is no surprise that during these troubling times, gardening is at an all-time high. I must confess that even though I have a career in landscape design, I have never had my own parcel of ground where I can get my hands dirty. It’s always been a balcony, terrace, or patio sprinkled with greenery.
One of the trending items of late is the Wellness Garden or Therapy Garden. We all know by instinct that being in the garden has its benefits to our health and wellbeing, but now it’s proven in science and data. A Wellness Garden can be as simple as a flower bed or herb garden that stimulates all the senses. Or it can be more elaborate with universally accessible beds and pathways.
For my mental health and to promote better eating at home, I chose to start a raised vegetable bed at the local community garden in Milford. The entire plot of ground has been transformed, thanks to Nancy Saxon, president of the Milford Community Gardens. My raised bed is one of several. Nancy, along with volunteers, built numerous raised beds, tilled and planted rows of tomatoes, peppers, and squash; they now are planning for additional universally accessible potting tables.
Having a raised vegetable bed of your own could be the next project for “staying-at-home.” Let’s go through the steps of creating one.
First, make sure you have the space and the correct location in your yard. Almost all vegetables require full sun. They also like moist but well-drained soils. Having a raised bed helps out with the soil requirement since you will most likely add soil to bring the level of planting up to the level of the bed. I tend to use the existing soil, blended with new topsoil and organic matter such as compost. If your existing soils are heavy or include clay, then I recommend adding some sand to the mix. Both sand and compost will help with drainage.
If you are building your own bed, the size is determined by the space available and your endurance in building it. Prefabricated raised beds are readily available and usually measure 4 feet wide by 8 feet long. This is the size of my bed.
They can be made of a durable wood like cedar or a prefabricated material that looks like wood. Other materials are available too; you are only limited by your imagination. Of course, how high to build is a consideration as well. Typical heights are in 6-inch increments. Eighteen inches is a standard height for seating, so if you are using 6 x 6 lumber, three stacked on top of each other could double as a place to sit while you weed your garden.
If it is a low-level bed, consider placing a layer of filter fabric before you fill it with soil. This will help keep the weeds down but also allow water to pass through. Some like a weed barrier on the top of the bed with the vegetables poking through. This is optional; I prefer natural wood mulch.
If starting from seed, make sure to check the recommendations on when to sow. You can also vary the seeding times to extend the growing season for some vegetables. In addition, timing is critical for cool season crops and warm season crops. Always double-check the planting requirements. Think about fall harvests too; planting pumpkins, cabbage, and other late season crops can be done when your summer vegetables are beginning to fade; again, check the recommended planting times.
Don’t be afraid to really stock your bed with plants. When starting from seed, it is typical to overplant and then thin them out as they grow. If starting with plants from the nursery, check to see the mature size of the plant—this will be key for proper spacing and production.
One more item to consider is companion plants. Some do not mind growing next to each other as is the case with most herbs. However, there are always exceptions. I recently found out that cucumbers and tomatoes do not play nice with each other in the garden, but they certainly go well when combined in a cucumber salad!
Stay well and get in the garden!
Eric W. Wahl is a Landscape Architect and President of the Delaware Native Plant Society.