A Healthy Garden Makes a Healthy You
This issue is all about outdoors and wellness. There is a definite correlation between being outside in a “nature bath” and living a healthier and better life. In fact, recent studies show a great improvement for both physical and mental health. This is probably why many hospitals and institutions that deal in healthcare are proposing therapeutic gardens as a type of wellness and a healthy approach to rehabilitation.
Gardens most assuredly help to decrease anxiety and promote bliss. A simple walk in a park or nature preserve will elevate your mood. It’s also been documented that students perform better on tests if given exposure to green space simply by viewing from classroom windows.
Fortunately, it only takes a little green space to make a happier you. No matter the size of your yard or even if it’s a patio or balcony, adding plants to your spaces will result in numerous benefits. Let’s take a look at some of my favorite plants, from perennials to shrubs to trees. The specifics of your location, sun availability, soil condition, and space needs, will determine what you plant.
For big impact with little effort, I recommend black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta or fulgida) as an excellent, low-maintenance perennial. A cluster of these flowers will brighten any spot from early summer through fall. They make excellent cut flowers too, so you can bring a bit of that sunshine into the home. As a companion plant, try Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium), which will attract tons of butterflies to your space. There is a compact variety called ‘Little Joe’ that is perfect for smaller gardens. Both these plants make good additions to rain gardens as well.
For shrubs, consider fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenia). This flowering shrub blooms in spring with a display of bottle-brush type flowers. During the growing season, lush green leaves will give way to brilliant orange-red coloring in autumn. A true three-season plant. Another favorite is beauty berry (Calicarpus sp.). Its arching branches are full of purple berry clusters up and down the stem in fall. Beauty berry can take a hard pruning after fruiting in the winter, and still make a magnificent shrub in the garden the following year.
In our local region, beach plum (Prunus maritima) makes a wonderful flowering and fruiting shrub for the edible garden. White flowers in spring fade to pink after pollination and small marble-sized fruit are produced in early autumn. At home along the dunes, beach plum loves sandy, well-drained soil.
Flowering trees for the home garden and within perimeter buffers include Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) and serviceberry (Amalencheir canadensis). Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) are two more amazing native flowering trees. These trees do best in an understory condition, that is to say, they like to be in the dappled shade conditions produced by taller shade trees. However, they tend to flower more profusely when grown in full-sun conditions.
The trees listed bloom in spring, however the magnolia is on the later edge of bloom time, and will bloom sporadically through summer. The serviceberry produces fruit typically in June hence their other name, juneberry. These berries are edible and are used in pies and jellies.
Imagine these plants in and around your own backyard. Just stepping out into your landscape will sap those negative feelings away and replace them with balance and harmony. A ‘nature bath’ is a wonderful term to use to describe immersing ourselves in nature. Wellness may be only a short journey away, so go on and take that first step. ▼
Eric W. Wahl, Landscape Architect at Pennoni Associates, and President of the Delaware Native Plant Society
Photo by Kelsey Weinkauf on Unsplash