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The Garden Gives Back
Another View of your Garden
December, 2007 - Issue #38
It's so easy to think of all the chores that need to be done when you think of gardening, but that's only part of the story. Gardens make our houses beautiful and can extend the useful space of our homes. They can offer edibles and cut flowers as well as offer play space for all the members of the family - two and four footed alike. And there is yet another side to gardening: instead of thinking about all you need to do in your garden, what about considering what your garden can do for you?

Gardens are one of nature's best stress-reducers. Of course, a trip to Hawaii would work well, too. But the nice thing about taking a trip to the garden is it requires little forethought and no planning. And it's free! It pays back big time if you have already created a lovely garden, but even gardens that are not yet up to your standards have plenty to offer. The best time to put your garden to work for you is when you feel yourself becoming frazzled. Holidays, entertaining, family and financial problems are all gentled back into perspective when you stop everything and wander out into open space.

Up Close and Personal
Something curious happens when you wander out into nature. You enter a world where most of those all-consuming concerns suddenly seem far away. The birds, trees and flowers are all busy going about their own realities that are untouched by those personal dramas so overwhelming to us humans. And yet it's easy to find yourself transfixed by some bizarre looking insect trundling over a miniature landscape intent on getting from one place to another. There's something mesmerizing about watching a hummingbird or a bee carefully checking out flowers and branches in a focused search for food. And then there are all those amazing flowers - even the teeny-tiny ones that offer outrageous colors and designs in their varied petals. I remember years ago when I got my first tropical fish tank and it was placed on the opposite side of the room from the television. I'd turn on the TV but watch the fish tank instead. There was simply something primal and deeply calming in watching the amazing grace of nature at work. And amazingly enough, we all have that potential awaiting us just outside the doorway of our homes.

Pull Up a Chair
When designing gardens, I rarely leave out the opportunity to slip in seating. Whether it is ornamental, formal or doesn't even look like seating, I believe it is imperative to find places to settle in the garden. You can have a swing, a hammock, a set of chairs or a bench. You can set up boulders, cushions on low retaining walls or perch on tree stumps. Spread a blanket or bask in a gazebo. Wherever it suits you, make sure you have a place to pamper yourself in the garden. Then don't be bashful to grab a book or some other entertainment and use that space! If you have a really comfortable piece of furniture by all means indulge in a nap. We are trained to think we are being lazy when we spend a little time taking care of ourselves, but a little R&R in the garden can be purely medicinal. No guilt allowed. And if you take good care of yourself, what you give out will be your best quality rather than some strangled effort squeezed out of an overwrought lifestyle.

Everybody likes to Play Outside
Not only children and pets can benefit from playing in a garden. Adults can re-charge by doing the same. You can have formal games and gaming areas like sports courts, swimming pools or exercise areas. Or you can join in with the kids or pets. You can play in a vegetable garden and experience the thrill of watching tiny seeds become colorful foods you can crop and carry into the kitchen with well-deserved pride. Or grow some of your favorite flowers to cut and use for interior home decoration. If you are up for some exploration, consider taking a wander around your property collecting interesting branches, pinecones, seed pods and other artistic-looking offerings from your garden to make into centerpieces, dried arrangements or door wreaths.

For example, many ornamental grasses create fuzzy blooms (inflorescences) at this time of year. If you snip a few of these graceful stalks off and pop them in a flower vase with a few branches from a berried plant like Cotoneaster, a California pepper tree, or maybe some Heavenly Bamboo you will instantly have a colorful dried flower arrangement. You might want to spray the ornamental grasses with a touch of fixative to keep the seed heads from detaching over time, however. Or you can use those same ornamental inflorescences for short-lived chase-toys your cat will love! Play can take many forms in your landscape.

Shop for the Garden
For those of you who love shopping, you can even shop for your garden. Everyone knows what great therapy shopping can be. You can certainly find plants of every size, color and description to buy. And you can find furniture and decorations to fit any celebration, structure or style of garden. Then, wandering through your landscape, you can decorate the space with the hand of an expert adding flourishes wherever the spirit moves you.

For example, for the winter months you might want to check out outdoor space heaters, comfy weather-resistant fabric throws to wrap around yourself, or glowing lamps to decorate the view when the dark settles in early. Shop for heavy ornamental pots where winds are likely to whisk away lighter containers. Holidays offer an enormous choice of clever decorations so you can make sure your garden is dressed for any special time of the year.

And in between the holidays you can populate your special area with colorful glass globes, tinkling wind chimes or lanterns to name just a few. Decor can be practical, too. It can be small and useful, like wrought iron trellises that can accommodate twining vines, ceramic pots that cradle tender ornamental plants or artistic fountains that can offer the trickle of water. Or you can go large and add a gazebo, hot tub or barbecue. And remember that bit I just mentioned about having a cozy place to sit in your garden? Well, there's another fun opportunity for shopping. Furniture comes is all styles and you can help set the mood of your garden in the furniture and decor you select.

Exercise
Physical exercise is a wonderful stress-reducer. You can go to the gym, or you can make that same amount of energy produce a wonderful garden. Bending to weed and reaching to prune trees and shrubs offer good stretching exercises. Digging in amendments, planting new plants and carting away dead branches create good workouts for the muscles. Raking, mowing and sweeping can be aerobic exercises. All the above give you a chance to breathe some outdoor air, enjoy the soft winter sunshine and give your mind a chance to turn off from all the automatic everyday demands. Gardening offers endurance, flexibility and strength for both the body and mind.

Relax with an Edible Project
You might want to consider how the garden can help your insides stay healthy, too. If you have even a small space that gets full sun, you can grow some vegetables or fruits. There are dwarf fruit trees that will grow happily in a large pot and still offer fruit sufficient for a family. Try a dwarf lemon or tangerine for an evergreen mini-tree that will survive frosts down to 20 degrees, especially with a little protection. A small vegetable garden can support a variety of herbs like parsley, basil, sage and chives or several vegetable plants. You can grow vegetables from small plants available in nurseries and home stores or from seed. Edibles grow and crop so quickly that children love working in the vegetable garden. And as we all know, keeping the kids happily and safely busy can be another way to lower those stress levels!

Gardening is Good for You
Okay. So there it is. You can pay a lot of money to go to a therapist or join a gym to cope with the stress of today's pressures. Or you can play, work, or lounge in your garden. It is a documented fact that hanging out in a garden reduces blood pressure and calms stress. It is also proven that garden exercise can aid in preventing heart disease, some forms of diabetes, obesity, and can help lower cholesterol and prevent or slow osteoporosis. It might also add to your lifespan. And what an enjoyable way to be healthy! Whether you want to start gardening, have a new garden built for you or put the garden you have into use, why not use that outdoor part of your property - your garden - to improve your life?
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