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Choose the right plants for your home garden refuge

by C.L. Fornari

I had a cold, but nevertheless I decided to go out to the garden in the evening. "Just for 10 minutes," I told myself, knowing that a good amount of weeds can be pulled in this time. The weeding was just an excuse. Somehow I knew that although this maintenance is good for the garden, it would be even better for me.

Gardens are healing places. Be it in your backyard or a public place, just looking at plantings is soothing. Studies show that even short exposures to nature result in emotional and physical transformations. Being in a garden increases feelings of calm, lowers blood pressure and decreases muscle tension.

Hospital designers often include gardens in their plans because they're beneficial to staff and patients. Gardens are seen as valuable additions to schoolyards as well, and botanic gardens attract many who have no experience with plants. There's clearly something going on that is beyond the simple enjoyment of pretty flowers.

But garden therapy isn't just for public domains; the positive aspects of plants can be enjoyed in your own garden oasis, whether it's in existing landscapes, on condo terraces or inside your home. Designing a garden refuge starts with being realistic about the amount of time and energy that's available for gardening. When either is in short supply, think of defining a small space with shrubs and filling in with reliable perennials such as hosta, daylilies and bleeding heart. Add some outdoor furniture and pots filled with annuals and you have a low-maintenance sanctuary.

Those who have only a small deck or terrace can do something similar by planting shrubs in wooden or plastic containers. Pick plants that are hardy two zones colder than where you live, and they should survive the winter. Boston is in Zone 6 and Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. are in zone 7, so plants hardy in zone 4 and 5, respectively, should live in containers outside. Other boxes or pots can hold annuals for seasonal color.

A plant-filled retreat can be created indoors by putting houseplants in a space near a window. For areas that get light but no direct sun, try peace lilies, Norfolk Island pines and snake plant. The key to making an indoor refuge is in grouping the plants together and adding seasonal flowers such as poinsettias, Easter Lilies or primrose.

C. L. Fornari is a writer, gardening expert, professional speaker and radio host who is dedicated to getting you into the garden. The Osterville, Mass., resident is a member of the Perennial Plant Association, American Plant Propagators Society, National Speakers Association and Garden Writers of America.


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