Archive for Aging in place in the garden

Mental Health Benefits of Gardening

Growing a new Perspective on Mental Health

Tending the land to grow your own vegetables is an exceptional way to improve your diet, but access to unprocessed food at your doorstep isn’t the only reason to dig in the dirt. A recent study published by ScienceDirect clearly outlines the fact gardening has a positive effect on both physical and mental health.  As a Portland landscape designer  I often hear my landscape design clients talk about how good it  feels to engage in growing edibles, putter with plants and relax in their landscapes.  Maria Cannon is my guest blogger today and explains more about the mental health benefits of gardening.

Gardening reduces stress and anxiety

It is well accepted that sunlight is one natural element that can help keep depression at bay. However, gardening offers a double whammy where feel-good chemical production is concerned. Certain studies have found that Mycobacterium, which is found in soil, can actually trigger the brain to release serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter that is largely responsible for mood stabilization.

Tip: A home garden is the perfect place to grow cherry tomatoes, Swiss chard, blue potatoes, and oregano, which are all known to contain compounds that help fight depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

Gardening can decrease a person’s risk of diabetes and heart disease

Gardening is a physical activity that can be enjoyed by people of virtually all fitness levels. A 150-pound woman can burn nearly 300 calories working in the garden for an hour. This type of work offers the body the opportunity to build muscle and sweat, both of which are important for overall health. The combination of eating fresh, organic vegetables and the added physical activity can help decrease the risk of certain health conditions, including heart disease and diabetes. Chronic illness such as these are also linked to mental health issues like stress and depression.

 Working outdoors encourages family time

Working the land is a labor of love that can be instilled in children from an early age. And, since gardening affects the brain, spending time outdoors with the kids is not only good for parents but can help prevent depression in their smallest little landscapers. Another positive side effect of growing a vegetable or flower garden is that it encourages family time which can also help boost mood and ward off signs of depression and other mental health issues.

Tip: Gardening with children promotes positive communication skills which will last through adulthood and improve social function.

Gardening can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease

Depression is one of the least discussed concerns of aging, particularly in those with Alzheimer’s disease. Engaging in horticultural activities can help keep the brain sharp and potentially slow the progression of dementia in elderly patients. A recent study found that physical activities, including gardening, can help cut a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by nearly 50%.

Low Maintenance Itoh Peony

Itoh Peony variety, ‘Cora Louise’

Tip: Plant a flower garden to create a bright, colorful, and fragrant environment that will help treat the mind, body, and soul.

The act of harvesting releases dopamine

While society today no longer has to rely on hunter/gatherers for food, the brain continues to release dopamine during the harvest. It is hypothesized that this response evolved more than 200,000 years ago when ancient peoples saw large stores of food, which meant the survival of their community. This biologic function lingers on today, even when harvesting small gardens. Additionally, the harvest creates a feeling of self-satisfaction and accomplishment which can go a long way for someone battling depression.

Tip: Engage in a harvest celebration with friends and family to amplify the enjoyment received from the picking process.

According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, horticultural therapy has been used successfully since Dr. Benjamin Rush first discovered a link between gardening and mental health. Therapeutic gardens are used across the nation to help rehabilitate people suffering cognitive disorders and a host of other physical and mental health concerns.

Landscape Design for tiny steep backyard

Sango Kaku Japanese Maple set into boulder wall

Sango Kaku Japanese Maple

Big ideas for tiny steep back yard

My new clients were from southern California and now lived in Ridgefield, Washington.  They were  new to the Northwest.   They loved their new home and neighborhood and believed all their difficult small back yard needed was the right designer.

Their lot was challenging.

Their lot was challenging.

The Bodes wanted to make Ridgefield feel like home.   Their list was extensive and precise – their lot was tiny and challenging.  It was one of those small and steep up hill lots.  The builder gave them a slice of level land by building a high utilitarian block wall.  This divided the yard into half and neither half was big enough to do much with.  It’s great that people understand that a good designer can work miracles.  I was flattered they chose me to bring their new outdoor home to life.  It was not going to be easy.

Side yard transformed to easy access edibles garden

Side yard transformed to easy access edibles garden

Lauren and Kathryn’s wish list went like this:

•Large covered outdoor area for year round entertaining

•Covered hot tub room

•Dwarf fruit trees and raised beds for edibles – this was a serious hobby for them

•Convenient access to smoker and BBQ

•Water feature to see from inside the great room for year round enjoyment

•A Sangu Kaku Japanese maple-because they loved it so

They hired me after looking at several designers and we met early one fall morning.  As soon as I saw their lot I knew I’d recommend D & J Landscape Contractors for the installation.  We had teamed up for a similarly difficult site.   Although I am a Portland landscape designer I have several Ridgefield Washington landscape design clients.  See Mastersons swamp to paradise blog.

The Bodes and I  worked together to create their plan using my landscape design in a day process.

Before back porch addition

The basic grading was completed so the back porch addition could be built.

The big items were first.  For seamless outdoor living the thing to do was extend the roof of the house for the cover.  Not inexpensive but an important priority.  We made the ceiling high in this addition so it would add light to the great room and make it feel bigger.  Adding onto the existing small back porch rather than adding a new covered area elsewhere in the landscape kept it simple.  With all the items we needed to add, it would be easy to turn this tiny yard into a hodgepodge.

After back porch addition

After back porch addition

 

Next the harsh straight wall dividing the landscape in half had to go.    The design broke the steep slope into three levels.   Using naturalistic boulders artfully placed changed this landscape completely.  This is where I have to stop bragging about my spatial skills and brag about the landscape contractor.  It isn’t financially practical or practical in any manner to draw a design that precisely places every boulder.  Sometimes I am on site during construction and I work closely with the excavator to place the boulders but even then it is a very collaborative effort.  Donna Burdick and Brian Woodruff of D & J landscape Contractors  took the design and brought it to life.  It was such a tough site that we were planning to have me on site to help with the artistic efforts but the fall weather was threatening and if they had waited for me, they would have lost an opportunity to install until the next year.  We met on site once and they ran with it……beautifully.

The perfect spot for the smoker.

The perfect spot for the smoker.

A place was made for the smoker just on the edge of the covered back porch.  Nestled among the boulders it sits at a height that makes it an easy reach.

Now that we had created usable space it was easy to nestle the gazebo and tot tub into a curve of the boulder walls.  The hot tub feels private and there is good access.  It is planted beautifully.

 

The gazebo nestled into the boulder walls to create it's own private hot tub room.

The gazebo nestled into the boulder walls to create it’s own private hot tub room.

 

Lauren and Kathryn are get it done people.  Lauren built the hot tub gazebo using a kit, designed and built a potting table and storage cabinet for the back porch.  It was such a pleasure to visit them and hear how much they love their new outdoor heaven.

Their easy access raised beds are a delight to use and to behold.

The water feature, a drilled rock with the hidden echo chamber under it is beloved by their young nieces, they love to play in it.  The sound calls them outdoors.

They are home.

Sometimes I feel a little like Santa Claus –  All the boys and girls deserve a wonderful outdoor heaven to play in.

Garden Designer Brings Integration and Function To “Mismatched” Landscape

The new deck feels like an outdoor living room and makes the garden feel part of the house.

The new deck feels like an outdoor living room and makes the garden feel like part of the house.

“My garden adventures with Carol, Design in a Day, began in 2010.  Carol took my “mismatched” garden and pulled it together by incorporating a variety of plants which added interesting leaf shapes, texture, and color.  With the addition of stone paths and walls, art pieces, and a deck with planter boxes, she created a garden that blends continuity, interest, and beauty.

The old deck seemed small and cut off from the garden area.

The old deck was too small, felt cut off from the garden, and made an unattractive view.

Since a garden is an ever-changing palate, I have continued to work with Carol as my garden coach so my garden space will continue to thrive.

Carol is professional, knowledgeable, and talented.  She’s a good listener and will collaborate with a team of experienced and creative contractors as well as resources for plants.  With Carol’s style of landscape design one can select from a wide menu of options – from a garden design only where the client does the work, to a design and consultation, up to supervision of the project.”

August in the garden: Hakonechloa Macra 'Albostriata' - Japanese Forest Grass; Aconitum 'Tall Blue' - Monkshood; Hardy Fuchsia

August in the garden: Hakonechloa Macra ‘Albostriata’ – Japanese Forest Grass; Aconitum ‘Tall Blue’ – Monkshood; Hardy Fuchsia

When I work with an established garden, I strive to bring an experienced eye that can see exciting new possibilities with the removal of plants and features that no longer work (or missed by a mile simply because no one knew what could be).  It’s hard for clients to do this on their own.  For many years some plants were wonderful and were loved.  I have been hired to help my clients have their best garden. Telling them a plant  is great just because they love it is not earning my pay.  I try to do this gently when it needs to be done.

We (Lois and I) made so many amazing changes in our design process but I will speak of a few.  This garden already had a mature dogwood tree.  Its location was perfect but it had been damaged by the pruning of a well intentioned “mow, blow and go” gardener.  It took 3 years of light but precise pruning to correct damage and now it is the long term focal point of the back garden.

The new deck feels more like an outdoor living room and is an extension of the great room. What had been a dark interior room now feels significantly bigger and airy.  We used planters instead of railing and they bring the garden (including year round flowering plantings) up into the view from inside.  Before our design, the garden was obscured and felt cut off from the house, now it feels like part of the great room.  We created a kitchen window view with plantings that look good year round and bring the Anna hummingbirds into close view in winter.  This had previously been a forgotten area and the client had no expectations for it.  To her it was just a side yard.  Now it is one of her favorite views.

Driveway pic 1 plants tempOur adventures do continue.  Here are photos of our latest improvement, a retaining wall and plantings that dresses her driveway beautifully.Driveway pic 2 temp

Planters Are a Designer’s Best Friend

I use large built in planters to solve a variety of landscape problems and here are 5 of my favorites.

hendrickson planter 8 23 2012

The Hendrickson planter is about creating privacy for the living room window.  Their Willamette Heights house is 12 feet from the public sidewalk and they live near a park so there’s lots of foot traffic.  Juniper Communis ‘Gold Cone’, semi dwarf Oakleaf Hydrangea Quercifolia, ‘Sykes Dwarf’, California lilac ‘Concha’ (Ceanothus) purchased as a tree form at Kinens Big Phat Plants. This is a specialty wholesale only grower who shapes his plants beautifully before selling which is why I love to purchase a focal point plant such as the California Lilac tree from him.

AndersonAnderson planter with an arbor creates a visual barrier between the neighbors’ utility side yard and the Anderson’s driveway.  The kids play in the driveway and the adults use the planter for edibles so this area has become an important part of their yard. It also adds dramatic curb appeal to the entry.

 

G Mac in peeled pole raised bed

The Coles….here we use green peeled logs to make a raised beds/planter.  We wanted raised beds so the plants would be safe from the dogs (two very smart and active standard poodles) who fly through paths.  I chose the peeled logs because they fit into the woodsy Northwest natural setting of this property. I also had the specialty cedar chips laid at 6″ deep.  It’s too shady for lawn and other medium encourages fleas and doesn’t last.  It’s the perfect dog friendly solution for a shady back yard. The plants pictured are native Sword Fern and Hardy Geranium, Geranium Macrorrhizum ‘Mrs. Ingwersen’ also have a woodsy look.

mickelsen planter 2012Michaelson’s planter – this stone planter gives us the opportunity to jazz up the curb appeal of this bungalow in NE Portland.  It’s about creating a dramatic and colorful entry experience and visually softening the foundation below the front porch. Helianthemun ‘Henfield Brilliant’ billows over the cap of the planter.

 

KNIGHT after courtyard 1

Knight – here is a very modern patio and it would be nothing without these planters.  We chose planters rather than at grade planting beds because of ginormous tree roots that invaded all the planting beds.  There was no room to even dig holes for new plantings.  Gardening will be easier for my client who is approaching an age where bending down to tend the ground is a less attractive idea. Read more.

Hardscape Design Transforms A Gardeners Landscape

Stone patio with synthetic lawn

Delightful patio replaces stodgy deck – notice the beautiful synthetic lawn.

Garden Consultation – Margaret hired me as a garden coach.  We worked together for several years. Her property in Lake Oswego has typical problems; clay soil, greedy tree roots, soggy lawn with moss and drainage problems.  But in my mind, the biggest problem was a deck that had been built by the previous owners.  The shape was boxy and didn’t fit Margaret’s colorful NW natural garden.

For 6 years our garden coaching focused on her garden plantings.  My client is hands on and did her own maintenance for her large property.  In fact, one time, the contractor was late and we just couldn’t wait for him….and I might add we were a lot younger…..so Margaret and I decided to plant these 5′ tall Arborvitae up on the hill ourselves.  Things were going well until one rolled down the hill and took me out like a bowling pin.

Blake before deck close up 2

The old deck had to go!

At last she was ready to have the garden of her dreams. How delightful it would be to play with her plants instead of mowing.  She was tired of fighting with fir tree roots, shade and clay.  Her lawn was never dry until August, when it was  then parched and it never looked good. She wanted to spend her time gardening, not doing basic maintenance. There is nothing worse than spending your time cleaning up a landscape that you don’t like the looks of.  She didn’t want that deck any more.  She wanted a NW natural design that would include two sitting areas (one a new patio off the house to replace the deck, a flagstone patio in the woods) and synthetic lawn for her and her dogs.  We also re-worked her garden paths so they would be easier to clean up and look  so attractive they would integrate the landscape.

Garden path with stone stairs

The new stairs are complemented by easy care synthetic lawn.

The new design also met the horticultural needs of the fir trees since synthetic lawn doesn’t need summer water and our native fir trees are healthier without summer watering.

Now Margaret can blow or even use a dry vac on her lawn to remove fir needles.  It looks good all the time and the dogs are very happy and clean.  It is also a lot easier to clean up dog poop!

Before stone steps

Old garden path was hard to navigate and had no drama.

We worked together to create the design.  Because of the scope of the job Margaret choose to hire a professional,  Autumn Leaf Landscaping.

It is an amazing transformation.  Margaret’s plants and garden look fabulous because the supporting structures are well shaped and attractive.