By Julie Pramuk, UC Master Gardener of Napa County
About a year ago Master Gardeners of Napa County received a request to provide a speaker for a nursing home. The topic was: How do plants and trees make us feel? How do they interact with us? How can they affect us psychologically, in our homes, parks or forests?
The Japanese have studied this topic extensively. They call it shinrin-yoku, or the art of forest bathing. The practice of shinrin-yoku asks us to detox from the busy-ness of our lives, to turn off our devices and eliminate distractions. As you wander in nature, allow your walk to bathe you in the wonder and beauty of the earth. Breathe deeply and relish the fragrances from the trees and plants around you.
While we shelter in place, we are restrained from gathering. Workplaces are shuttered and consequently many of us are taking more walks in our neighborhoods or strolling in our city parks or nearby forests. As we do, we become more aware of how plants and trees make us feel.
Walking outdoors and taking time to observe plants and trees relieves stress, refreshes the spirit and helps us build a more positive mental state. Since most of us are spending more time indoors, getting outside can relieve tension.
Finding a spot of solitude and allowing your surroundings to play with your senses can be energizing. But we don't have to go too far to experience the positive effects of nature. The opportunity may be as close as your back yard.
When my mother-in-law moved into an apartment with a small, sunny balcony, we planted pots with seasonal flowers, and she delighted in watching blooms appear and change. She was able to water, nurture and care for her small pot garden easily. When I visited her, I would often find her snipping spent blossoms, watering or just sitting and observing the birds that came to investigate. Her little garden was a source of solace and joy.
What better time for us to get into our gardens and observe what is growing? Maybe you have shade trees or fruit trees, flowering shrubs or bushes that provide habitat for insects and bees. Perhaps, like me, you started seeds or young plants that you did not have time to care for and they failed.
No matter how your garden looks now, I encourage you to engage with it and try not to become overwhelmed. Focus your attention on a few containers, a single raised bed or a small plot of ground.
Before you plant, check out the soil. Is it soft and loamy? If not, find that pile of leaves and organic matter in the corner of your yard. Dig down several inches. If it has been sitting six months or more, you may find some dark, loose soil. Aha! Compost. Just what you need to mix into your planting area.
If you do not find this little gift in your garden, you can purchase organic compost and add it to the area you plan to cultivate.
Note the sunlight in the area you intend to plant. Is there a water source nearby? Make sure you check the sun and water needs of the plants you hope to grow. Read seed packets and consult plant labels, then select the right plants for the right place.
Before you begin, just sit outside and be still. Observe how garden life around you changes. Breathe deeply and note the spring fragrances in your yard. Then make a plan for the space that has called you.
Once you have started gardening, you may begin to feel a bond with nature that you soon can't do without. Humans interact with plants every day, in ways that might not be immediately apparent. With a little time and effort, you can experience for yourself the primal relationship that humans have with plants and the entire natural world that surrounds us.
The UC Master Gardeners of Napa County are volunteers who provide University of California research-based information on home gardening. To find out more about home gardening or upcoming programs, visit the Master Gardener website (napamg.ucanr.edu). Our office is temporarily closed but we are answering questions remotely and by email. Send your gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a phone message at 707-253-4143 and a Master Gardener will respond shortly.