From the Garden: Garden Therapy

When the world is too much with you, gardening is a great way to relax, and better still, there’s no need to spend a lot of money to make your backyard flourish

Deadlines, debt and daunting to-do lists are all components of vexing modern-day stress. Whether it’s gargantuan – job loss, ill health or the death of a loved one – or minuscule – a teenager’s snarl, a boss’ incompetence or a partner’s annoying habits – stress clearly envelops our souls.

There are, however, many strategies for dealing with it: Prayer, yoga and exercise are among the healthier options. Alcohol, sex and consumption of yummy food are perhaps less healthy but still successful stress relievers for some.

For me, the method that never fails is just to step out onto my postage stamp-size courtyard. As I tend my plants, I slowly morph into Mother Nature and the stress simply slides away.

Let me state for the record: I am not a degreed horticulturist. I do not own exotic orchids like Nero Wolfe, nor do I have the expertise of LSU AgCenter’s extension agent Dan Gill or the style of Martha Stewart. My 70 or so plants are a luxuriant ragtag accumulation gathered from Lowe’s discount flats and cuttings from friends. I’ve salvaged plants from the side of the road, bartered for them at garage sales and created them from my kitchen scraps.

My two favorite saved-from-the-compost plants are a 10-foot entwined avocado tree and an exquisite pineapple. So allow me to share two stress-free ways to add to your plant collection.

First the avocado: The Web will show you ways to sprout the avocado that involve toothpicks and a glass of water, but I suggest something much easier. After you make delicious guacamole for the big game, save the avocado pits. Wash them under tepid running water, and gently wipe away and remove any of the remaining green fruit. The dimpled part of the seed is where the roots will sprout, so place that side down, and cover it with about a half-inch of soil. Plant at least six seeds in a large pot. Make sure the pot is watered and has some sun, but basically just forget about it. In about four to six weeks, you’ll look into the pot and experience the gardener’s thrill: green sprouts breaking the soil, the verdant manifestation that hope indeed springs eternal.

Probably not all of the pits will sprout, but as the stems you do have get taller, simply braid them together, holding them in place with string or yarn. The end result will be a beautiful tree that will resemble one of those fancy and expensive entwined ficus trees that can cost as much as $50. It is highly unlikely that your plant will bear fruit, but that’s a topic for another time.

The next is the belle of my bromeliads. It is a beautiful pineapple plant with a 12-inch circumference. Her fruit produced a particularly potent pitcher
of piña coladas.

If you’re interested in growing this plant, you’ll need to look for a pineapple with healthy, firm green leaves and golden-brown fruit. When you get home, cut off the leafy top, leaving a bit of the fruit attached. Remove a few of the lower leaves, and gently scrape out the fruit under the remaining leaves. After trimming and stripping, let the crown dry out for a couple of days. This allows the cut end and the leaf scars to heal and prevents rot. Then just place the pineapple into well-drained, humus-rich potting soil, and once again just forget about it. As long as the cup at the center of the plant is always full of water, eventually the plant will flourish. And there’s a good chance one day it will produce an adorable little pineapple.

There really is no end to the number of inexpensive plants that can make your garden soothing and spectacular. Even plain grass seed sown in unique containers can be a truly beautiful thing.

Now before my editor slams me with yet another deadline, I shall take a moment to enjoy some tasty guacamole, an intoxicating piña colada and the serenity of my oasis of calm.