Succulent Birdcage

Succulent Birdcage
By Rob Sproule

What You’ll Need
The Succulents
Building It
Beyond Succulents

Sometimes the best way to display your decorative plants is to use contrast. And new trends will have you using the graceful elegance of an antique birdcage to show off all the robust greenery of your favourite succulents!

“You know you’re a gardener when everything you see becomes a planter.”
– Unknown

Gardening trends take unexpected directions sometimes. I don’t know where we got the idea to repurpose old bird cages into succulents planters (although I do suspect Pinterest), but I love it! As it turns out, succulents and vintage bird cages are like peanut butter and jam. They compliment each other perfectly; nostalgic decor meets dynamic form. If you want to jump in and turn some heads, you’ll probably need to DIY. Pre-planted cages are just starting to find their way to store shelves.

What You’ll Need:

Assemble your materials first so you can have the most fun when you dive in. Here’s your list:
Birdcage with at least 1” lip on the bottom. If you don’t have one, road trip to the antique mall!
-Your succulents (see below)
-Plastic liner
-Sheet moss or coco liner
-Cactus Soil
-Activated Carbon (don’t skip this – it removes toxins that could kill your cage)

Stay on top of the latest plant decor trends, with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog

The Succulents:

Measure (or guesstimate) the inside diameter of your birdcage. Aim for about 1 succulent plant per 2” of diameter. So if it’s 6” wide, plant three; 12” wide plant six, etc. For larger cages (12” and over), start following the “Thriller/ Filler/ Spiller” rule of thumb for containers. Find a larger centerpiece, surround with lower fillers, and have your trailers spill out the bottom.

My recommendations (if they aren’t labelled by name, ask):
Thriller: Opt for an Aloe Vera, Jade, or a tall Aeonium (I like the black ones, like Zwartkop). Many skip this step altogether, so it’s up to you.

Filler: Echeverias (rosette succulents) are the stars of birdcage gardens. Plant a range of colours, from green to pink to dark, and they’ll grow into a gorgeously eclectic clusters. Sedums, crassulas, and other little guys work well, too.

Spiller: You’re limited in your options here. The popular choice is string of pearls because it takes up very little room in the birdcage but hangs a long way down. You could use Burrow’s Tail but it’s very slow growing. Eventually your fillers will send runners and start to dangle. You could also use annual vines with a succulent vibe, like Live Wire vine (Muehlenbeckia) or Spider plant. Just make sure they don’t need much water.

Building It:

If your birdcage has a solid bottom, you can either drill holes or commit to being very vigilant about watering levels. If it has a mesh bottom or open bottom (recommended), skip the plastic and lay down coco liner or sheet moss to allow for drainage (and more flexibility in what you can plant).
You’re essentially building a terrarium, with the same layering technique.

Here’s the steps:
-Lay your plastic liner on the bottom for a 2-4” lip on the sides
-Lay sheet moss or coco liner between the plastic and the cage
-Thin layer of pebbles on the bottom for drainage
-Thin layer of activated carbon on the rocks
-Cactus soil to desired height
-Plant your succulents, starting from the center and working out
-Add moss, lichens, air plants and other touches to give it an eclectic finished look

Beyond Succulents:

You don’t need to limit yourself to succulents. An old birdcage makes a gorgeous alternative to a hanging basket for annuals. Just replace cactus soil with peat-based potting mix (the same as you’d use in your planters) and start planting! The sight of long white streams of Bacopa and lavish bunches of Supertunias bursting from a birdcage is patio poetry. Make sure to fertilize as much as you would a hanging basket.

Heat-loving herbs like rosemary and basil thrive too. Use the same soil as you would for annuals. If you do herbs, or any edibles, make sure you’re not getting a birdcage with lead-based paint, since it could leach into the root systems (i.e. a cage that isn’t too old)

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Focus on the Fiddle-Leaf

Focus on the Fiddle-Leaf
Care to Keep it Awesome
By Rob Sproule

Water & Fertilizer
Other Tips

Fiddle Leaf Figs (Ficus lyrata), are the designer’s “it” plant. Their dark green, cello-shaped leaves with pronounced cream veins have the graced the covers of magazines and home decorating shows for the past few years.

In the home, they bring bright, clean elegance. Classically, they’re best in large, bright rooms but will thrive anywhere they have enough light. In spring, once the nights, are well above freezing, they’ll love gracing the patio. Make sure to protect them from direct sun.


Fiddles love their light. They’re not meant for sprucing up the basement or adding design savvy to the walk-in closet. Give them a bright room, with adequate access to south and/or west facing windows, and they’ll thrive.

While they love bright light, keep them out of those scorching sunbeams. Windows act as a UV magnifier, so keep them back from the glass. If it’s not getting enough light, it will have a little tantrum by throwing its leaves on the ground. Figs are famous to aligning how many leaves they have with their light levels.
Once it’s acclimatized to a spot, try not to move it. The exception is if it’s getting all its light from one side (which it usually will). You’ll want to turn it every couple months or you’ll see it start to stretch across the room.

Learn more about the benefits of Aloe Vera, with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog

Water & Fertilizer:

Figs know what they want in this department. Luckily, that’s not hard to provide. It doesn’t want to be soggy, so wait until it’s dry to the touch (to the first knuckle), before watering again. When you do water, water thoroughly until it’s flowing freely from the bottom. This matters because it flushes the salts (from our tap water) out before they accumulate. Make sure to empty the dish when done.

Whether you water more or less will depend on how much light it’s getting (more= more), the size of its container (smaller =more), and if you’ve put it outside for the summer (more). After a few waterings you’ll get a feel for its rhythms.

From spring to fall, when it’s actively growing, fertilize monthly with an all-purpose at half strength. They aren’t big feeders but some nutrients will keep it at its best.


Your Fiddle will grow speedily in the right conditions. It’s common for house-Fiddles to cross 8 or 9’. So it’s bound to outgrow its pot. It will be pretty obvious. When the roots wrap around the inner edge of the pot, it’s time to transplant. Aim for the spring so the rambunctious roots quickly colonize the new soil. If roots start growing out the bottom drainage, transplant right away.

Only jump up one pot size (2” diameter or so) at a time. More than that and the outer soil will stay wet and rot the fibrous roots.

Other Tips:

Their big beefy leaves catch dust, which can impede photosynthesis if it builds up. Cleaning every few months with a clean damp cloth will keep its green glistening.

If the leaves get pale and spotty it’s probably either not enough light or it has a pest. The pest will be obvious on visual inspection, and if not enough light then move it into a brighter spot.

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The Art of Kokedama

The Art of Kokedama
By Rob Sproule

Wabi Sabi
The Basics
What You’ll Need
Assembling It
Basic Care

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
– Leonard Cohen

Kokedama is a modern trend with deep and richly philosophical roots. Like many treasured and unique gardening techniques, it’s Japanese and has its own story to tell.

Wabi Sabi:

In Japan, the beauty of transience and imperfection is wabi-sabi. It’s an aesthetic principle that celebrates the irregular, intimate, and modest forms of nature. Traditional kokedama was an expression of Wabi-Sabi practiced on bonsai trees. The trees were taken out of the pots and mounted on driftwood or pottery to express the beauty of rough simplicity.

It’s since evolved to encompass a string-and-moss method of wrapping roots in a natural blanket instead of a pot. The result is a messy living sculpture that still expresses its original wabi-sabi aesthetic.

Learn more forms of Japanese Garden Art, with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog

The Basics:

The only limit here is your imagination. You can make kokedama out of so many plants that before you know it, the first thing through your head while looking at plants will be, “I wonder how that would look without a pot…” Some of the best plants to use are:
– Ferns

– Orchids (only moss here and no soil)

– Small tropical plants, from Ficus to Pothos. Choose Aralia or Podocarpus if you want a traditional Japanese vibe

– Citrus plants (on the smaller side)

– Just about any tropical vine

– Succulents (but make sure it dries out and don’t pack too hard)

 -Air plants (on the outside of the moss)

They aren’t plentiful in Garden Centers yet, so you’ll probably need to DIY. It’s some of the messiest indoor gardening you’ll ever do, so lay out some garbage bags and have fun!

What You’ll need:

Get your ingredients together early so you can let your mind dive in once you’re rolling. Here’s your list:
– Soil (it’s like making a meatball: not too crumbly, not too sticky. Go for 7:3 or 2:1 mix of peat moss to bonsai soil. Add more peat moss or coconut coir if you need it to hold together)

– Sheet moss (or Coco Liner as a substitute)

– Your plant(s)

– Cheese cloth

– Fishing line

– Twine or cotton thread

Assembling It:

– Gently remove as much soil or media as possible from the roots as you can. Make sure to expose the roots, but you don’t need to scrub them clean.

– Blend your soils. Like a meatball, your goal is a small ball that doesn’t fall apart on its own (but not hard as rock either). Usually you want about an orange-sized ball, but it varies by plant.

– Add some water to the ball and make sure it’s big enough to hold your plant’s roots.

– Carefully, make a hole in your ball or split it gently in 2. Fit the roots into it gently, careful not to break any.

– Press the ball back together (don’t squish too hard).

– Wrap cheese-cloth around the ball (optional).

– Wrap sheet moss or coco-liner around the ball. Press parts of it into the soil to anchor. Cover the ball completely and wrap the fishing line around it like a messy little Christmas present.

-Wrap twine around if you want a more decorative wabi-sabi aesthetic (the cotton thread will dissolve).

Basic Care:

Soak your creation entirely in lukewarm water after planting. That’s how to water it, and how often depends on what you’ve planted. For succulents, wait until the surface is quite dry, more often for tropical plants. You can put it in a dish or other vessel if you want, but I prefer hanging. The increased air-flow will make for a healthier plant and it looks amazing.

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The Top 5 Trendiest Houseplants

The Top 5 Trendiest Houseplants

By Rob Sproule

Fiddle-Leaf Fig
Snake Plant
Air Plants
Zebra Plant
Boston Fern

“You know you’re a grownup when all your houseplants are alive and you can’t smoke any of them.“
– Anonymous

Houseplants have gone from old to vogue. They’re in every design magazine and on the lips of hipsters and celebrities wanting a beautiful living space, cleaner air, and a calmer head. Every plant has a unique texture, growth pattern, colour, and form. So every plant blends different into the design trends of the day. Here’s my check in on what leaves we’re set to love this winter.

Fiddle-Leaf Fig:

Called the “It Fig” by the New York Times , the Fiddle is the king of trendy houseplants. It’s glossy, rich leaves and modern style have made it the darling of interior designers and Millennials alike. Wherever they go, they make a statement. Broad leafed, dark greens and proud, they’re an instant focal point. What they aren’t is subtle, and putting more than one in a room is usually excessive.

Beauty isn’t always easy. Fiddles are finicky to care for, needing high light, attentive watering, and an allergy to being moved. While it’s famous for the surface area of its leaves, they will also attract a famous amount of dust. Wipe them down occasionally to keep them at their contemporary best.

Snake Plant:

This one goes by snake plant, Sansevieria, and the chuckle-worthy Mother-in-Law’s tongue. And it’s getting more popular by the week. It’s narrow enough to fit into tight spaces, has sleek enough lines to please your inner designer, and cleans the air to boot. Having one near your study or workspace will calm you down, help improve your concentration, and remove toxins like benzene, carbon dioxide, and xylene.

You don’t need a green thumb. They’re tolerant of drought, thrive in almost any light level (except scorching sun), and rarely need transplanting. Wipe them down occasionally to keep them at their elegant best.

Learn more about the benefits of houseplants, with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog

Air Plants:

Also called Tillandsia, they’re for people who don’t want their Grandmother’s houseplant. Air plants don’t live in soil and come in hundreds of shapes, sizes, and textures. Creative plant-lovers adore air plants. A little non-toxic glue and they turn centerpieces, windowfarms, flower arrangements, and pretty much anything you can think of into living art.

Mount them anywhere, experiment with their shape and texture, and they’ll continue to grow, bloom, and get conversations started. While they don’t need soil, they still need water. A daily mist is usually enough, but every few weeks you’ll probably want to give them a dunking and let them drip dry next to the dishes.

Zebra Plant:

Succulents have been the rage for years, but now the trend is branching into how different types with unique qualities. Haworthia are miniature, slow growing succulents that embody everything cool about the trend. Easier to care for than its cousins, Haworthia don’t need bright, direct sunlight. Their small root systems also make them ideal for open terrariums, mounting on fridge magnets or anywhere else the imagination takes you. The Zebra type have crisp white stripes running across the plant. It’s going to stay small, so place it where you can admire it from nearby, like a desk or kitchen windowsill.

Boston Fern:

Yes, you read that right. What’s old is new again. And when I say old, I mean prehistoric. Bostons, and its host of fern cousins, are back in vogue. It’s tough, pulls a massive amount of toxins out of the air, and has a bed-head demeanour that retro-designers can’t resist (spoiler alert; macrame is back in style, too).

Opt for cleaner ferns if you’re averse to a little mess. But the amount the shed pales when compared to how many toxins they clean from the air. One of the best air cleaning plants in the world, Boston’s actually eat benzene and formaldehyde. They pull them into their roots and convert them to nutrients. While they thrive in well lit rooms, they will tolerate lower light levels (though they might grow pale). Keep the soil moist and try to spritz with water daily.

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Best New Annuals for 2017

Best New Annuals for 2017

By: Rob Sproule

High Fashion
‘Superbells’ Morning Star
‘Prince Tut’ Grass
Confetti Garden: ‘Peppermint Candy’
Alocasia ‘Stingray’
Petunia ‘Nightsky’

The thrill of getting our hands dirty is universal, but the ways we do it often change with the seasons. Like fashion, new annuals emerge every spring to liven up our containers. Let’s take a look at my top 5 pick…

“ The earth laughs in flowers.“
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

– Alocasia Stingray
– Calibracoa Morning Star
– Prince Tut Grass
– Confetti Garden – Peppermint Candy
– Crazytunia Nightsky

High Fashion:

In the gardening world, annuals are big business. They’re the colour powerhouses of the yard. The trendiest annuals are high fashion; eye-catching specimens in containers in that stick out from all the rest. Every year, hundreds of new annuals hit the market. It’s my job to look past the glossy magazine ads and find out which ones have the best combination of beauty and performance in our uniquely Albertan climate. So without further ado, here’s my top 5 for 2017:

‘Superbells’ Morning Star:

You’ve probably heard me gushing about Calibrachoa before. This genus, very closely related to Petunias and hailing from southern South America, was largely ignored until it was hybridized into “Million Bells.” “Superbells”, along with dozens of other brand names and over 100 colours, followed. Imagine a petunia. Now imagine if that petunia had smaller flowers, bloomed all the time without deadheading, wasn’t as fussy about watering, and didn’t sticky leaves. That’s a calibrachoa. The “Star” series is the latest of stunning bi-colours from Proven Winners. It will bloom all season and it’s garden performance is off the charts.

‘Prince Tut’ Grass:

By now you’ve probably heard of the ‘Tut’ series of papyrus grass for containers. It’s vertical, reed-like lines and whorling heads bring intense architectural appeal. But while the ‘King Tut’ is too large for most containers (being over 4’ high), and ‘Baby Tut’ is more of a stuffer at less than 1’ high, the new ‘Prince Tut’ is finally in the happy middle. At 2’ high, it’s an architectural centerpiece that fits the scale of most medium to large containers. It loves full sun and water (it’s originally a Middle-Eastern swamp plant), so plant with other water lovers like Bacopa and Alocasia.

Confetti Garden: ‘Peppermint Candy’:

It’s Canada’s year, and expect to see red and white everywhere as we celebrate our 150th. Confetti Gardens are brilliant little combos of plants, chosen for colour design and mutual growth habit, that you can plunk into a larger container for a low cost, professionally designed container garden. ‘Peppermint Candy’ combines red and white bicolour petunias, red verbena, and white calibrachoa, is a well-balanced celebration of Canadiana in the garden. Give it lots of sun, water, and ample fertilizer (weekly at least). The plants should grow well together, but if one of them gets out of hand, pinch it back to let the others fill in.

Learn more about new annuals with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog

Alocasia ‘Stingray’:

If you’re looking to start conversations, this one is for you. Also known as Elephant Ear’s, Alocasia boast big, lush leaves that point upward and outward, turning any container they’re planted in into a dramatic tropical statement. ‘Stingray’s’ unique feature is the whiptail end of it’s leaves. Resembling, you guessed it, a stingray, it grows quickly in a sunny spot (sheltered from the afternoon sun, if possible). It wants to be moist but well drained, and in the fall you can cut it back to the root and keep it dry until the next spring.

Petunia ‘Nightsky’:

Petunias have been around for so long that truly new colours are rare. ‘Nightsky’ is a mottled colour pattern resembling thick stars on a velvet blue canvas. It’s one of the most distinctive petunias I’ve seen in a long time. Workhorses in containers, petunias quickly into mounds of broad, colourful flowers. Dead-head the spent blooms to keep the show going. They’re best grown in containers where their roots can be warm, and they hate drying out.


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Gardening with Native Grasses

Gardening with Native Grasses

By: Rob Sproule

Grasses, Grasses, Everywhere
The Benefits of Grasses
Best Varieties for Alberta

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”
–   Henry Miller

Grasses, Grasses, Everywhere:

Have you noticed that grasses are everywhere? Drive down down any boulevard or past any restaurant build in the past few years and you’re likely to see proud walls of ‘Karl Forester’ grass swaying in the wind. 10 years ago, I noticed the trend of landscaping with large beds of grass in Europe. It’s found its way across the pond, and Albertans have embraced it as a modern and environmentally sustainable salute to our roots. You’d think that, being on the Prairies, we’d have had enough of grass. But the opposite is true. Grass is written into our cultural history. Whether it’s memories of prairie meadows or the soothing rhythm as it sways, it soothes us.

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty:
• Plant them in the full sun
• Make sure they have drainage (don’t plant in mud or a wet depression)
• Most varieties are drought tolerant, so easy on the water
• Divide every 3-5 years, or when it gets too big for you. Simple dig up the roots and pull carefully apart.

The Benefits of Grasses:

Let’s list the “cons” first, because they’re short. They don’t bloom. Now for the “pros”:
• They’re hardy like spruce trees, with many of them being native species. You don’t need to winterize and barely need to water.
• They get shaggy at the base. How is this a pro? Beneficial ground beetles, ladybugs, and spiders will set up camp and patrol your yard for pests.
• Whether spiky blue Festuca clusters or feather-reed grasses elegantly swaying, they’re gorgeous.
• They provide winter appeal highlighted against the snow. In the early spring, opportunistic birds will shear them down for nesting material.
• Plant them and forget about them. They’re that easy to take care of.
• Some varieties produce striking seed heads, which you can cut for crafts or cuts or leave for the birds to eat.
• Bring a sense of movement to your yard that few plants can
• You don’t need pesticides chemicals.

A word about the last point. Natives and prairie plants will often have a few pests on them. That’s good; they’re food for your predators. As long as you don’t spray pesticides (ie. wipe out your predators so the pests can rebound faster), you should see an equilibrium emerge.

Learn more about native grasses with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog

Best Varieties for Alberta:

‘Karl Foerster’ Grass (Feather Reed): this is vertical and magnificent. You know them well, having seem them swaying in large plantings alongside roads and in commercial landscaping. It’s hardy but won’t self seed (sterile seeds), and grows to 5’ or more in full sun. It yields feathery, reed-like blossoms in summer.

Blue Fescue: this compact, clumping grass only hits a foot tall but does so in cool blue style. Needs almost no maintenance and is perfect to break up the green leaves in the perennial bed. The birds love to harvest it for bedding in early spring, giving it a perfect prune.

Variegated Reed Grass: Smaller than its cousin (‘Karl Foerster’), this Reed grass brings the sense of movement and grace. It’s a cool season lover, and will thrive in our crisp springs and falls. It tops out at 2-3’ feet high and brings a touch of variation to perennials beds, which are often otherwise green when not in bloom.


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Trends ⅘ – Loving Local

Gardening Trends ⅘ – Loving Local
By: Rob Sproule

Growing Our Own
Local vs. Organic
Native Plants

“Serve the kind of food you know the story behind.“
-– Michael Pollan

Growing Our Own:

What’s in your salad? The immediate answer is “lettuce and tomatoes,” but what’s their history? The lettuce may be from California, the tomatoes from Mexico. How were they grown, when were they picked and what were they sprayed with? The stories behind our food are getting more complex, and we’ve gotten skeptical. Add the lower nutrition levels and rising cost of imported food, and a quiet revolution happens.

In 2017, we’ll continue our surge of interest in growing our own food. Local food is, increasingly, the only food we trust. Growing our own food is one part of the larger trend towards produce, meat, baking, and other foodstuffs that we want to know the story behind. At the greenhouse, I’ve watched countless new customers, many of whom were new to gardening, scoop up microgreens, veggie seeds, seed potatoes, garlic, and everything else in record numbers. Be it for the sake of their pocket book, fitness, family health, or simply knowing what has gone into that tomato you’re eating, interest in home-grown continues its slow explosion.
Learn how to grow your own food!

Local vs. Organic:

A lot of people ask me what the difference between local and organic is, sometimes admitting that they’ve been assuming that they’re the same thing. They’re apples and oranges. Organic means food grown without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or genetic modifications. Sound simple? It gets complicated quickly. While only growers who meet strict guidelines can be certified as organic, non-organic producers tend to adopt the name, or the implication.

On top of that, countries wishing to import “organic” food make “equivalency arrangements” with the Canadian government to define what will, and what won’t be, called organic. More on that here. 

“Local” means food grown close by, though not necessarily organically. The smaller the producer (i.e.. Farmers’ Markets or your own backyard) the more you can trust the term. When deciding what’s best for the plant, we sometimes have to choose between the carbon footprint of importing organic food vs. the chemicals used in growing locally. Canadians are increasingly choosing local options, and the trend toward growing our own continues to skyrocket.

Dig into the local food movement here 

Native Plants:

Our love of local doesn’t stop with edibles. Native plants are flying off shelves in record numbers, driven by concerns about environment, ease of care, and changing weather conditions. In California, ravaged by drought, people are planting natives because they require little supplemental watering, while people with tropical, water-intensive gardens are being shamed online. While we’re in a different situation, water conservation is climbing to top-of-mind and natives are the way to get there.

Environmentally, native plants are a win-win. They attract pollinators and beneficial predators into your yard, which in turn increases your edibles’ yield and reduces the need to spray toxins. Lazy gardeners (myself included), are turning to natives. Overwintering is a breeze, they require little synthetic fertilizer, and they’ll host garrisons of hungry predators to keep the pests at bay.

Aesthetically, loving natives doesn’t have to mean resigning yourself to a scruffy, untamed yard. An increasing array of contemporary design options, from prairie grass-scapes to xeriscaped rock-gardens, are making landscaping with natives more appealing to mainstream gardeners.

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Trends ⅖ – Craving Wellness

Gardening Trends ⅖ – Craving Wellness
By: Rob Sproule

Forest Bathing
Find Sanctuary
The Science of Wellness

“Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better. “
– Albert Einstein

Forest Bathing:

We’ve become a stressed-out species. On average, we spend over 90% of our time indoors, and, when we’re outdoors, we’re rarely aware of what nature, hidden in plain sight around us, can give.

Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term, coined in the 1980s, that translates into “Forest Bathing.” It’s become a cornerstone of preventative healthcare in Japan, and it’s making its way across the Pacific. Most of us have never heard of it, let alone considered it to be a mainstream trend. But, 20 years ago, you could say the same about yoga.

Forest Bathing is soaking up the sounds, smells, and sights of natural environments to achieve physical and mental wellness. It’s an invitation to walk through a forest, park, or even through a garden path, and allow nature to calm your nerves and help you find your balance.
Keep up to date on the latest gardening trends!

Find Sanctuary:

From Aleppo to Ei Nino to Trump, it’s been an anxious year. Our addiction to technology doesn’t help. We’re either watching bad news on TV or checking our phones every 6 seconds. We’re surrounded by negative stimuli that we experience but cannot control, so it makes us feel helpless. We know what people whom we haven’t talked to in 20 years had for breakfast, but we still feel alone.

Nature shows us that we’re neither helpless nor alone. A simple walk through the woods or even our garden alters our perspective from helpless spectator to empowered actor. The complex fragility of nature integrates us with it and gives us an immediate sense of purpose.

Forest bathing isn’t “pie-in-the-sky.” The benefits that have been scientifically proven include:
• Reduced blood pressure
• Improved mood, focus, and creativity
• Improved sleep quality
• Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
• Boosted immune system
• Accelerated recovery from illness or surgery
Get your hands dirty with our weekly tips 

The Science of Wellness:

Instinctively, we know that nature calms anxiety. Taking a moment to smell a flower is a small shield against our daily barrage of stress. Recent studies have turned instinct into fact by identifying a soil-borne bacterium in nature that has the same impact on the brain as Prozac. 

The studies of the benefits of green spaces don’t stop there. Here’s a small sample of what recent studies have demonstrated:

After 4 days on the trail, hikers demonstrated an astonishing 50% boost in creativity compared to being inside

A study consisting of hundreds of thousands of people found a strong correlation between overall quality of health and living within 1 km of a green space

For a Canadian perspective, David Suzuki launched the 30X30 Challenge in May, 2013. 10,000 Canadians from 250 different workplaces committed to spending 30 minutes outside every day for 30 days. Afterwards, participants were asked how the experience affected them. Overwhelmingly, the participants reported having more energy, feeling more productive at work, enjoying better quality of sleep, and having less stress overall.

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Gardening in Space


Image credit: NASA

Gardening in Space
By Rob Sproule

Growing without Gravity
The Power of Plants
Space Flowers

“It’s a fixer-upper of a planet but we could make it work.”
– Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, speaking in May 2013 about the possibility of humans eventually settling on Mars.

Growing without Gravity:

Have you ever wondered how a seed knows which way is “up”? Plants are smarter than we think, and in a process called geotaxis, detect Earth’s gravitational field and send the sprout growing against it.

But what happens if you remove the gravity. With humankind on the brink of long voyages in space, the trivia of how to make plants grow in space has become a vital research topic at NASA.

First challenge: without gravity, roots will grow in all directions. In 2014, astronauts installed Veg-01 at the ISS in order to germinate and grow humanity’s first space veggies. You can geek-out with the details in this NASA video:  

Veg-01 is lined with unique “pillows,” which are filled with a media of slow release fertilizer and specialized clay. The seeds are inlaid into a wick and stuck into the pillow, pointed up. LED lights shine down on the seed in order to coax it upwards in the proper direction.

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The Power of Plants:

With all our technology to provide artificial vitamins, why this effort? Besides having the ability to produce their own seeds, veggies help NASA regulate air quality by gobbling up carbon dioxide and reducing humidity.

Dr. Gioia Massa, the NASA science team lead for “Project Veggie,” is responsible for taking the first steps towards creating a food production system, and a better quality of life, for future astronauts in deep space and on Mars. She’s passionate about her charge, “The farther and longer humans go away from Earth, the greater the need to be able to grow plants for food, atmosphere recycling and psychological benefits.”

Space Flowers:

Flowers have an uncanny ability to relieve stress. At NASA, planning for extended space travel is about more than having enough food and fuel. If the astronauts’ don’t stay psychologically fit, everything falls apart. Bring on the flowers.

In 2015, the first flowers bloomed at the ISS. The Zinnias (“Profusion” series to be exact), aren’t edible, but flowers have an uncanny ability to provide comfort and remind us of home. When astronauts are locked inside a metal box in deep, cold space for years at a time, “home” will become very important.

As we look towards journeying to and, eventually, establishing a colony on Mars, we’ll need to become self-sufficient with fresh food. The science that NASA, and people like Dr. Massa, are doing now will be used for decades of space exploration.

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Feng Shui Plants – for Chinese New Year

Feng Shui Plants – for Chinese New Year
By Rob Sproule

A General Overview
Ancient & Modern Collide
Air Purifiers

A General Overview:

This article was a journey for me. I started, driven by my own curiosity, to see what all the Feng Shui fuss was about. Shortly into research I noticed that most of the plants recommended for good energy were also exceptional air cleaners.

Does negative energy = airborne formaldehyde and other nasties? As I kept searching, the correlation got stronger. Read on and see for yourself if ancient Chinese mysticism foreshadowed our recent appreciation of preserving cleaner air through strategically placed plants.

Ancient & Modern Collide:

You don’t have to subscribe to Chinese mysticism to appreciate how plants change a home’s energy.

Use Plants around Electronics: Your computer and TV exude both electromagnetic energy and trace amounts of airborne chemicals. Placing a houseplant nearby will help counteract the radiation and suck up formaldehyde and xylene. See Air Cleaning Plants for the details about which plant absorbs which chemical(s).

Bring the Outside In: Feng Shui promotes bringing the energy of nature into your home. Plants soften hard, straight lines with non-linear shapes and soft curves. Opt for plants with rounded leaves over prickly unfriendlies (cacti are discouraged).

Raise the Roof: Low ceilings can make rooms feel like cells. Placing tall plants in sloped corners will symbolically lift the roof and make the room appear larger.

Want more out of the box tips? Click here! 

Air Purifiers:

Stale air and good energy don’t blend well together. In an intriguing confluence of science and mysticism, many of the best Feng Shui plants are also the best air cleaners.
These plants suck up bad energy (if that’s another word for formaldehyde and benzene), and release clean, positive energy instead. Isn’t it wonderful when science and philosophy play nice with each other?

Golden Pothos: Scientifically, it’s one of the world’s best air cleaning plants (especially for removing formaldehyde), and according to Feng Shui, it freshens old, stagnant air and fills dead zones with good energy. Put it in corners where air tends to sit and get stale.

Chrysanthemum: Treasured across the Orient, yellow “Mums” exude optimism and happiness. Place them in the living room but not the bedroom, as it may conflict with the more peaceful elements there. NASA has also dubbed it an air cleaning champion for its ability to pull ammonia out of rooms.

Jade Plant: Also called Money Tree, the succulent jade is a Chinese symbol of good fortune. It’s connection with financial prosperity explains its common appearance in Chinese restaurants and offices.

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English Ivy: Easy to grow and air cleaning, it’s flowing vines soften “poison arrows” (the 90 degree angle made when 2 walls join together and point inward).

Palms: Another virtuosic air cleaner, palms make excellent dividers between spaces or serve to curve straight hallways. They have a sizable presence, so use them sparingly to avoid clutter.

African Violets: A popular window sill plant already, its coin-shaped leaves symbolize prosperity. Put in the “wealth” area of your home along with the money tree and jade plant.

Orchids: Potted orchids are the cupids of Feng Shui. Put one in your bedroom (as close to the bed as possible) in order to attract an honest, faithful partner.

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