Flowers lift our spirits and make us glad we’re alive. They encourage us to remember beautiful times of happiness. They’re a natural antidepressant, and even boost morale in the workplace. People have known this for thousands of years, and recent behavioral research studies indicate that humans’ attachment to flowers is part of our instinct for self-healing. To many people, fresh flowers are as important as vitamins!

It’s always better to grow flowers yourself than to buy them. Even if you live in an apartment, with no land of your own, you can grow flowers in planters and window boxes. Anyone can grow a beautiful flower garden, with enough patience and a little know-how.

You can grow any kind of flowers you like in a container, but if you have a yard or a patch of ground and want to plant flowers in the earth, you should choose wildflowers that are native to your area. Get to know your region. Native wildflowers benefit the ecology and prevent erosion, which is one reason Lady Bird Johnson encouraged the planting of wildflowers along public roads and highways to “keep America beautiful”.

Your local nursery or county extension should have planting guides talking about the soil and weather conditions in your area and what types of flowers you should plant. The U.S. National Arboretum web site has a detailed color-coded plant hardiness map. This will show the lowest average temperature for your area. You will see mini-versions of this map in seed catalogs.

Now look at the site of your proposed flower garden. How much sun does it get? Different types of flowers do better in different situations. Most wildflowers need full or at least partial sun, but there are some that do very well in shade. Is the ground level, or does it slant downhill? If it slants, which direction does it face?

Examine the soil. Is it sandy, sticky, or rocky? What color is it? The ideal soil is dark and crumbly like cake. If it’s gravelly or sandy, it will be more porous and might not hold enough water to benefit your plants. Sticky soil means there’s a lot of clay in it. This will drain slowly, and there are lots of perennials that do just fine in it. Loam or peat soil are best. Red or yellow soil has a lot of oxides in it. Choose your plants carefully, with advice from the extension or nursery on what to do about soil that has too much gravel, sand or clay. These things will determine what kinds of flowers will do well without too much work or too many additives.

Your garden tools should have ergonomic handles. Check your nursery or home improvement center.

There are two ways to prepare the soil for the area you’re going to plant. Start as early as possible, because you’re going to need time for these methods to work. The easiest method begins at least six months before you plant your flowers. Clear off any rocks in the area you intend to plant, then put down big flat pieces of cardboard and/or newspaper — black and white printed pages only — and cover that with six to eight inches of organic compost. Leave it there and let the worms and other natural creatures do the job for you.

Otherwise, you can use the old-fashioned method. Put down your cardboard and newspaper, weight it down with rocks, and leave it like that for four weeks, soaking it occasionally with water. When the soil is ready, start digging. You can use a spade, a “garden claw”, or a roto-tiller. Dig down about six to eight inches deep. Put rocks aside, break up earth clods, and rake the area thoroughly until it looks fine and powdery.

While you’re waiting for the planting area to be ready, design your garden space. There are hundreds of books on different flower garden designs you can use for inspiration. Flower gardens often have a focal point, which is not necessarily the center. You could have a birdbath, a statue, or a comfortable bench to sit on and enjoy your flowers. Plants are sold with information as to how tall they grow and how much space they need. Tall plants should go on the outer rim of the area.

For planting, choose a cool, overcast, even rainy day. Be sure the planting area and your plants are thoroughly watered. Using a hand trowel, dig holes the same size as the containers your plants are in. Gently slide each plant out of its container upside down into your hand. Hold it by the root mass and carefully loosen the roots a little so they will take hold in the earth. Place the plant in the hole, and cover the roots with soil. At this point, give it about a half cup of water. Then fill up the hole with earth and pat down gently. Don’t put on any more fertilizer for several weeks, but give the new plants lots of water, especially if there’s no rain. After about six weeks, you can water more lightly.

You can save yourself a lot of headache and backache if you mulch around your plants. Mulch conserves water, feeds the soil and discourages weeds. Use organic material — a lot of people use wood chips, straw, grass clippings, leaves or pine needles. Layer it about two to three inches deep around your plants.

The time to water is early morning, before sunrise if possible. Don’t just let water splash on your plants out of the hose. Use an old-fashioned watering can, or get a hose attachment that sprays like a shower head, or a fan sprinkler. Don’t overdo watering, but avoid the “little and often” method. Once the plants are established, a generous watering a week is plenty. Put your finger in the earth like a dipstick and check for moisture. If it’s dry three inches down, they need water.

All this may sound like a lot of hard work, but once you have things in place and they start blooming, it’s time to settle in and enjoy. You’ve created something beautiful, you’ve helped Mother Earth, and you’ve done it yourself.

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