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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Garden Spot: Plants for Those Winter Blues

Air Date: Week of

The cold, dark days of winter cause many people to feel depressed. Living On Earth’s Traditional Gardener, Michael Weishan, has some relief for the winter doldrums in the form of aromatic plants.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. January and February are the darkest and usually the coldest months of the year. For many people the season can be a depressing time. But Living on Earth's traditional gardener Michael Weishan has discovered how to use plants to battle the winter blues. Hi, Michael.

WEISHAN: Hi, Steve. How are you?

CURWOOD: Now we've been coming to your office and gardens and greenhouse for many months now and it always seems so beautiful here. Are the winter blues something you and your colleagues have to worry about?

WEISHAN: Absolutely. Especially as the days are short and things are cold, there's no place I enjoy to be more than out here in the greenhouse. It really becomes a treasure at that time of year. And one of my favorite things actually are some of the scented plants out here. It's sort of a plant aromatherapy, if you will.

CURWOOD: Huh. Plant aromatherapy.

WEISHAN: Well you know, it's like, you know, when you walk to the kitchen as a kid and your mom would be making cookies or something, and the whole kitchen would smell just terrific. Or bread baking, how it makes you just feel really good. Well, good fragrances actually improve your mood. And there are a lot of plants that are fairly highly scented that you can grow pretty easily even without a greenhouse, just on a sunny window sill, that are terrific at this time of year.

CURWOOD: Okay, what are the best ones to do this?

WEISHAN: Well, one of my favorites are scented geraniums, and I've brought a number of varieties here over to the potting bench that we can take a look at. We'll haul some of this stuff out of the way. (Sound of things being moved) Scented geraniums actually have a very pretty flower. They're a member of the geranium family although they're not really true geraniums. Native to the southern part of the African continent, they came to Europe fairly early and were brought here with the first colonists. And they were very important in adding scent to things, like soaps and perfumes. Have you ever heard of the old Attar of Rose, rose water that your great grandmother might have worn?


WEISHAN: This was actually made out of this plant here, a scented geranium called Attar of Rose. Now you take a leaf and you just crush it, or you brush your hands through it.

CURWOOD: Ooh, wow, it's strong!

WEISHAN: It's a really strong rose --

CURWOOD: It's a rose smell, yeah.

WEISHAN: Fragrance, yeah.


WEISHAN: What's amazing about this is that there are probably -- well, there were formerly at least 100, and there are probably still 30 or 40 different types of scented geraniums commonly in cultivation, each with a different scent. This one is called Finger Bowl. This is a lot more lemony. It was commonly crushed up and put in finger bowls at dinner, and for formal dinner. So you'd dip your hands in there and you'd clean yourself off with this lemon fragrance. Pretty cool, huh?


WEISHAN: The best place, I think, to put a scented geranium is somewhere like near the kitchen table, or somewhere where you brush by it. Because that's what releases the scent, the touch. So you can place it in a sunny spot wherever you're going to be passing, and, you know, just brush by it. And it's an amazingly unexpected pleasure at that time of year.

CURWOOD: Well, are these hard or easy plants to take care of?

WEISHAN: Exceedingly easy plants. If you know someone with a scented geranium you can just go over to their house, snap off a piece like this. It's probably best to let it sit for a couple hours to let the bottom dry, so that it forms like a slight scab or scale, so that it doesn't have a tendency to rot. And you can simply stick it in the soil, and as soon as it has some roots you tug on it, you'd make sure that it doesn't come out easily out of the soil. You can put it in a sunny window. And they don't like to be terrifically over-watered; once a week is pretty much as much as they need.

CURWOOD: Now what other plants can you use aside from these wonderful series of scented geraniums?

WEISHAN: Well, (grunts) let's get this monster geranium here out of the way (moves pots).

CURWOOD: Mm. Smells pretty good, like something that should be in my kitchen.

WEISHAN: (Laughs) This is something that is in your kitchen, probably, but most likely in its dried form. This gigantic mat of green here is creeping thyme. And it's the culinary version of it, which you can cut and use all winter long. Most herbs are, of course, quite scented, and they're also very easy to grow.

CURWOOD: Now, is there any evidence that these wonderfully smelling plants really do cheer us up? They chase away the blues?

WEISHAN: Well, I'm not quite sure. It seems to work and you certainly pay a million dollars for it in most of the high-priced spas around the world. So there must be some truth in the matter.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Okay, Michael, we'll give it a shot. Anything to get through these long, cold, dark days. Thanks for the help.

WEISHAN: Oh, my pleasure, Steve.

CURWOOD: Michael Weishan is Living on Earth's traditional gardener, and he's publisher of the magazine Traditional Gardening. Find out more about gardening at our Web site. The address is www.livingonearth.org. That's www.livingonearth.org. Click on the picture of the watering can.



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