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Science supports theory that nice view gives a healthy outlook

Most gardeners say working in the garden or being out in the wild is emotionally restorative, maybe even therapeutic. I know that when I go out West each summer, it's very renewing to spend time hiking or simply wandering around wooded areas.

This knowledge is thought to be common sense. But as with many other "feelings" or "guesses," science is now beginning to support it and possibly provide some understanding. Gardening, or even simply observing a lush landscape, may improve mental and even physical health.

This idea isn't entirely new. Texas A&M professor Roger Ulrich gained international prominence in 1984 when he published a paper in the journal Science showing that hospital patients who had window views of nature recovered faster than patients who had window views of, for example, brick buildings. His research influenced the design of many hospitals built afterward.

More recently, two researchers reported similar results in the June issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology. They found that sitting in a room with tree views or walking in a nature preserve was better for your blood pressure than sitting in a viewless room or walking in urban surroundings.

All of this really means it's good for you to spend time in your garden relaxing and reducing stress. This may also explain why we sometimes lose track of time while in our gardens. I am often surprised to find that two or three hours have slipped by.

So if you're ready to improve both your emotional and physical health, here are some activities to spruce up your garden.

A recent visit to a house in Riverview reminded me of how important framing a view can be in your landscape. This particular house is set on a retention pond with no landscape in the back yard. The house's owner and I agreed that the pond should be the focal point of the yard.

The idea was to have a quick fix with low cost and ease of maintenance. Instead of an elaborate landscape plan, we simply decided to rake the back yard, removing rocks and twigs before laying down a layer of compost.

We'll also throw rye grass seed down, covering it with more compost and watering it until the grass is established. This will give a nice green carpet in the foreground until late winter.

A 4-foot fence runs along the back of the property. We'll remove part of the fence to open up the view of the pond. To draw visitors' eyes to the pond (and away from the plain yard), we'll place a small collection of containers with colorful flowers on each side of this now open area.

(Note: If small children lived in the house, it might be unsafe to remove the fence and make the pond easily accessible.)

Rye grass, containers, compost and soil should be well under $150 for this quick fix. An easy half-day of work should complete the project. This gives the owners time this winter to finish their indoor projects and plan a garden design for their yard.

This is just one example of framing views, but it can be used in almost any garden, with or without a pond. This will add interest and depth to your landscape.

Find a focal point. This may be a tree or shrub, a sitting area, a fountain or yard art. Clear plant material from around your chosen subject, and then plant something colorful to frame the view and draw the eyes toward your focal point. Your view can be as grand or simple as your yard allows. This focal point can also change over time.

More mundane tasks that need attention include a good dose of fertilizer on your flowers and vegetables; increasing the health of your lawn by spreading fish meal or other organic material over your grass; weeding (always); and keeping an eye on your yard's water needs.

This is a good time to add trees or shrubs. Use a little starter fertilizer and keep new plants watered until they're established. This may be four to six months with large trees; shrubs establish themselves much quicker.

Of course it's also a great time to continue adding fall and winter color to your yard in the form of annuals or perennials.

Stay busy in your yard and improve your health at the same time.

_ Mary Collister of Valrico writes about how to garden successfully in Florida's climate and offers problem-solving tips for your home garden. Mail questions to: Mary Collister, Brandon Times, 426 W Brandon Blvd. Brandon, FL 33511.