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Top 10 reasons to garden, from the National Garden Bureau:

- For safe, healthy food (no contaminated spinach if you grow your own)

- For exercise

- To add beauty

- To learn

- To make money

- To meet people

- To be creative

- To win (you competitive gardeners know who you are)

- For emotional needs and spiritual connections

- For lasting memories

Where all the hoopla started

What's the story behind all that holiday greenery? In ancient times, Romans celebrated their winter holiday of Saturnalia with displays of lights and hardy greenery formed into wreaths and sprays. English prints of the 18th century show clusters of mistletoe and plain sprigs of holly or bay, in vases or standing flat against windowpanes. The Christmas tree as we know it didn't come along until the 17th century, when a candle-lighted tree astonished residents of Strasbourg, France.

Avoid cooking holiday greens

A wreath made of fresh greenery that is sandwiched between a door and a glass storm door will cook in its own greenhouse. Put it on the outer door or hang it at the side of the door.

This fruit's a star of the season

This seems likely to be the fruit of the month: the carambola, or star fruit. It's a slow grower that likes full sun and well-drained soil. Its waxy fruit ranges in flavor from tart to semisweet, a mix of pineapple, kiwi and apple. Cut crosswise, the slices look like stars.

Don't let plants sap holiday spirit

This holiday season, beware of plants that ooze a milky sap, such as those from the family Euphorbia, which includes poinsettias, donkey-tail spurge and crown of thorns. The sap can cause inflammation, pain, swelling, and a crusty rash. If you're exposed to the sap, wash at once with soap and water.

For more about plants toxic to humans, see this Texas A&M Web site:; for information about plants poisonous to people, livestock and pets, look to the Cornell University Poisonous Plants Informational

Compiled by Homes and Garden editor Judy Stark from staff reports, the Washington Post, Associated Press, and