Your Own Secret Garden

There is nothing quite like the tranquility of a garden. The various colors, smells and sounds of a garden are thought to help release tension and reduce stress. Known for possessing healing properties, gardens often encourage positive mental and physical changes to improve one’s quality of life.
Unknown and overlooked by many students is the UCI Arboretum, located north of campus near the corner of Jamboree Road and Campus Drive. It is a quiet place to escape the daily stresses of life, a place where one can freely think, relax and forget his or her worries.
‘Most students don’t know we’re here,’ said Richard Basil, a UCI Arboretum employee. ‘This place is an oasis of solitude.’
The Arboretum is a 12-acre botanical garden, hosting a remarkable collection of California native plants, aloes and South African perennials. It was established in 1964 as a nursery and holding area to supply UCI with plants for landscaping.
The Arboretum is dedicated to preserving rare and endangered plant species from a variety of California habitats, ranging from the Channel Islands to the native grasslands. It is open to the public free of charge, Monday through Saturday, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Plant sales are held throughout the year. Students can buy lilies, royal sage or a variety of herbs such as chives, thyme and rosemary. Many of the plants sold are highly adaptable and low maintenance, suitable for even dorm room conditions.
Confined by small spaces and little time, students often ignore the possibility of raising plants. Yet there are a wide variety of options available for even the busiest student to participate in tending plants. For instance, students can easily raise any type of succulent, a plant that retains a large amount of water, because succulents can be neglected over a long period of time with little water.
The following is a guide to raising indoor, low maintenance plants:


Spider plants are popular indoor plants and ideal for the busy student because of their ability to tolerate all kinds of neglect. Known for its long, slender leaves, they are typically hung in baskets near windows or decks because they prefer indirect sunlight. Spider plants are also good for small, enclosed places because they filter the air and absorb toxins.
Cacti are very popular because of the minimal amount of care they need. They are best suited to areas exposed to sunlight, such as outside or on a windowsill. Overwatering a cactus is the biggest problem; thus, it should be done sparingly.
‘The most common mistake people make is watering. You need to know the water requirements. A plant is a living thing and it doesn’t operate on a schedule,’ said Laura Lyons, UCI Arboretum manager. ‘Try touching the soil with your fingertips. It will tell you if it’s very wet or dry.’


‘The type that I like to put in my garden are types of plants like the plectranthus that have colorful foliage all year around, so that it does not necessarily need to be blooming for it to be aesthetically pleasing,’ said Chad Mason, a fifth-year biology major and UCI Arboretum employee. ‘But if you can mix the right type of perennials, you can get different plants that flower every season so that you can always have something beautiful in your garden.’
Plectranthus plants are succulent and can go without water for two weeks. They need just enough water to keep the soil moist. Plectranthus can be placed in hanging pots and are able to receive full sun to full shade, but they grow optimally in the shade. Color selections range between pink, purple, white and many shades in between.
‘If you want an indoor plant, African Violets would be good. They’re tiny, but they’re really pretty and colorful,’ suggested Tiffany Gaus, a Home Depot gardening employee.
African Violets are small and compact with thick, dark green leaves. In addition to various shades of blue-violet, there are also pink, fuschia and white varieties. It is recommended that they receive bright light but not direct sun. They thrive best under artificial, fluorescent lighting, perfect for students who have fluorescent lamps. African Violets also require watering every few days. However, drops of water left on the leaves can cause disfiguring light-colored spots or rings. Thus, it is best to water them by putting the pot in a bowl of shallow water.


‘Chamomile makes a wonderful tea, it’s very relaxing,’ Lyons said.
Chamomile can be used to ease menstrual cramps, reduce the inflammation of arthritis and treat burns when the oil is gently rubbed across the burned area. Tea can be made through the small white and yellow flowers of the chamomile plant. Chamomile needs frequent watering and can be grown in pots placed on a balcony. They can receive full to partial shade or sun.
Mints are also inexpensive, aromatic and easy to grow. Tea made from peppermint can be used to aid digestion and help heal colds and the flu. Most people do not have any trouble growing them because they are able to withstand most environmental conditions. Mint plants can be grown in a pot and kept near a sunny kitchen window. Mints prefer moist soil and are prone to drying out. Watering frequently is suggested, and good drainage is necessary to prevent the soil from becoming saturated.


‘A lot of the herbs are easy to grow. You can put them in shade or sun. Basil, cilantro, sage, rosemary are all real easy,’ Lyons suggested.
Herbs can be used in a compress to treat slow-healing wounds, headaches and colds, or used as a spice to enhance one’s cooking. They can be easily grown indoors. Most herbs grow best in warm and well-drained soil conditions. Cilantro is the exception as it grows best during cooler weather. Drainage is one of the most important factors in herb growing because herbs have a difficult time growing in soggy soil. For good drainage, an inch of gravel under the bottom of the pot is recommended.


Cherry tomatoes make ideal hanging plants. They require good lighting and lightweight soil that drains well. If the soil is packed too tightly, there will be problems with the root development. Similar to the herbs, adding an inch of gravel to the bottom of the pot will ensure good drainage. They should be watered thoroughly, but not too frequently.
Plants are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also essential to life. They filter toxins from the air, heal through their medicinal properties, provide food and shelter and contribute to one’s well being.
‘If you put hard work and positive energy into your gardening efforts, the plants will respond well to that,’ Mason said. ‘I believe that they will grow better and in return, you benefit from their prosperous beauty. This will motivate you to continue working and improving the garden that is constantly surrounded by positive energy. The positivity will surely rub off on you. I have found it to be a very beneficial cycle.’