April 7, 2011 at 4:25 pm EDT | by Patricia Rivera
Your garden, your way

Annette Silva had always enjoyed the large yard that surrounded her home in Northern Virginia.

But, she admits, she tended to take it for granted. That changed when she found herself living in a high-rise apartment in Madrid.

Suddenly, the days she’d enjoyed planting flowers and caring for them evaporated like rainwater on hot pavement. Deprived of the hours she’d spent caring for her flowers and shrubs, her spirits fell.

They rose again, however, when she discovered that, with a little imagination, she could create an indoor garden. “I ended up with plants all over the house. The whole balcony was filled with evergreens and geraniums,” she says.

Experts ranging from psychologists to interior designers have long touted the benefits of connecting with nature. Coming into daily contact with green plants, they say, not only has emotional benefits but also physical, cognitive and spiritual ones. Taking care of plants gives most people a profound sense of contentment.

If you live in a place where you don’t have a yard to garden in, or you have physical limitations that prevent you from caring for an outdoor garden, don’t despair. As Silva found out when she lived in Madrid, it’s possible to enjoy an indoor garden just as much as an outdoor one. An indoor garden can be elaborate – up to and including a greenhouse that’s an extension of the house – or as simple as a coffee-table bonsai or a kitchen terrarium full of herbs.

Know your landscape

Just as you would observe light patterns outdoors, determine how much natural light comes into the areas where you want to cultivate an indoor garden. Take notes if necessary. Silva, for example, focuses her energy on her back porch, which now resembles a garden room filled with a mixture of floor plants, colorful containers, hanging baskets and even draping vines. She finds that she can better care for her plants when they are in a well-lit central area.

Ensure adequate indoor light

If your lighting is poor you will need to boost it artificially. Gordon Redman, vice president of Portland, Ore.-based American Agriculture, which specializes in selling indoor gardening products, suggests using metal halide lighting with kelvin rations of 3,000 to 6,000.

Avoid a lamp with a spectrum below 3,000 kelvins when your plants are in a vegetative stage. “That may signal the plant to prematurely prepare for winter’s die-out,” Redman says. He recommends using a 400-watt MH lamp for every 4-by-4 area.

Water with caution

There is a lot more to watering your indoor plants than most people realize. “You can’t just pour a little water into the pot and think that you’re done,” Redman says. First, you should add oxygen to the water to imitate a natural rainfall. You can that so by simply shaking a closed jug for a minute or so. A spray also will force the water to pick up air. Experts suggest that you take the time to determine how much water each plant needs. Measuring the run-off left in a drip tray after watering can help you determine how much water is needed for each of your plants.

Experts warn that you should not recycle the runoff water into the same pot but, instead, pour it out or use it on outdoor plants. You also should not let your plants stand in wastewater for long, Redman adds.

Consider alternative gardens

Water gardens are a simple and fun alternative to traditional soil or rock gardens. To start a water garden choose a sealed pot and some aqua plants such as water lettuce, feather grass and anacharis. The grasses look great and help maintain the oxygen levels in your water garden.

Harvest the fruits of your labor

Susanne Garris, a long-time gardener from Issaquah, Wash., enjoys homegrown produce year round in part because she has her own indoor vegetable garden. She notes that produce grows best in sunny windows, preferably those facing south. Some vegetables need light from other sources, such as fluorescent fixtures. Herbs are popular, she says, especially for novice gardeners because they are easy to grow and they come in handy in the kitchen.

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