We know that nature can help heal. We know that time spent outdoors in the forest or a garden can be beneficial in many ways. Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time in the garden, setting out seedlings in the vegetable patch, putting out new perennials and blooming annuals. And then there have been the weeding chores.

Our cool, wet spring has resulted in an explosion of weeds everywhere — such a difference from the past couple of years, when we hoped and watched for any little bit of rain. Already I’ve had to turn the compost pile three times as I keep adding to the mix with bucketful after bucketful of pulled weeds. Those weeds are quite impressive in their numbers and size. But at the end of those days spent pulling weeds, turning the soil and digging planting holes, there is a definite sense of accomplishment and a recognition of the bounty that surrounds us.

However, I know that not everyone can enjoy keeping and working in a garden of their own — whether because of the constraints of time or space or even physical ability. That is where public gardens come into play. In addition to showing what plants can be grown here, public gardens offer their beauty and tranquility and even healing to everyone who visits them.

According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, the therapeutic benefits of garden environments have been documented since ancient times. In the 19th century, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and recognized as the "Father of American Psychiatry," was first to document the positive effect working in a garden had on individuals with mental illness.

Horticultural therapy techniques are employed to assist participants in learning new skills or regaining those that were lost. A therapeutic garden is a plant-dominated environment designed to facilitate interaction with the healing elements of nature. There are many sub-types of therapeutic gardens, including healing gardens, enabling gardens, rehabilitation gardens and restorative gardens.

Therapy gardens use a time-proven practice, and now the National Garden Bureau and Sakata Seed America are partnering to provide $5,000 in grant money to be split among three therapeutic gardens in North America. NGB promotes the health and healing powers of human interaction with plants through a yearly grant program for therapeutic gardens. Sakata Seed America is a leader in breeding vegetable and ornamental seed and vegetative cuttings. It is committed to supporting organizations throughout North America to help people live productive, healthy and enriched lives. Perhaps you have a favorite therapy garden you’d like to see apply for a grant.

NGB and Sakata Seed America are now accepting applications from therapeutic gardens that meet the following criteria:

• Have a defined program using the garden to further particular goals for participants led by a qualified leader.

• Horticultural therapy, occupational, physical, vocational or rehabilitation therapy in a garden setting or using gardening to promote positive social relationships within a community.

• Offer a nature experience/interface for population served, including, but not limited to, veterans, special-needs children or young adults, the elderly and/or those recuperating from specific injuries or addictions.

• Be used for job training, skill-building, or food growing for at-risk youth, veterans or the elderly.

• Involve a large number of gardeners, clients, patients, visitors or students on a monthly basis.

To apply, therapeutic garden applicants should determine that they meet the criteria as outlined here, then complete this application and submit it to the NGB office by the deadline of July 1. In July/August, a group of horticulture therapy experts will narrow down applications to three finalists. Those three finalists will then be asked to submit a one-minute video that will be posted on ngb.org. All involved parties will solicit feedback from the public, using social media, to vote on the garden they wish to receive the grants. The top vote-getter will receive $3,000, second and third place will receive $1,000 each.

* * *

America’s Best Gardener contest is looking for your best garden

Gardens all around should be coming into their own, blooming and producing the first of the season’s produce. This is a perfect time to enter your garden in the “America’s Best Gardener” contest, sponsored by Seedlingers, producers of plant foods, plantable pots and more. (seedlingers.com) This is a big contest with national competition. So put your garden’s best foot forward.

This year, the America's Best Gardener contest will award more than $50,000 in cash and prizes to gardeners from across the United States. Whether you're a seasoned pro or an amateur with a secret hobby, the event will celebrate the hard work that you put into making our world look, smell and taste better. There will be three first-place $10,000 cash prizes to the Best Indoor Gardener, Best Outdoor Ornamental Gardener and Best Outdoor Vegetable Gardener.

For more information and entry from, visit: americasbestgardener.com. Contest ends at 11:59 p.m. Central Daylight Time Sept. 30.