Becky Balzer

About Becky Balzer

Becky Balzer is a horticulturist with a great passion for anything green. As a young girl she grew up on the family farm nestled in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The farm consisted of 27 acres and numerous pasturelands for harvesting hay as well as pasturing cattle. One of 13 children Becky could not wait to leave the farming life and endless chores behind. Ironically, while attending college she realized her career path pointed in the direction from which she came- nature. Becky graduated from VA Tech with a B.S. in Horticulture and a minor in Vocational Education in 1979. She has continued her education over the years with classes at both the University of VA and Mary Baldwin College. Her work has taken her through many areas of gardening with Floriculture being her real passion. Today she enjoys working at Townside Gardens in Roanoke, VA as well as speaking to groups and organizations about gardening. She also creates beautiful designs for weddings and other formal occasions. Becky says, “Nature is calming and peaceful. There are so many things you learn from nature that are beneficial for your psyche. Nature makes you realize that it is the simple things in life that mean the most.” Mother to three, grandmother to two, Becky takes real joy in knowing her love of nature has been passed down through the generations. You can contact Becky through email:

Top Twelve Best Indoor Plants For Purifying The Air

Peace Lily

Peace Lily

As the autumn season approaches, the days become shorter and the nights become crisper.  Most of us begin to think of moving indoors and spending less time in the fresh air.

If your home is old enough to be leaky and drafty,  you may not need to worry about the many pollutants that can become trapped indoors with us.  But, if you live in a newer, energy efficient home with windows and doors tightly sealed, or you work in a building where circulation is poor and the air is stale, these pollutants have less opportunity to move to the outside.

What NASA says about houseplants

Over the years our space program has led the way to an important discovery about the role of houseplants indoors.  The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been researching methods to cleanse the atmosphere in future space stations to keep them fit for human habitation.  In doing this research, NASA has found that many common houseplants and blooming potted plants help fight pollution that occurs indoors.

The science of plants

Snake Plant

Snake Plant

Plant scientists already knew this!  Plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as part of the photosynthetic process.

Now researchers have found many houseplants can absorb benzene, formaldehyde and many other air pollutants that are created as gases when we install man-made materials such as carpets, laminates, paints, wallpapers and fabrics in our homes.

While saving energy and money is important to all of us, we must remember that it is crucial to our indoor environment to have clean, fresh air in our homes.  So, houseplants take on a larger role in our homes (and all interior environments for that matter) than merely providing beauty in the décor.  They contribute to balancing internal humidity and cleansing the air we breathe.

The top twelve air purifiers

‘Janet Craig’

‘Janet Craig’

Here is a list of houseplants that have been found to play an important role in removing air borne pollutants:

  1. English Ivy   (Hedera helix)
  2. Spider plant  (Chlorophytum comosum)
  3. Peace Lily  (Spathiphyllum)
  4. Pothos  (Epipiremnum)
  5. Bamboo Palm  (Chamaedorea sefritzii)
  6. Philodendron  (Philodendron scandens)
  7. Selloum  (Philodendron selloum)
  8. Dracaena  (Dracaena marginata)
  9. Corn plant  (Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’)
  10. Janet Craig  (Dracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig’)
  11. Snake plant  (Sansevieria trifasciata)
  12. Weeping Fig  (Ficus benjamina)

Helpful tips to know

  • Studies by NASA have generated the recommendation that you use one 6-8” houseplant per every 100 square feet of living space.  Think about it.  This is probably more than you currently have in your home and it is time to add some.
  • Houseplants need dusting just like any other “accessory” in your home.  When you allow dust to accumulate on the leaves of your plants, they cannot do the work they are meant to do in helping to purify the air.  So, be sure to regularly clean the leaves of dust and debris from your plants.
Fall beauty

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Enjoy your home in every way possible.  Use houseplants to add beauty and nature to your space.  At the same time reap the benefits of what nature allows them to do for the air. Houseplants such as these top twelve are what can be called “natural clean air machines”.  You, your home and all your interior environments deserve to be healthy spaces – start now to clean up your air!

Happy Fall!!!

***A special thank you to Townside Gardens Nursery in Roanoke, VA for providing the plant photos! ***

How To Make A Terrarium

Very often in our lives we deal with times of chaos, stress, grief and sadness.  During these times we look for a place that offers silence, solitude, diversion and education.

Many people find a place in nature to help them come to terms with whatever they are confronting such as a walk in the woods, playing with children in the park, sending or receiving flowers, or just going for a long ride in the country.

Often times just placing flowers in our homes, a new plant for the office or bringing a piece of nature into our living spaces helps to make our home a sanctuary from the trials of our daily lives.

Wardian case terrarium

A Wardian Case. Photo credit: David Solganik

Another way to recreate a bit of nature in your home is to make a Terrarium.

A Wardian case, more commonly known as a Terrarium, uses a transparent container (with or without a cover) in which plants are grown.

A Little History Lesson

Dr. Nathaniel Ward, an English surgeon from London, England, accidentally discovered Glass gardening.  In the summer of 1829 he discovered a fern and some grass growing out of moist soil in a sealed bottle in which he had buried the cocoon of a sphinx moth.  He watched the growth for four years and then the plants died because the lid rusted which allowed the seal of the lid to break.  In 1832 Dr. Ward filled two cases with ferns and grasses and sent them to Sydney, Australia.  After they arrived safely (a mere eight months later), Australians refilled the cases and sent them back.  As a result, by the 1850’s Wardian cases were widely used to transport plants from all over the world because they provided the perfect microcosm for new plants to travel and be shared.

Did you know?

Basically what a terrarium does is create a miniature water cycle similar to the larger world. So, if you have tried houseplants in the past and have not been successful with them, a terrarium is one answer to bringing nature inside for you.

List of items needed for your project:

  • A glass or plastic container such as a cider jug, 2 liter plastic bottle (with the bottom cut off), cookie jar, aquarium, or mason jar
  • A funnel with a long nozzle or a piece of rolled cardboard
  • Pebbles
  • Aquarium charcoal
  • Soil
  • Plants with similar culture needs (sun, water, fertilizer)
  • A spray bottle of distilled water

Step by step instructions:

  1. Using the funnel, pour 1 – 2 in. of pebbles into the bottom of the container.  Shake until the pebbles are even.

    Using a funnel to add pebbles to terrarium

    Pebble step for Ryleigh and Blake. Photo credit: Craig Balzer

  2. Add ¼ to ½ in. of charcoal as evenly as possible to prevent any decay.
  3. Add 3 – 4 in. soil and spread evenly.

    Adding plants to terrarium

    Blake putting plants in. Photo credit: Craig Balzer

  4. Using tongs or chopsticks, dig holes in the soil where you want your plants to be placed.  Then, using the tongs, insert the plants in the holes.  Tamp down soil around each plant.

    Terrarium step 4 - Use chopsticks

    Chopsticks come in handy. Photo credit: Craig Balzer

  5. Mist with the spray bottle of water.

    Terrarium step 5 - Mist plants

    Misting the plants. Photo credit: Craig Balzer

  6. At this point, if the mouth of your container allows, you can put some special treasures into your “garden” such as seashells, miniature toys, silk birds, etc.

Helpful Hints:

  • If the container looks too soggy after a couple of days of being enclosed, take the lid off for a day or two to release some of the moisture and then reseal.
  • Water only when the container becomes dry.

Just for kids

Glass gardens are the perfect opportunity to share gardening with children or grandchildren as they require little care but provide much joy.

There is a simple way to make a terrarium as well.  Place a dish of potted plants onto a plastic dish and cover this with a plastic soda bottle (with the bottom removed).

This is an ideal terrarium for children to use in their rooms for their own bit of nature to enjoy all their own!

Finished terrarium

Our terrarium. Photo credit: Craig Balzer

Happy Gardening!

Love of Nature’s Bounty

As a young girl growing up on a farm with 12 siblings in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, I could not wait to move to the big city. Free of farm chores, free of farm smells and free of wide-open farm spaces.

The city beckoned. Or, Blacksburg VA did anyway. Free from chores and ready for a new experience in college. Little did I know that the love of nature was in my blood. I soon realized that I had taken nature for granted and I actually loved it.

So, I set my sights on a degree in horticulture with a minor in Vocational Education as a back up to get a job in my chosen field. After college I taught horticulture in high school.
Years and three kids later, I still love it. It is my chosen path.

Love of nature

Here are some reasons I love nature:

Nature is calming and peaceful.

Immersing yourself in nature makes you better understand where your food comes from.

Nature reminds you that it is the simple things in life that bring the greatest joy.

Craig and Blake mowing grass

Photo credit: Crystal Balzer aka "The Domestic Diva"

Blake and his first strawberries from the garden

Photo credit: Crystal Balzer aka "The Domestic Diva"

Infusing nature in the home

Once I finished college and married, I began to make sure that the aspects of nature became part of my home.  As a mother I tried to impart this love to my three sons.  I cannot tell you the number of times they balked at being outdoors working in the yard.  Their idea of being outside was to play.  But, all my teachings have paid off. My oldest son, Craig calls just to talk yard talk!  And now I get to watch my grandchildren reap the benefits of nature having learned it through their parents teaching them.

I marvel at my grandson, Blake’s interest in the simple joys nature has to offer like watching a robin outside the window looking for food and then finding a nest in the tree house full of eggs.  Or Ryleigh and Blake picking the first strawberries from the family garden they have helped to nurture and tend.

In future articles you will find ways to bring nature inside for you and your family.  Gardening can be a fun hobby and it can involve the whole family!

Look for articles on other topics as well such as, “How to make a terrarium”, and “How to reduce toxins in the home with indoor plants”.

Happy gardening!

Nest with robin eggs

Photo credit: Crystal Balzer aka "The Domestic Diva"