Drawing of "Illuminated Flower Pot".

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For many people in Chicagoland, January right after the holidays is a time of bills, clutter cleanup and depression.  

In the olden days, people who had the time, means to pay all the bills and staff to clean up the clutter escaped the winter blues by going off to Florida or California.

Most people stayed home and felt guilty about their lethargy. However, plants of people with sunny windows seemed to do much better. People with happy plants felt better, too. Encouraged by their success, people enlarged their windows and worked to provide more light for their plants.  

One of the early indoor light gardens was designed by Carl V. Helmschmied, a glass manufacturer and enthusiastic plant person. On April 14, 1908, the patent was issued for US Patent Number 884,924 for an “Illuminated Flower Pot” that worked by using an electric, gas or oil lamp. People bought them.

In the 1940s, when General Electric introduced bright, cool, fluorescent bulbs for industrial use, avid plant people started growing plants under lights. The plants flourished, and were not cooked by the heat of incandescent light bulbs. The plant people were happy, too. As their plants improved, the people realized the light was making them feel much better as well.  

The “experts” were initially skeptical. In 1984, however, Norman E. Rosenthal and colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health formally came up with research and the name – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – also known as winter depression. Many different treatments exist for SAD; light therapy, such as a trip to Florida or using bright artificial lights, was found to be very effective.

A basement light garden can be a great winter project.

• Find a corner

• Start with a spot about 6 feet by 6 feet.

• Get and install on the ceiling a 4-foot by 4-foot fluorescent fixture (the kind used in schools and workshops) with 4-foot bulbs. Cool white bulbs are the least expensive, are easy to find and do a great job.  

• Center a comfortable chair or chaise under the lights.

• Line the wall with white plastic gutters 12 to 15 inches apart. These are great for plants in 4-inch pots. Use the end caps so all the plants in a section at one time can be watered by pouring water in one end of the gutter.

• Place plants that need the most light at the top and shade-lovers down near the floor. Larger potted plants, such as oleander, hibiscus or geraniums, can be tucked in the corners.

• Test the chaise, add a cushion or a small table for added convenience or comfort, and schedule private light-therapy sessions.