Best Rx: Real Gardening

A $4 bunch of alstroemeria, plus a few green  branches of kerria japonica and evergreen Japanese yew, combine to make a breath of fresh air in midwinter.

By Micheal Leach

It’s that time of winter when cheap thrills are necessary to survive until planting time. Otherwise, I could succumb to the fuzzy headless and inertia caused by Midwest winter gloom made worse this year by an overload of virtual, isolation and Zoom.

Even before the pandemic, we Midwesterners relied on winter substitutes for  gardening. Seminars, classes, books, magazines and catalogs — the bigger and more colorful the photos the better — were treasured go-tos. We chatted and commiserated with others during the coffee breaks and box lunches of those learning sessions.

Generations of gardeners have relied on catalogs to survive winter.

Whether virtual or physical, surrogates are valuable, but they can do only so much. Long before spring arrives I’ve got to recharge with living plants and physical tools.

Here are some thoroughly tested winter-survival tricks. Perhaps you have some of your own to share. If so, please do.

Quick fixes — Buy a bunch of inexpensive flowers from the florist or supermarket. Buy sprigs of florist  greenery if you lack evergreen shrubs or  houseplants that can handle light pruning.

After gathering your materials, put aside worries about winning a blue ribbon with your design. Fresh flowers have all sorts of positive effects, according to the Society of American Florists. And even better, there’s the chance to play with real flowers.

Weather permitting, you can expand this into winter pruning for a healthy dose of outdoor exercise. 

Chase winter blahs with a bit of pruning.

Those with cold frames or other protected plantings of winter-tolerant vegetables can harvest a few and bring them indoors for a fresh-from-the-garden meal.

Cold-tolerant greens, such as this Joi Choi Chinese cabbage, can be grown in winter under row covers or other protection to provide fresh from the garden harvests in January.

Cleanup — Gather debris from the lawn and search for those beautiful green tips of daffodils and other spring bloomers. Snowdrops and hellebores may be budding or blooming. Hope is inspired — a must for making it through winter and these troubled times.

Travel — If you feel safe enough to visit garden centers, florist shops and conservatories – go! Living, colorful plants are tonics. If you’re tempted to bring home a newbie or two – do!

Nature, even winter, provides a boost, so head to a park or hiking trail for open air therapy. America In Bloom offers research to prove this helps .

Repot — This may be the winter I’m desperate enough to repot, a chore I find disagreeable in summer’s warmth. The many others of you who enjoy repotting needn’t wait for summer either. Try to hold off on this until late winter, so plants don’t get the urge to start growing too soon.

Harvest hope — Tired of poinsettias or those fading rescued summer plants languishing on dim windowsills? Go out and gather a preview of spring by cutting a few branches of forsythia, quince, witch hazel and other early bloomers to force into flowering indoors. Watching buds swell and open is an elixir. I do this every year as part of seasonal pruning and send a bundle of branches to my sister in Florida. She relishes this token of remembered springs.

Witch hazel’s winter blooms

Focus — We must never forget that spring always comes no matter how bitter and long the winter. Spring is a glorious constant that remains untouched and unchanged by human affairs.

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