A long winter is not for sissies. If you are a veteran of many northern winters, you probably already practice most of the tips I’m going to share below. But if you are new to the tribe of hardy plants and hardy souls, here are some ways to beat cabin fever.
1Light TherapyIn the land of the low-lying sun, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real problem. If winter has you so down you feel like you might never get up, consult a health care professional. Light therapy is usually part of the recommended treatment. The lightboxes used for treatment used to be big, bulky affairs, but now they are so lightweight and portable that you can slip one in your briefcase and take it to work. I use the older version of Philips goLITE BLU Light Therapy Device pictured at right and it helps me keep my spirits up.
2Snail Mail TherapyIf you work at home, the arrival of the postal mail can seem like the highlight of your day, and it helps if you arrange for something good to show up in your mailbox. I confess that in the past I filled out those one-free-issue cards for magazines I had no intention of subscribing to, just so I would get something different in the mail. A better idea would be to subscribe to Northern Gardener, so you will get gardening advice targeted to our challenging conditions all year round. Also keep your eye out for a regional gardening magazine. For me, it’s Upstate Gardeners’ Journal, which also has a digital edition. If you’ve already got that nailed, look here for more fine gardening magazines and here for more garden magazine reviews.
3Retail therapyEven better than mail delivery is a package brought to your doorstep. If you have some holiday gift money waiting to be spent, consider buying a gardening book specifically aimed at our climate. The University of Minnesota Press updated and revised their three-volume series on growing in cold climates: Growing Perennials in Cold Climates (my review of first edition), Growing Shrubs and Small Trees in Cold Climates (my review here), and Growing Roses in Cold Climates (my review on two rose books). If your winter garden is no garden at all, Prairie Winterscape: Creative Gardening for the Forgotten Season will inspire you, as it inspired me. And since the gardening season is defined by when frost ends in the spring and when it begins in the fall, maybe you need to consult A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons. I found the book very helpful. Or maybe you’ve got enough books. How about some garden shoes or other accessories?
Seed Therapy Technically, this comes under numbers two and three, but poring over seed catalogs and obsessing over seed purchases is such a time honored way for a gardener to while away the winter that I felt it deserved a place of its own on this list. I have listings for cold climate seed merchants, plus posts on seeds for cold climates and online seed-starting info from the seeds and seed starting category of posts. We even have several posts reviewing catalogs. And for the true obsessives, see my series on using spreadsheets in garden planning.
Snow is good. It protects the crowns of plants from from fluctuating temperatures and the bitterest cold. It reflects what little light we get from the sun, which is often obscured by clouds. But snow is a great equalizer. It hides color and flattens shape, and often inhibits movement in the landscape. When you set up one or more bird feeders outside a window, you bring color, shape, and movement back into the landscape.
But birds are more than something to look at. You can’t watch them for long before wanting to know more about them: What kind of bird is that? Why do they come at certain times of day? How do they know to take turns? There are plenty of books on bird feeding, so I will just give you one piece of advice. Don’t buy the cheapest seed mix you can find. Buy black oil sunflower seed. If the birds don’t ignore the cheap mix altogether, they will pick the sunflower seed out of it and just make a mess of the rest. They will make a mess, anyway, so here’s a second piece of advice: Don’t hang the bird feeder over an area where you don’t want bird poop and seed shells. Wait–make that three pieces of advice: if you know a bear frequents your neighborhood, better think twice about putting out bird seed. Bears love bird seed.
6Online Garden Therapy Since you are at this moment reading a blog, I concede this is a bit like preaching to the choir, but the internet is a wonderful way to explore the world of gardening when the garden outdoors is less than hospitable. There is a fine–though not comprehensive–selection of cold climate blogs in my garden blog directory, so you can virtually visit gardeners in climates similar to your own and pick up some good ideas–or sympathize, as the case may be. If you want to get a taste for what’s blooming around the world, there’s no better place to start than by perusing the posts listed on Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. If you want to get a little more involved and maybe a little more organized, there are several gardening communities online, such as Folia, GardenTenders, GardenStew, and The Mulch
–kind of like Facebook for gardening. Check them all out to see if one floats your boat. If you are isolated or lonely, they can be an effective way to make new friends without leaving home.
7Cut Flower Therapy I used to think cut flowers were only for rich people, but now I know that cut flowers are a frugal luxury. In terms of bang-for-the-buck, they are a more potent mood lifter than–well, just about anything I can think of. Take a lesson from Debra Prinzing, who challenged herself to come up with a new floral arrangement made with locally-bought and -found flowers every week for a year, to tie in with her book, Slow Flowers: Four Seasons of Locally Grown Bouquets from the Garden, Meadow and Farm. Her off-white arrangement for week one is elegant but doable, even if you have a wait a few more weeks here for pussy willows to show up in the market. If buying cut flowers just seems too wasteful to you, consider a pot of forced flowers, such as these narcissus pictured above that jumped into my grocery cart last week. Or, see number eight.
Forced Flower Therapy Forcing hyacinths is one of my favorite ways to garden in winter. If you use a hyacinth glass you can see the roots forming. And unlike many blooming houseplants, the hyacinth changes almost every day. If you didn’t have the foresight to purchase bulbs in October (Mark it on your calendar now, for next October) and start them chilling, you may find already forced bulbs in the grocery store now. Aldi, in particular, seems to sell them for a reasonable price–less expensive than buying the hyacinth vases by themselves! Of course, you can also grow amaryllis or my new fave, lily-of-the-valley. There’s lots more flowers you can force besides the ones I’ve tried. Read Bulb Forcing for Beginners and the Seriously Smitten (my review here) to find out more.
9 Outdoor Exercise Therapy Grab every chance you get this winter to get some sunshine. Unless the weather service has issued a wind-chill or extreme cold warning, don’t let cold be your excuse. No time? Use your lunch break. Icy surfaces? Get some Yaktrax (pictured at right). Snow too deep? Snowshoes! There’s no sense being in denial–it’s cold in winter and you need to gradually build up a collection of clothing and equipment to deal with it. If you have a couple of hours to spare, get yourself to the nearest botanical garden or local park, as Gail from Clay and Limestone suggests. There are certain to be cleared walkways there and plants and wildlife that you don’t see in your own backyard. The change of scenery will do you good.
10 Outside Gardening Therapy Sometime in the middle of winter, usually in January, we have a thaw. Some mud season pruning chores can be done any time you feel like going out there, which is usually during a thaw. On rare occasions the thaw is so extensive that you can actually pull weeds. But mostly you will be limited to pruning and trail maintenance. Frances of Fairegarden, who does not live in a cold climate and thus often gardens in winter, nevertheless knows the appropriate attire for such an occasion: “boots, waterproof pants with long johns, a turtleneck, flannel shirt, hooded sweatshirt, waterproof jacket, knit hat and always gloves.” You will be standing and kneeling in snow, and the wind may be brisk. You can always peel off a layer if you get too hot, and it’s much more pleasant than treating frostbite. But actually gardening outside is the creme de la creme of cabin fever therapies, so be sure to take advantage of it if the opportunity comes your way. It is highly effective.
Those are my best remedies for cabin fever. Do you have any that I missed? Did you pick up a good tip? Let me know in the comments.
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