Wrap-up warm and get outside this month to enjoy the winter garden at its best. From delicate flowers and intoxicating fragrances to evergreen foliage and tactile barks, bright jewel-like fruits and berries, and many more delights of the natural world.

Winter displays come to life on sunny days, but for a moment of magic pop out early after a hard frost to appreciate the transient transformation of leaves and buds coated by ice crystals. Hardy plants can naturally withstand a touch of frost without being harmed, so choose a few to add winter interest to your displays.

There are jobs to tempt us outside through winter, too, including clearing away the remains of last summer’s bedding and crops, sweeping-up the final fallen leaves of autumn, and improving soil by forking in generous quantities of compost. Don’t forget the birds either, regularly cleaning and topping-up feeders and birdbaths.

Gardening during winter brings us outside into the daylight to exercise, which is vital for our health and wellbeing. This can help reduce symptoms from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as ‘winter depression’ or the winter blues that often begins when days get shorter.

Lack of sunlight may affect the brain, leading to lower levels of serotonin linked to a feeling of depression, and higher levels of melatonin that make us feel sleepy. Ever shortening days also disrupt our body clock, too. Getting out into the garden on sunny days recharges your spirits and raises your mood.

It’s common to eat more over winter, so focus on a healthy diet and plan to grow plenty of home-grown fruit and vegetables when possible. Gluts of fruit can always be frozen or preserved to use out of season. Growing your own provides regular exercise to keep you active, and burn off a few calories too!

Colder weather often keeps us indoors, making us less sociable, so try joining a local gardening groups and getting out to enjoy inspiring talks, meet other gardeners, and exchange ideas for the new gardening season ahead.

DID YOU KNOW?

Activities like raking, clearing, digging and planting provide physical exercise that maintains your body’s mobility, flexibility and strength. They also keep your mind active, which is good for mental health, and just the sights and sounds of the garden can reduce stress and relieve depression. Gardens are interesting, creative, productive and therapeutic spaces that bring benefits to gardeners all-year-round.

PLANTS OF THE MOMENT: WINTER COLOUR

Add extra colour and impact to your garden by choosing plants that contribute towards winter displays, including evergreen and winter flowering shrubs, and plants with fruits and berries for both you and garden wildlife to enjoy.

Evergreen shrubs, conifers and hedging create privacy and reduce road noise, providing a year-round structure to the garden. They also provide shelter from strong wind and cold weather, creating warmer pockets where more tender plants can flourish.

Don’t ignore shrubs with interesting stems either, such as the brilliant Dogwoods and white-stemmed bramble (Rubus cockburnianus), or varieties of trees with striking bark including varieties of Silver Birch, Prunus and Maple.

Hardy shrubs for winter flower include:

* Wintersweet – Chimonanthus praecox
* Winter Honeysuckle  Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ AGM
* Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’
* Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ AGM
* Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’
* Witch Hazel (Hamamelis)
* Sweet Box (Sarcococca)
* Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum AGM)
* Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ AGM
* Winter Heathers (Erica carnea varieties)

Trees and shrubs for fruits and berries include:

* Holly (Ilex varieties)
* Firethorn (Pyracantha varieties)
* Rowan (Sorbus)
* Beauty Berry (Callicarpa ‘Profusion’ AGM)
* Snowberry (Symphoricarpos)
* Prickly Heath (Gaultheria mucronata)

GARDENS FOR WINTER COLOUR INSPIRATION

Looking for inspiration?

Many gardens around the country have borders and areas designed with winter colour in mind. Here are some of the best to visit this month:

*  Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Hampshire
*  Anglesey Abbey, near Cambridge
*  RHS Garden Harlow Carr’s Winter Walk
*  Cambridge Botanic Gardens
*  Dyrham House and Park, near Bath
*  Bressingham Gardens, Norfolk
*  Dunham Massey’s Winter Garden, Cheshire
*  Barnsdale Gardens, Rutland

INTERESTED IN FINDING OUT MORE?

SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER – NHS WEBSITE
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/

CHARITY – MIND
https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/

ROYAL COLLEGE OF PSYCHIATRISTS
https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/healthadvice/problemsanddisorders/seasonalaffectivedisorder.aspx

RSPCA 
How to feed and care for garden birds
https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/wildlife/inthewild/feedinggardenbirds/birdfeedingguide

BETTER HEALTH CHANNEL
Gardening for Health
https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/gardening-for-health-starting-out

CNN
Why gardening is good for your health
http://edition.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/07/08/why.gardening.good/index.html

THERAPEUTIC LANDSCAPES NETWORK
It’s in the dirt! Bacteria in soil may make us happier and smarter
http://www.healinglandscapes.org/blog/2011/01/its-in-the-dirt-bacteria-in-soil-makes-us-happier-smarter/

BBC NEWS
Dirt exposure ‘boosts happiness’
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6509781.stm

EARTH EASY – May 2016
The Health Benefits of Getting Dirty
https://learn.eartheasy.com/articles/the-health-benefits-of-getting-dirty/

QUARTZ
Dirt has a microbe, and it may double as a antidepressant
https://qz.com/993258/dirt-has-a-microbiome-and-it-may-double-as-an-antidepressant/

EXPERIENCE LIFE – April 2017
Why Healthy Humans Need Healthy Soil
https://experiencelife.com/article/got-soil-why-healthy-humans-need-healthy-soil/

DECEMBER IMAGE CREDIT - Conifer touched by frost © Adam Pasco Media