Winter Colour on the Darkest of Days - By Ade Sellars

Posted Thursday, 12 January 2023, 4.40pm

Caption: Ade Sellars
Caption: A Christmas Rose
Caption: Iris
Caption: Snowdrops

Award-winning garden blogger Ade Sellars explains why this time of year offers gardeners so many opportunities to be cheerful:

The start of a new year, crisp frosty mornings and the hope of things to come, January can be a magical month for many of us. Yet, for some people winter is a time of darkness. For them, it’s a season of pain, struggle and loneliness. The short days and longer nights can make them feel sad, irritable and depressed. A lack of sunlight can cause erratic mood swings and reduce a person’s confidence, forcing them to withdraw into themselves. Feeling exhausted, unable to concentrate and a lack of sleep, this was once known as the ‘winter blues’. However, we now recognise these symptoms as a medical condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression.

For someone diagnosed with SAD, It’s important to find things that give you a sense of well-being, and believe it or not, gardening is a great fit. It’s no secret being outside, and closer to nature, can make a person feel happier. Also, physically working in your garden gets the brain neurons firing, muscles moving and blood pumping, all triggers that help keep the mind and body healthy. Just because it’s winter, grey doesn’t have to be the colour palette of the season. Did you know there are countless flowers and shrubs bursting with colour right now, that’ll guarantee to lift the spirit. So, why not wrap up warm, get outside and start planting!

Don’t worry if you haven’t sown or grown anything, garden nurseries and online traders recognise the importance of winter flowers, so there’s plenty of choice. Whether it’s violas, primroses or polyanthus, try planting them up using Dalefoot Composts Wool Compost for Potting. Remember not to overwater, and deadhead regularly for long-lasting floral displays.

Plant colourful blooms alongside garden paths, in containers and hanging baskets. Keep them on the patio, in a window box or hanging outside your door. By planting close to the house, you can enjoy a hit of colour and floral fragrance as you step outside into the cold. Also, if the weather takes a turn for the worse and forces you inside, you’ll still be able to enjoy their displays from within the warmth of your home as you look out from the window.

A good flower to consider is the Christmas rose. An evergreen hellebore, it has a long flowering period and offers white, pink, yellow, or purplish-black blooms. Although it does well in most soils, it prefers a little shade. As the flowers emerge, cut away the foliage for maximum floral impact.

The delicate cyclamen is a winter must. Try to choose hardy varieties such Cyclamen hederifolium or Cyclamen coum. unphased by the cold weather, they can flower right through to spring. Plant them in well-drained soil and give them a little shade. They look wonderful at the front of borders, under tree canopies or planted in pots and hanging baskets.

Shrubs with coloured winter berries make a great focal point in the garden, and offer a food source for winter wildlife. We all know about holly’s seasonal red jewels, but have you thought about the berries of the cotoneaster, pyracantha or snowberry? For a real showstopper, try callicarpa (aka beautyberry). A hardy shrub, it produces clusters of bright purple berries, bringing a real sense of drama to the garden.

Visit any RHS garden during the winter months and you’ll see the fiery colours of cornus, also known as dogwood, burning brightly at the back of borders. Their blazing branches set an empty bed alight with flashes of red, orange, yellow and green.

Bulbs are a good solution, easy to plant and care for, they can fill empty pots, borders and rockeries with colour and interest. From the simple crocus to the beautiful snowdrop, plant them into Dalefoot Composts Bulb Compost, and it’ll ensure your blooms will shine brightly on the darkest of days.

Of course, it’s not just colour that can lift our mood, smell is just important. For winter-scented plants try planting Sarcococca (Sweet Box). Easy to grow, this shade-loving shrub flowers in the winter, but it’s the sweet smell of its tiny blooms that’s the real showstopper.

Train a growing winter honeysuckle over your front or back door, and it’ll give off a strong, sweet dizzy fragrance as you come and go. Full sun or part shade, this climber blooms until March, so it’s real value for money.

Mahonia is an old favourite, with fragrance often compared to lily of the valley, it’s tightly packed flowers give off a rich perfume. A versatile shrub, it can be potted into a container or planted out into a border.

Add a touch of mystery to the garden by planting a witch hazel. This mystical shrub has bright, spider-like flowers that promise to liven up any grey day. A citrusy perfume, its petals come in varieties of red, orange and yellow.

But, if outside space isn’t an option, why not try indoor gardening? A few well-chosen indoor plants can help give purpose and well-being. Also, there are air-purifying plants, such as spider plants and peace lilies, that can remove toxins from the air. This can help make breathing easier and aid in a good night’s sleep. Exhaustion is a symptom of SAD, so it can help break a negative pattern.

A collection of plants can feel like you’re very own ‘mini’ family’. They depend on you to tend and care for them. Tasks of potting up and watering focuses the mind, and can help reduce stress and anxiety.

As outside temperatures drop, try bringing in your herbs to grow on in the kitchen or on a warm windowsill. Not only can they continue being used for cooking, but they offer other positive effects. For example, lavender is known for its calming aroma, rosemary and jasmine too. Using peppermint for tea can improve energy levels, whilst chamomile tea is calming.

So, this season try not to let the gloom of winter pull you down. Instead, set the dark days alight with floral colour and hypnotic scent, that will lift your mood and ease you gently into spring.

I’m Ade Sellars, and I’m a gardener, presenter, writer and content producer, with a passion for growing my own food in my kitchen garden. As well as running my own gardening business, I write for magazines, produces tailored video content for gardening brands, flower shows and outdoor events and I regularly deliver talks and demonstrations around the country.

I co-write the award-winning gardening and food blog, Agents of Field, with my wife Sophie; you can follow our adventures on Twitter and Instagram, or by subscribing to our blog.

Instagram: agentsoffield
Twitter: @AgentsOfField

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