IT’S time to take a deep breath and get happy... or... the best things in life are free! Personally I love these days leading up to the shortest day of winter solstice and Christmas, the stark beauty of the trees, the frosty earth and pink morning skies can really take your breath away.
But with the festive season in full swing it’s easy to get lost in the mayhem of Christmas shopping and general madness. And while I know it’s not that inviting to get up and out on the very cold wet days, read on as it might give you some incentive to do so on the dry ones!
There is calmness to be had out of doors whether it’s pottering about on your own small plot or out walking in the woods and I have long believed that gardening is therapeutic and now its seems science agrees. It has been discovered that a bacterium called Mycobacterium vaccae found in garden soil can contribute to making us feel happy. So how does this happen? Well, when my mum said that” a dirty child is a happy child “ she wasn’t far off. When this friendly bacteria is inhaled or eaten or enters the skin through a cut, the body’s immune response to it causes the brain to produce the mood chemical Serotonin - a lack of which can be a factor in depression. Also without getting too scientific , walking and working in nature also allows us to benefit from another life giving kind of air vitamin - negative ions . Once these little fellows reach our bloodstream the are believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of serotonin, helping to alleviate depression, relieve stress, and boost our immune system and daytime energy. So for a dose of negative ion happiness and stress relief think mountain walks, pine wood forests, and oceans.
Deck the halls....
So get outside and get some free festive cheer, and while out walking gather in some greenery, Ivy is plentiful and beautiful. A tip once from a florist friend is that if you soak ivy strands overnight in a bucket of water they last much longer. Although sprigs of holly are beautiful there are plenty of other berried evergreens at this time of year and don’t forget you can add bunches of fake red berries and ribbons to add colour. Put your winter greenery in vases of rain water if possible and mist occasionally to prolong the gloss and freshness. A cool hallway is perhaps the best place to prolong the freshness of your display. And finally on the subject gather your berried branches before the birds pick the lot! Keep cut branches in a cool place in buckets of water. A shed is fine for this as plants don’t need much light.
Christmas trees need water, treat them like a big cut flower. When you get your tree home, cut off 3 cm off the bottom and stand it in water if possible. Top it up regularly. By the way, a real Christmas tree in your living room will release negative ions , not to mention fill the house with that wonderful fresh smell.
Jobs for now....
Outside in the garden keep hoeing off chickweed as it can set seed in the darkest of days!
Take some hardwood cuttings after the leaves have fallen off them.
Easy plants to try include willow (Salix) - (you could grow your own “fedge” with willow now), buddleja and dogwood (Cornus).
Follow these easy steps to increase your shrubby displays (or beg a cutting from your neighbour).
Cut pencil thick lengths (15-20cm) of woody, new growth. Make the cut above a bud at the top and below a bud at the bottom of the cutting. Choose a sheltered spot in the garden, out of direct sunlight but not in heavy shade. Push the cuttings into a slit made in the soil with a spade. Fill in with soil, leaving a couple of buds exposed. If you have heavy soil, line the slit with sand for drainage. Label and water in dry weather. Leave the cuttings until the following autumn when they will have rooted and be ready to move either into pots or to their planting position
Grow a deciduous hedge from hardwood cuttings - space cuttings 1 foot apart, placing extras at the end of the row to replace those that fail to root.
Plant hedges from bare root trees and shrubs. There are many to choose from...beech, hazel, hawthorn,birch elder, dogwoods, blackthorn, dog rose, holly, privet,the list is long!
Sow onion seeds in early January.
Plant up pots with evergreen plants and mini-shrubs and winter flowering plants such as pansies or violas. Position where you can see them easily and enjoy the display through these short winter days.