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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at

Consultation and coaching for do-it-yourselfers is provided. Occasional emailed questions are welcome and answered free of charge. Oui, je parle francais.

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Snow Days Are Sad Days

Photo courtesy of Copywrite Free Photos. Click on image to visit their site.Over the past few weeks, I have been saddened to read a story that repeats itself in the texts of many garden blogs. In some postings, it has percolated in doses too tiny to notice. In other blogs, it is blatant and upsetting. It is about the frustrations that winter visits upon gardeners whose main passion in life has been temporarily stifled. Lamentations about not gardening, cleverly cloaked as impatience or wistfulness, start to occur just after the holiday season ends.

Dark days and damp weather begin to overshadow us in early November when many are too busy planning festivities to pay attention. It is mostly after the holiday season that winter delivers a severe blow to our spirits. This year, several factors exacerbated that situation: the unusually cold weather that crept south along the North American continent and the unexpected amount of snowfall. It is heartbreaking to read the chronicles of those that are experiencing genuine suffering and to remain unable to offer comfort.

Winter has never been kind to me, either. As soon as the days get shorter, I am compelled to unpack my full - spectrum light box and soak in its sun-mimicking rays for at least 20 minutes a day. For that brief period, I can pretend to be basking in my garden. Not being able to spend time in the garden is difficult to endure. Instead, I immerse myself in researching garden-related subjects that will make me a better gardener. Also, I devote hours to developing topics for blogs. Planning and writing a gardening blog is a pleasurable, creative experience. It is not as satisfying as gardening, but, at this time of year, it is the next best thing.

It is fortunate that I live in a city that spends over 10 million dollars annually to keep its roads snow-free so that citizens can remain mobile. It also helps that Montreal is a vibrant place. With a large cosmopolitan population, there are many distracting remedies for those experiencing winter cabin fever. I feel badly for those that live in isolated, rural areas that are desolate at this time of year, even though such locations are gardening paradises in summer.

Another antidote for the winter blues is the “greenhouse factor”. I learned about the powerful effect that a greenhouse can have on mood and behavior when I studied Introductory Botany at University. An essential segment of that course required students to visit the Faculty greenhouse frequently in order to learn how to identify plants by their Latin names. During the depths of winter, each visit there became an invigorating and energizing experience. The daylight streaming through glass walls, the tropical humidity and the intense colors of the pelargonium in bloom all combined to generate a heightened sense of happiness and well-being.

Yesterday, while visiting a big box hardware store, I suddenly remembered the greenhouse factor and spun the shopping cart in the direction of Indoor Plants. That department is located in a greenhouse setting. The floor-to-ceiling windows that bring lots of daylight combine with the humidity and aroma of plants to create an enjoyable and stimulating environment. When I got to the plant department, I saw a staff member unpacking forced spring-flowering bulbs, some on the verge of blooming, and some already opened. Tulips, Daffodils and Hyacinths were on display in abundance, as were the usual inventory of intensely colored Gerberas, Cyclamen and Kalanchoe. As I stood there absorbing the odors and colors of spring, I kept reminding myself that, in 90 days, I will be outdoors and gardening once again.

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Reader Comments (5)

Allan, I'm not one of those people bothered by winter. I even find a kind of King Lear raging-at-the-storm satisfaction from really intense winter weather. However, I also appreciate the doses of spring and summer we can get from a trip to a conservatory or, yes, even the big-box stores. We Canadians have to make-do as we can, eh? The days are getting longer...and just a few more weeks, really, till the snowdrops push up their heads to tell us spring is on its way.

January 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHelen at Toronto Gardens

Last year I was very depressed this time of year. My young garden was just gaining steam, and I was quite anxious to see what it would it do come spring. Luckily, spring 2009 came early and was mild with no late frosts. That was March 15 when I was green coming up. So, really, in less than two months I can go outside, start cleaning up, start movign again. Thsi winter I've walked several times through the drifts out bank and enjoyed seeing my garden through a new lens and having just as much fun designing in my head with nothing to impede my senses. So, winter gardens ARE wonderful. We need four seasons! If we ate sugar all the time we'd just get sick, and sick of it.

January 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBenjamin

Alan -
That is so cool that the botany department had a greenhouse where you could go in the depth of winter to learn the latin names of plants - just like learning the scales to become a good pianist one must know the taxonomy to become a good horticulturist - mark

January 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermark marino

Nice post, Allan. I'm with you on spending at least some of the time during the 'off-season' doing some research and getting back to my library of gardening books, learning more like a continuous self-improvement process. I'm not big on the fake sunrays, though. Vitamin D seems to work fine to keep my spirits up during these days without much sunlight.

BTW, thanks for visiting my blog and commenting on my Roses in the Yukon post. I had fun researching for that one. Hank

January 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHank

Curious how so many of us miss the details such as one or two l's in your name. I am a highly trained pedant trying to learn how to be more understanding, but obviously, I have a long ways to go.

In any case, I was intrigued by your post. My wife also suffers from SID and for the past few years since I retired, I have been sending her off to Florida for a few weeks in the sun which has done wonders for her winter disposition. I, on the other hand, find that there is plenty for me to do in my garden throughout the winter so I am out of doors as much as possible and therefore do not mind either the cold or the shorter days as much as she does. But then we have much longer days this time of year than you do in Montreal. I spent a couple of very cold winters there many years ago only to move further north just as my last spring was about to begin. Needless to say, that was a tough move, but when spring finally did come it was incredible.

January 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWayne

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