It may now be sub-zero outside, but that's no excuse not to venture out - besides, says Kim Wilde, your plants will be needing some extra-special TLC at this time of year.
The winter garden really does have loads to offer, but with everyone rushing around preparing for the festivities, the outdoors is often forgotten. This is a real pity, as getting outside in the fresh air and sunshine is great for your health - topping up those all-important vitamin D levels, which help build strong bones and strengthen the immune system (vital at this time of year). Plus, research suggests daylight can have a much-needed uplifting effect on your mood while helping to ward off that pesky Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Besides, there are many hidden treasures to be found. Some of the most unassuming-looking plants really pack their punch on cold, still days, throwing out a riot of wonderful sweet winter scents. Christmas box, Sarcococca confusa, has a pungent, vanilla fragrance so try planting it in a container by the front door. It's also a very tough, evergreen shrub that easily tolerates atmospheric pollution and neglect - a real trouper!
The honey-scented winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, could easily lure the most ardent winter couch potato outside, as could the strong spicy scent of which hazel, Hamamelis, the heavily-scented Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn', and the sweetly-scented Mahonia x media 'Charity'.
Make your plants cosy
When the temperature plummets and the wind whips up, some of your more delicate garden plants will definitely be in need of some urgent TLC to see them safely through the winter. You can use horticultural fleece to wrap up young Pharmium and Trachycarpus. Just tie their leaves into bunches (but not too tightly) with raffia or soft twine to protect their crowns - but don't leave them wrapped up all winter or the plants will become pale and could rot.
Cut the stem off hardy bananas just after the first frost has blackened the leaves, then cover with an old chimney pot filled with straw and simply place a tile on top until spring. Tree ferns can have their own leaves, as well as a few handfuls of straw or bracken, pushed well into the crown, and trunks may need protection in colder areas too. Straw held on by canes and wrapped in a few layers of horticultural fleece or bubble wrap should do the job perfectly until the following spring.
So there you have it - all you have to do to maintain a beautiful garden all year round is to really look after your plants in winter. Come spring, your pride and joy will be super healthy and raring to go.
Nature's answer to Christmas decorations and gifts
If you can't stand going outside, bring the garden indoors. You can slash spending, and have fun with your kids by making your own decorations from your garden. Christmas wreaths are incredibly quick and easy to make. Grab pliable one-metre stems from shrubs in your garden - such as honeysuckle, wisteria or hazel - and plait them together to form a wreath. Attach pine cones, seed heads, feathers and nuts, then tie with a ribbon to finish, et voila!
Stuck for an original gift idea? Try an apple tree. Coronet trees can be grown in pots 45cm across and need no pruning. They grow to only 1.5 m and produce apples in the first year. We know an apple a day helps keep the doctor away - they can reduce cholesterol, are packed with vitamins and minerals, and research has even shown that the scent of apples reduces anxiety levels and promotes relaxation. That beats a Christmas jumper any day! For info on stockists, availability and delivery, take a look at www.coronet.ie.