Feed All Five Senses this Winter

Though there are some things I like about winter: snowshoeing, crisp blue-sky days and plenty of time to cook and read, I'm already counting the days until spring.

One of the things I miss most when I'm locked indoors away from my garden, is the sensory input. The sweet call of goldfinches, deep red poppies, the scent of fresh basil, the cool feel of grass, the shocking sweetness of sungold tomatoes.

Escaping to somewhere warm is my preferred solution. But over the years, I've also come up with a few ways to exercise my senses indoors.


I love silence, but sometimes winter is just too quiet. The brook in my backyard is frozen solid all winter, and I really miss the sound of running water. So I've put a small tabletop fountain in among my potted plants. It humidifies the air near the plants and provides a pleasing burbling sound.  

I also have a couple of tapes that a friend made for me of spring peepers and late summer crickets. On a cold winter night it's a real treat to remember the sound of a million creatures belting out their pleasure in being alive.

I've also put something called Mother Nature's Bird Monitor on my holiday wish list. This is a microphone that you set up near your bird feeders, with a cord that runs to an indoor speaker. I imagine it's almost like having your windows open and hearing the birds as you make lunch. You can find it online from several bird supply companies.


Color is probably the thing I miss most in the winter. Fortunately, there are many colorful flowering plants that can be grown indoors. My own windows are crowded with three colors of bougainvillea, a little orange tree, and several ancient red and pink geraniums that never stop blooming. I also have a red miniature cyclamen on my reading table, and several begonias that have colorful foliage.

One other thing I miss seeing in the winter is light! Nights are just too long and gloomy. Along about November 1, I start stringing little white lights through the bougainvillea, in the old jade tree, and around the windows. They're all on a timer so they're lit when I walk in the front door after work. Something about it really cheers me up. Try fairy lights for a special indoor display. 

Many people are cheered up by full spectrum bulbs. These neodymium light bulbs work just like regular incandescent bulbs, but instead of emitting the usual yellowish light, they produce a whiter spectrum of light that more closely duplicates natural daylight. Because these bulbs reduce glare, they're excellent for reading, sewing and craft projects.


Try as I do to extend the growing season, there are always four or five months when there's no fresh produce from my garden. But I'm lucky to have lots of food down in the basement. In the freezer: berries, sour cherries, corn, peas and asparagus; in the pantry: a huge store of wild grape juice and jelly, salsa and tomato sauce. And on the shelves are bushel baskets of garlic, onions, potatoes and winter squash. Come to think of it, there's actually lots to eat. It's just not green.

My rosemary and bay leaf plants are the deepest of green, and they are always willing to undergo some trimming. Just being able to harvest something, even if it's only a couple leaves, is really a treat.

A unique indoor crop that is surprisingly simple to grow during the winter is mushrooms. We offer kits that include growing media and spores. Simply set up the box in a corner, water periodically, and in a few weeks you'll be harvesting your own gourmet mushrooms. 


Well, maybe it's fragrance that I miss the most. The smell of freshly fallen snow is something quite wonderful, but it's nothing like the smell of lilacs or sweet peas or freshly mown grass.

In the early winter, I appease my scent-deprived nose with paperwhites and lots of fresh evergreens. Later I sometimes have pots of forced bulbs: hyacinths and tulips. 

Every few weeks or so I splurge for a stem of Oriental lilies. I put lavender oil on the vacuum cleaner filter, and stick a bunch of eucalyptus in the bedroom.


This may be the hardest sense to appease. How can you replace the feel of sun on your arms and breeze through your hair. The feel of warm, moist soil or the smooth-worn handle of your favorite hand tool.

Puttering around among my houseplants helps a little. They usually need their leaves cleaned and sometimes need to be repotted. There's always tidying up to do out in the greenhouse, and if the sun is shining I can often get down to a t-shirt. That feels pretty great.

These are a few of the ways I get myself through the winter.

Last updated: 03/01/2021