photo credit: William Hebert

Most of us associate gardens with beauty, nature, and the warm months of summer and spring. While it's true that gardens come alive in the spring and tend to lose their luster when the temperature falls, a brisk day during a Grand Rapids winter is actually a great time to visit the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.

In fact, I don't just recommend a visit, but a tour of the grounds. Outside. In the cold. Grab your coat (and hats, scarves, and gloves) and discover the secrets of a winter garden.

1. The sculpture garden changes in the winter.

An outdoor sculpture park uses the natural beauty of tress, bushes, and flowers to highlight and enhance the manmade artwork. While the sculptures remain the same, Mother Nature's pieces are constantly changing throughout the year. A tour of the park in the winter offers a completely different experience than one taken at any other time of year. Certain angles of many sculptures can only be seen during the winter, when the obstruction of leaves and flowers has been temporarily removed by the revolving seasons. Even if you've visited the park several times before, you're sure to see something new when you stop by after the leaves have fallen, and again after a big snowfall.

2. Sunshine makes you happier.

Cabin fever, winter blues, Seasonal Affective Disorder no matter what you call it, there's no denying that being cooped up indoors for weeks on end can put a damper on even the sunniest disposition. Getting out into the sun increases production of your body's natural mood boosters. The best way to beat the winter blues is to get outside for an hour a day. Take a walk around the sculpture park and you can add the benefits of a little exercise to the feel-good mix. Do be sure to bundle up against the cold, however; hypothermia and frost bite are serious mood killers.

3. You can warm up in the hot house.

A walk outside might be good for you, but its also cold out there when winter comes to Michigan! End your visit with some time inside the warm, moist air of the Lena Meijer Conservatory, a tropical oasis right in Grand Rapids. The 15,000-square-foot glass conservatory features tropical plans from around the world, including bamboo, palms, and orchids. The soothing sounds of a waterfall complete the escape fantasy. Fair warning: you'll be reluctant to step back out into the much chillier real world after spending a few blissful moments here.