JULIE FINUCANE

Winter keeps hanging on, and those brief 40-degree warm ups are just not enough to keep cabin fever at bay.

Time to take a tropical vacation. No need for plane tickets, no baggage to pack or hotel reservations to make, and the cost can be little or nothing.

A trip to the greenhouse or flower shop is great way to escape the winter doldrums and remind us that spring really is just around the corner. Step into the greenhouse and find yourself surrounded by tropical foliage and blooming plants. Take a deep breath of the slightly more humid air and savor the earthy scent of living plants — such a contrast to the cold, sterile outside air we’ve been enduing.

Start with the floral departments of the local grocery stores. All have a selection of plants and cut flowers, and odds are you’ll need groceries this week anyway. Even Home Depot has house plants and orchids. Take a few minutes to stop and smell the roses. Just looking at green, living plants will do wonders for a winter-weary soul.

Stop by the florist, too. Most have a few plants or dish gardens, and all, of course, will have fresh flowers. Take a bouquet or arrangement home to sustain you there.

If this isn’t enough to warm your outlook on the remaining cold weather ahead, it’s time to venture a little farther afield, weather permitting. Many greenhouses close down for the winter, but there are a few that keep some weekend and evening hours. I recommend calling before you strike out — business hours often change with the season and length of the days.

A greenhouse full of tropical plants provides a glimpse into a rainforest or tropical island. Lush foliage such as philodendron, ferns, pothos, dracaena and palms are durable and can become permanent residents indoors, or be moved to shaded outdoor containers for the summer. Large palms or ficus trees make dramatic floor plants to bring that tropical feeling to the living room, but even a small rex begonia or ivy for the windowsill or coffee table can brighten the days. Cacti and succulents are very popular, and these easy-care, often architectural plants are living art for a bright spot near a window, and later, on the deck, patio or garden table.

Some flowering plants will also perform long-term in the home environment, providing years of repeat flowering in their season. Peace lilies, moth orchids, flamingo flower (anthurium) and African violets are reliable and beautiful. And don’t hesitate to indulge in a more fleeting beauty. Chrysanthemum, cyclamen, flowering begonia, kalanchoe, azaleas and forced spring bulbs will provide several weeks of very welcome flowers.

If you’re so inspired, browse the decorative containers to dress up your prize and make it part of your home décor. Rather reserve your budget for plants? Most greenhouses and florists have foils, pot-wraps and even ribbons available for only a nominal fee.

Choose an assortment of small plants to make your own dish garden, fairy garden or terrarium. If you are not interested in making it a project, take advantage of the skill and resources of greenhouse and florist staff, and choose one of their ready-made creations, or ask them to put something together for you.

I can easily spend half an hour browsing through the plants, touching a leaf, smelling a flower, and find myself feeling much more serene. No purchase required.

We can’t all be snowbirds or take a tropical winter vacation, but fortunately we can enjoy a brief escape to one of these green oases, without venturing far from home.

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