The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, when the earth’s axis is tilted farthest from the sun and, therefore, it is also the longest night. Our ancestors were very aware at this time, as darkness presented more danger as well as cold due to lack of sunlight.
Many cultures and religions celebrate the longest night of the year with rituals involving fire, light, noise, singing- anything to lessen the impact of the darkness and to encourage daylight to return with the continuation of the cycle of the earth.
Many plants are dormant at this time of the year but our gardens are certainly not dead. These plants are alive, living off the energy that they have stored over the warmer months.
As gardeners, we begin to look forward to planting for spring and summer season. We can start to reflect on what has passed and plan for the warmer weather to come. It is time think about what crops we want to plant coming into spring, imagine new colour schemes and potential projects.
As the days slowly lengthen, all seems possible in the upcoming growing season. For gardeners these turning points in the length of the days and nights are still so important they’re worth designing your gardening calendar around, because they’re how plants tell the time.
Temperatures continue to fall through winter but the hours of daylight start to climb. This is important for gardeners because changes in the day length (and night length) are key prompts for the functions of the growth of different plants- some seeds germinate while others go dormant, some plant’s growth above ground increases while others form bulbs or tubers. Garlic, for example, needs the short days of winter followed by the longer days of spring and summer to form bulbs. Herbs such as dill and coriander perform well at this time of year and don’t tend to ‘bolt’ to seed while they are growing with daylight hours on the increase. Lettuce, too, is less likely to run to seed with the shorter days. It is a time of transition and it is a wonderful time to observe and take note of the changing surrounds.
“The winter solstice has always been special to me as a barren darkness that gives birth to a verdant future beyond imagination, a time of pain and withdrawal that produces something inconceivable, like a monarch butterfly extracting itself from the confines of its cocoon, bursting forth into unexpected glory” – Gary Zukav