Embracing the season and make like an annual.
To love this season of winter seems deeply unfashionable.
Admitting out loud, the need to rest, that I welcome the shorter cold days is received as if I reject the highs of summer. Worse, that my words might somehow cast a spell, triggering a Narnia like eternal winter.
The more I have attuned myself to the season and living within that, and especially now that I grow to the rhythm of the moon, the easier growing flowers has become. But in a modern, disconnected world, where we follow the 40 hr week, regardless of the season, the more difficult that can be. I get it, it is less easy to enjoy dark long nights and the cold weather.
But *whisper*, it’s working for me. If embracing all seasons and living truly in the present is out of style, then I’m deeply uncool.
So be it.
Even in a world of Flower Farming and Horticulture, the prevailing wind of doing and getting ahead has had many of my colleagues across the country lifting dahlias and planting bulbs whilst the soil was warm and plants growing. In haste they were lifted. “We usually do this in November so we best do it now”. The deep frosts this week have been over 5 weeks later this year than in the last 8 years of growing cut flowers. Because of that compounded experience, now a ‘knowing’, I follow the weather in confidence rather than the calendar.
In a time where we are quite separated from the seasons, it is hard to notice let alone follow the natural way points.
Deadlines, school terms and working weeks get in the way of living with the ebb and flow of the year. Sterile office hours are the benchmarks regardless of whether daylight is 6 odd hours in the winter or over 18 in the summer*. The West has a culture that encourages us to resist rest and being connected to each other, and the natural world. In the winter, starting and finishing your day in the dark has little to recommend it.
No wonder that most people love and live for the summer.
In these months, after working 7 or 8 hours indoors, there is still the long evening to enjoy with the life-force about to allow leisure right into the night. I wonder that I photosynthesise then too. Being able to work from from the cool early hours of the day through to sunset. I can’t always adjust my day to suit the weather and day length but I try to.
I am fortunate to be able to fully immerse myself in the time. Going against the ‘unnatural’ order of this world, to live the seasons and grow flowers is not an easy occupation. But it does mean that I am attuned to work with that energy. Which means by the winter, flower growers, all farmers are burnt out. Exhausted from working long long days through to harvest and now like the plants they tend, need to rest, extend their roots and winter themselves. To desire rest can be felt as indulgent. Like we need to earn it, commodify it. But it is entirely essential.
Many of our plants we celebrate in the UK, need that winter cold. To stratify is to create the natural set of conditions that a seed needs to germinate. Needing a period of dormancy, to be very cold. As the temperature rises, they are triggered to begin, they know the days are lengthening and the soil warming to ensure the right conditions for flowering and fruiting.
Frosts for the soil is like bleaching a sink or boiling a pan of water in order to sterilise. But below zero temperatures are more than simply a palette cleanser for the year, it is way marker for the natural world.
Without it there is no summer, well not as I like to know it. Winter is one full pendulum swing to the other side of summer, travelling through spring and autumn to complete the cycle.
Plants sense and remember winter. I love that idea. Genes are switched off during prolonged periods of cold, on many summer flowering plants. We try to mimic this with seeds such as Larkspur and parsley by putting them in the freezer for weeks. Pots of soil with seeds in and out of the fridge. Many plants need quite some extended fluctuations in order for their genes to be switched back on, to start growth. That’s why I have waited for this frost before cutting down my dahlias (I still haven’t cut them, I will wait until it is milder now to do this) but that frost will have burnt the leaves, sending a telegram down to the tuber to stop. Make to make little growth points ready for when the winter is over, when the temperature rises again.
Don’t think for a moment that the soil is asleep though.
Or that the world is frozen in stasis until spring. The soil is alive with activity. On mild days the grass is covered with worm casts. Busy bringing the leaves and other rotting vegetation down deep into the soil to feed the millions of bacteria. Busy opening up the soil and I will do very little now to disturb that.
Shrubs and trees when planted bare root or root balled in the autumn and winter settle in far better now than when moved in warmer months. Allowed to relocate, resettle into the soil. Stretch and acquainting with surroundings. Planting in the summer is asking to do it all at one, resettle, photosynthesising, flowering and producing.
Somehow the global machine of flower distribution has conned us into thinking that we still want Roses in the deep winter. What good does a flower grown in another time or place do on our kitchen tables? Glossy evergreen leaves, sweet scented winter blossoms or even bare branches of knobbly larch with tiny pine cones and verdigris lichen are richer, more complex and grounding to me.
We have been tricked into aching for summer all year long.
To somehow keep moving at the same pace and frequency.
How can you keep that up?
What even are we striving for?
We hide this idea that we need rest or winter. We pretend we can do it all and secretly admire those that appear to manage it. It keeps us hiding and separate.
“And we think it’s a virtue to all be so separate. We think that this privacy we have is worth it. But I actually don’t think it is. I think it’s part of our profound sense of exhaustion, actually.” Katherine May speaking to Krista Tippet on the ‘On Being’ Podcast.
I pulled out tomatoes in thyme roasted juices from the freezer this week. As a treat. Saved from the summer when our bumper tomato harvest left us with more than we could eat. On plain pasta they no longer tasted as good as they did this September, eaten in the same way. Instead I craved celeriac remoulade. I always crave that when it’s cold. Now in December, tomatoes and basil are a foreign country.
“Wintering is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximising scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but it’s crucible.” Katherine May
A crucible for transformation.
And that’s why I love Winter.
*Over the 12 months of the year, all places on earth receive the same number of daylight hours. It is just spread very differently. On the equator, weeks and months can be treated almost the same with slight seasonal differences as the earth tilts. Living to a regular beat is much easier. Days are mostly similar.
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