Gardeners live for the spring…the summer…and the fall. Winter is truly the season of our discontent. We are grumpy, dissatisfied, whiny, cold, and very, very impatient. We bemoan the temperatures, the snow, the wind, and the wet. We complain about the shortened days and the general lack of sunshine. Basically it is the gardeners duty to be miserable and assure that everyone else in the household is miserable with them! It is much like taking a child’s favorite toy away. If you are a gardener, the soil and the plants are your toys and someone has come along and made you put them away for a very long time.
As gardeners keenly in tune with the natural rhythms of the earth, we know there are seasons of birth, life, and finally death; and a pause is necessary within this cycle. Perhaps winter is the season of gestation. The time when life is developing and preparing for birth. This is our time to patiently wait, rest, and prepare ourselves for the busyness of the year.
As with all cycles of life, there is a purpose for every season. Winter’s purpose, however, is less obvious…often buried in snow or covered in ice. Therefore, it appears to have no real purpose at all other than to make us miserable!
The Purpose of Winter
The systems of the earth are in a natural balance that provides for the conditions to support all life. The seasons are part of these systems. Winter is no less important in this cycle than any of the other seasons. Winter is the time for:
- Rest. The wisdom of nature has set upon us a time of rest. A time to breathe, to relax, to gather our strength for the coming months of growing and harvesting. This same period of rest is necessary for all living things, particularly our plants.
- Root growth. While leaves and stems have gone dormant, the roots of many plants are gathering moisture and nutrients from the soil, forming food stores; therefore gathering energy to grow during the warm months.
- Chilling hours. For many plants, including perennial crops (think fruit trees), shorter days and low temperatures bring about the cycle of dormancy during which growth is temporarily halted. Measured in “chilling hours,” this is the time when a plant’s energy is held in reserve and building up for new growth. Without sufficient chilling time, some fruit trees will not blossom, some bulbs will not bloom, and some seeds will not sprout. This concept applies to people as well!
- Snow. The snow that builds up in the mountains and on the plains help to regulate the temperature of the Earth’s surface. It is an essential ingredient for the Earth’s climatic balance. Once the snow melts, it flows into the rivers and reservoirs to provide water throughout the year. Cold and snow are critical to the world’s supply of water. (For more on the importance of snow click here.)
- Death. The deep cold kills and reduces the number of damaging insects, as well as, the pathogens that cause our crops and ornamental plants to fail. Cold is a balancing agent for the pests and pathogens.
While there are many reasons for the purpose of winter in our natural cycles, I believe the most important reason for humans is rest. Too often we resist a time of rest and see it as some sort of punishment. We berate ourselves for not being productive. We are bored and impatient. However, this is the time to recognize that rest is necessary for productivity in plants and humans. This is a precious gift for which we should be deeply grateful.
Beating the Winter Doldrums
How should you spend your winter time? Embrace this period of rest. Use this time to re-energize for the busy year ahead.
- Rest. Give yourself permission to rest and to slow the pace of your life. Eat well. Sleep well. Enjoy friends and family. It is a good time to review why your life is so frenzied and to make some changes to live a slower, healthier life.
- Read. Read the stack of books that has been piling up and you’ve been putting off. Did you know that reading is a valuable activity? We forget this.
- Learn. Now is the perfect time to learn a new skill–be it building a website or a greenhouse, growing new vegetables or honing your photography skills. (This is where reading comes in handy!) Take a class.
- Indoor projects. Get all of those indoor projects done. The ones that you put off because the weather is so nice that you want to be in your garden. Make a list room-by-room and tick them off as you finish each project. It will help you to feel productive! It is also a great time to work on that marketing plan or catch up with your bookkeeping or write that book.
- Plan. Now is the time to plan your garden and purchase your seeds. It is the time to plan any changes you want to make to your landscaping so you are ready to hit the ground running in the spring. This is the best time to work with a designer on those plans!
- Be grateful. Winter is the reason why we love spring so very much. (For what is spring but the end of winter.) Most importantly this is a time of gratitude. Say ‘thank you’ to Mother Nature for forcing us to slow down!
Remember this…if all else fails, winter is the perfect time to do your taxes!