Seasons, cycles, and time have always fascinated me. I enjoy learning how other cultures have experienced these phenomena in diverse ways. In the U.S., we have the four-season astronomical model that’s based on the equinoxes and solstices. Some countries use a meteorological definition for seasons—four seasons each containing three complete, undivided months. Some cultures have six seasons. Some have only two. The ancient Japanese calendar observed a whopping 72 seasons!
With the advance of climate change, the exact arrival of seasons is no longer predictable as spring comes earlier, summer lasts longer, and fall arrives much later. As the seasons have shifted, my definition of what a season is has shifted, too. As a gardener and naturalist, I follow an ecologically based calendar. Simply put, a season starts for me when I observe specific ecological events that announce its arrival: Fall brings the white-throated sparrow and breathtaking color change of leaves. Hellebores and snowdrops mean winter’s cold has arrived. Spring is here when dogwoods bloom and a multitude of songbirds suddenly appear and fill the air with nature’s soundtrack. Strawberries, hydrangeas, roses, heat and humidity herald summer here in North Carolina.
I keep a detailed *phenology notebook where I note changes in temperature and sunlight, precipitation, animal and insect migration, and bloom and fruiting times of various plants—all the biological events that determine when one season starts and another ends. The two “extra” seasons, or micro-seasons, are pre-spring and lingering summer, often called by their formal names, Prevernal (hello primrose season!) and Serotinol (welcome glorious swamp sunflowers!), respectively. These subtle, in-between phases are also based on personal observation of my own garden, not pages on a calendar.
I hope to encourage everyone to pay closer attention to what is happening right outside your doorstep. Being an active participant in the cycle of the seasons helps to bring us closer to the land—something I believe we could all benefit from. The nature writer and environmentalist David Orr says it more emphatically, “When we heal the earth, we heal ourselves.” The more we become acquainted with the mystery and miracles of nature, the more we will understand the importance of gardening in harmony with the land we are tending. Gardeners can help preserve the natural world for future generations to enjoy through all the changing seasons.
*For more information on Phenology, see https://www.usanpn.org/about/why-phenology