It’s nothing new, marking the turning of seasons by the waxing and waning appearance of the sun. Certainly the most striking is during the morning of the winter solstice, when once-lengthening nights roll over into ever-lengthening days and the promise of warmth, new crops, and renewed life. So of course ancient people celebrated the midwinter return of the sun.
And where better to experience it than through the carefully-aligned great trilithon, the largest of the standing stones of Stonehenge? It and the others were lined up thousands of years ago to pinpoint the specific morning that for eons has heralded the return of Grian – which Celtic people called the sun.
Booglify: Felder verb; to become mushy after freeze and thaw. “My canna’s leaves booglified into slimy cell goo.”
Far as I know, there ain’t a formal word for what happens when, come Autumn’s first freeze, summer plants melt into a putrid glob. But it’s nasty.
Want technical? Me neither – studied plant physiology in college, and can make your eyes cross with esoterica. Short version, with apologies to Professor Price, is that in general plants are organisms made of living, multiplying cells with fairly rigid walls filled with gooey protoplasm made of tiny functional bits suspended in water. Water between the cells holds soluble nutrients, proteins, enzymes, salts, and other stuff which normally moves in and out of cells to keep things running smoothly.
In cold-climate plants, some of the substances act like antifreeze and some plants can shift them around to reduce cells’ drying out or bursting; some plants don’t.
One of my main elements of design is mixing round, spike, and frill shapes. When nothing else works, I often add “non plant” materials to fulfill one of the shapes – including rocks, containers, even the occasional bowling ball.
I have a handful of shrubs pruned into tight meatball or gumdrop shapes, if for nothing else than to show neighbors that I actually know how to do it in my otherwise naturalistic cottage garden. When a large yaupon holly tree on a property line got whacked by a neighbor, I got even by turning it into a three-ball poodle plant.
Anyway, while knocking around the garden and neighborhood in early November I collected quite a few roundish Autumn fruits and laid them on a bed of maple leaves collected from the garden of Mississippi author Eudora Welty and accessorized with flowers of “country girls” (‘Clara Curtis’) and a couple other hardy garden mums (Chrysanthemum x rubellum).
See if you can match the names of these “passalong” heirloom and native fruits with their image:
Pomegranate, sweetgum , Oriental persimmon, native persimmon, chayote or mirliton (Sechium edule), Pyracantha, Nandina, pecan, air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera), contorted hardy orange (Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’), American beautyberry, ‘Callaway’ crabapple, osage orange (Maclura pomifera), bird’s eye pepper (chile pequin), toadstool, red buckeye, and mango melon or “vine peach” (Cucumis melo variety chito)…
I’ve gardened in sunny South California, where weather reporters are all but unable to forecast anything out of the ordinary – there’s a joke in San Diego that seasons are more about whether or not it rains.
But for the past eight years of shuttling between my gardens in Mississippi and Lancashire, northern England, it seems to me that there are mainly two distinct seasons in the British Isles – a brilliant if cool summer with long, long days, and a seemingly never-ending wet, chilly winter, with fairly drawn-out segues of what pass for spring and fall.
My Mississippi garden, on the other hand, has five seasons, from a mild occasionally-frozen mid-winter through two nearly imperceptibly drawn-out and overlapping springs (early and late, with completely different sets of weather and flowers); a long, torrid, breathtakingly-humid summer with temperatures that remain warmer at night than England rarely ever even gets up to in the daytime; and a month or so of subtle changes in Autumn color.
No matter. There are countless combinations of evocative accessories to carry gardens in all climates through the changes of weather, and weather-tolerant plants to boot.
Not saying anything about anything anyone believes or not…
…but WAY before church leaders – both ancient and modern – deliberately started putting their own holy days onto the existing festivals of others (look up syncretism), people noticed and rejoiced on the day the sunshine started coming back…
Regardless of your own beliefs, it’s a good day to celebrate – hope the new sunrise brings you good cheer and comfort through the next year!
It’s Grinch Time, but I’m not going there – not after all the cheer I found in the German Christmas Market in Manchester, northern England.
This is my sixth or maybe eighth year to celebrate the open-air bazaar, and to suffer the cheesy singing moose that lords over its two-story pop-up beer hall. For two weeks hundreds of vendors in rustic Bavarian-style wooden stalls offer nearly everything imaginable, from local specialty foods and drinks to ornaments, flower bulbs, glass- and wood-ware, and hand-carved nutcrackers.
Christkindlesmarkets, first recorded in Vienna in 1298 (yeah, that’s over 600 years ago), and soon afterwards in Munich by 1310, are hot holiday destinations for locals and international tourists alike. The outdoor markets include a Nativity scene, holiday decorations, traditional Christmas treats, and live music, but I mostly frequent the hand-crafted cheeses, sausages, fudge and other sweets, hand-size meat-and-potato pies – all winter mainstays – and wade through the alluringly fragrant steam wafting from huge cauldrons of savory stews.
Fact: We rarely get snow in Mississippi. Oh, every year or two we get in inch or two. Maybe.
But on December 1, 2017, we got an astonishing six inches, sometime between when I peeked outside at clear 3 a.m. and when I awoke at dawn. It was piled softly atop everything, completely covering decks and glass bottle trees alike, and even utility wires.
It was simply beautiful, and its muffling effect made everything so eerily quiet!
Knowing it wouldn’t last long, I quickly made the rounds, taking photos unspoiled by footprints all around my garden, front and back, and including the completely-buried plants in the back of my truck garden.