Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Winter Black Hole

Wouldn't it be better if Christmas day is on the 25th of January rather than December? If I had my way I would move it. 

Helleborus 'Anna's Red'
Helleborus 'Anna's Red'
So why would it be better if Christmas day would be on the 25 of January instead? Because most of the big, distracting events of winter are concentrated in the last quarter of a calendar year. There's Halloween, All Saints/Souls Day, Fireworks for Guy Fawkes and then Diwali, Thanksgiving to our American friends, Christmas Day itself, and New Year's eve celebration. None of them are directly gardening related events of course but these celebrations will rub off on you and distract you from winter whether you celebrate them or not, whether you like it or not (but chances are, you do celebrate at least some of them and you like them too).

And with all these events happening at the early part of winter, what about the rest of the cold season? So what about January and February then? Valentine's day is a bit isolated and besides it's not really that big of an event (except to the greeting card companies of course!)...

Garden Table and Chairs covered in Snow
Not atypical, more so in January and February
So there it is, January and February, the 'Winter Black Hole' as I personally refer to them. The two months just after the mania of the festive season, when winter still has its firm grip with short days and long nights; when it can get cold pretty much at any point, and the promise of spring seems just that further away.

The winter black hole is not applicable to all of course, only affecting colder parts of the northern hemisphere that has remarkable four seasons, and the southern hemisphere having different 'winter black hole' months altogether.

Unsurprisingly, this period if the least favourite time of virtually everyone I know of living in the same region as we are, or a country of a similar climate. Most especially if you're heavily into gardening for this is also the most quiet period of the hobby/industry in general (except for a few exceptions...).

Snowdrop - Galanthus 'John Gray'
Galanthus 'John Gray'
A phenomenon called Galanthomania - born out of the plant's beauty, variety, timing, and gardener's coping mechanism
Beauty - such a parameter is subjective but it is safe to say that the beauty of snowdrop blooms are undeniable.
Variety - gardeners and plant collectors love and thrive on plants that has several species and (almost) countless amounts of variety. The more the better. Will it incite as much excitement as this phenomenon has exhibited if there are only a few to choose from? I doubt it.
Timing - most Galanthus bloom, look good, and be at their best at a time of the year when very little else does. A plant with a very good timing and near monopoly in the beauty stakes of the period. If Galanthus bloomed in the summer (in that case the common name would probably be Snowdrops in the Summer, Little White Bells, etc) would they cause as much excitement? Again I doubt it, they would have far too much competition.
Gardener's Coping Mechanism - a lot of gardeners and plant lovers need something plant related to keep them pre-occupied during a quiet and dreary period of the year. So there are the snowdrops, a plant that can be obsessed upon when very little else is looking good outside. And for those who are captivated by this bulb's beauty, they can find themselves immersed in a flurry of snowdrop activities and excitement that by the time the events are over, lo and behold, winter is over and spring has arrived. Pre-occupation with snowdrops has helped them get through the rest of the winter.

So am I a galanthophile? No, not at all. I love seeing them en masse in a woodland setting but apart from that it doesn't rock my boat looking into them in detail. But I do appreciate them and understand why the phenomenon exists.

Feeling sad, bored, down at this period? A gardener and a plant lover and not much happening out there in the plant scene? Long nights and lack of activity getting you down? Who wants to remain feeling this way, virtually none. Everyone has their own set of coping mechanisms for this period, or at least evolved to have them.

Funny enough, when I used to live in the tropics my favourite months were January and February, when heavy rains are less of an occurrence and temperatures, although still warm are just a touch lower that it just feels right, comfortable. Unlike when summer arrives and the heat can get unbearable (quick, air-conditioning!). And now, living in the UK my favouritism has reversed.

Boracay Beach - The Philippines
The tropics, where it's sunny and warm most of the time. But what about the unique beauty of spring?
Although not a favourite, I don't dislike these two months, I've learned to live with and cope with it. Embrace it even. Sometimes all you need is some forward planning.

We probably plan for these two months as much as we plan our summer. And even more so than Christmas (hence we always go on a last minute dash around the shops a few days before!). In the warmer months there's always something to do, in the garden and elsewhere. But in the winter it can get tricky and if you're not careful you can easily find yourself not having anything to do but be alone with your thoughts, staring out through the window looking at dreary skies and seemingly lifeless landscape: the perfect recipe for a bad mood.

Oh dear...
So before that happens, never let it happen by planning for it. Easier said than done of course, you just don't know how low ones mood can go but most of the time you're in charge of yourself and only you can help yourself. Get the gardening books ready, line them up for a marathon read. Plan for the summer. Watch lots of films. Get into an alternate hobby apart from gardening. Rediscover some of the things you enjoyed before the gardening bug bit you, as long as they are not season dependent too. And if possible, try to get away even for a short period, getting some sun and warmth to break the long and dark rigours of winter.

And occasionally, learn to enjoy the aspect of reduced activity of this period, go with the flow and just rest and relax.  You might even be thankful for this period when the activity of the warmer months gets a bit much.

So far we've been very good at planning for the 'winter black hole' period of 2013. So much so that we practically almost wiped out all of our free time in February (but that's a good thing) that we have to ease off plans in January in anticipation of this busy month. But January won't be idle either, far from it.

Madeira
Hence why most of our getaways are in the winter
I used to get anxious when these two months are about to arrive, not anymore. Perhaps in the future we may eventually get tired of this four season thing and move somewhere constantly warm and sunny (or at least warmer and sunnier than where we are now). But for now, whilst we live where we live, we've learned to embrace it. Life is too short to leave blank spaces on your enjoyment calendar even if those periods are less than ideal.

So keep smiling and be creative. Stay above the winter black hole as much as you can and don't let yourself get sucked into the void. Remember, most of the time, you're in control.

Mark :-)

32 comments :

  1. Fortunately, our winter days have been bright and sunny (albeit a bit nippy). I can still go outside and putter around.

    It's when there's a heavy overcast and the light is dim all day that I get depressed. But these days never last long around here. And the first signs of spring will be visible at the end of the January, so only four more weeks to go...

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    1. Only four more weeks, so lucky! Winter drags on a bit longer here, wish it didn't but hey ho...

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  2. Well we have 3 bad months, Dec, Jan & Feb, but close enough. I enjoy that first snow and that's all I want. :) I am always anxious for an early March to start doing some of the outside chores and await April for things to start growing. Ii can't believe you have such early an Spring compared to us. But I'll just drop by here and read about yours.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. Hi Cher, spring is pretty much around the same time here as where you are. It's just by March daylight is very noticeably longer and on some years feels very spring like already. If not at least you know spring won't be long now. :)

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  3. You cracked me up with talk of staring out the window and a bad mood then followed by the photo of Twinkles (I think). Too funny!

    I've gone ahead and registered for 3 different garden-related activities in February, planned a few for January, and bought two more gardening books. Busy busy busy...that's the plan. Sounds like it's yours too.

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    1. Busy busy keeps the blues away :) Yes, that is Twinkles! That photo was a chance find whilst looking for a snowy shot, I thought it was appropriate for that section (and light hearted too!).

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  4. Loree has it down, don't you think? Of course in the best of all worlds, we would just decamp to the tropics, bailing out of the black hole and all getting together for drinks and plant talk on the veranda.

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    1. Indeed Ricki! And how I wish that was the case, if only it was that easy it would be fun!

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  5. Urgh my husband and I go through the most obnoxious winter "busy" season...Halloween, his birthday, thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, my birthday, new years and our anniversary all in the space between 10/31 and today. Nothing else happens the entire rest of the year. ::sigh::

    Sometimes I really hate the winter but then I realize it's a blessing in disguise. Every time I visit a tropical climate in the winter everyones gardens look tired and unkempt, probably because they're just tired of gardening. At least here we have a forced break from gardening which allows us to be excited about it all over again. I think having a spring time where EVERYTHING is fresh and new again is also really helpful, I imagine living in a climate where everything is growing all the time there really wouldn't be any one single time where everything is fresh and new.

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    1. Hi Tom, funny how it worked out that all of your major events happens on the last quarter of the year, a whirlwind of activities I can imagine.

      Winter has its ups and downs, and I agree with your observation of living in the tropics, with everything growing all the time in a constant rate, you don't get to appreciate the surge of new growth in the spring. Cycles makes the hear grow fonder :)

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  6. I agree with you - really gardening blackhole though honestly, pretty soon, I will start the seed-planting for all my flowers/vegetables gardening, but still hardly anything garden-related to do.

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    1. Sorting out seeds will nicely preoccupy you for at least a few days during the winter, and it's quite exciting once you see them sprouting :)

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  7. Rain , rain, and now frost. I just stay inside except for the 2 hours per day on the weekends that I can work outside without my nose running.Inside it's cozy in the lamplight, the cats purr and knead, classic jazz is the music of choice. Every season has it's attributes.

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    1. That sounds like an indoor bliss ks :)

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  8. I normally find January particularly depressing, but with Harvey the pup to entertain me this year I think I'll avoid the black hole. Plus there's lots of planning to do for new borders in the Spring, so it's an exciting time for me!

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    1. Your new pet Harvey should very nicely preoccupy you indeed, he's adorable!

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  9. You forgot Burns Night.
    I dont mind Jan and February too much as they are heading to Spring. I prefer them to November and December when days are getting shorter.

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    1. Ah yes, Burns Night, 25th of January....good for Scotland :)

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  10. Oh, I am in the middle of that black hole! For the last two years, we have had milder than usual winters, but this year, we've had consistently freezing nights and cool, cloudy days. I am longing for some sun! And the garden is different, too. I still have some blooms, but so much more is dormant than in the last two years. Throw in all the holidays when it's too busy to garden at all, even if the weather would cooperate, and yes, it seems a bit like a black hole. Oh, hurry spring!

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    1. It does feel like it just goes on forever when a cold spell stretches on. Spring will be sweeter for you (and all) when it finally arrives :) Can't wait too!

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  11. Very different here, where it's two months of frantic activity to get the old foliage cleared out and the roses cut back and every bit of bare soil remulched while it is cool enough to be out there all day.

    Which reminds me, I need to get out there right now.

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    1. Ah yes of course, can imagine now is comfortable time to prepare the garden for the even more warmer months. Although at the moment it's mild here, almost springlike. Hope this carries on for the rest of winter!

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  12. Do I think that Christmas Day would be better if it were on January 25th - no,no,no !!! For a start it would only be two days away from my birthday if it was. It's bad enough having a birthday in January but at least it's far away enough removed from Christmas to have two distinct celebrations. The nights are pulling out in January and there are definite signs of new growth even in a harsh winter. Also I have to confess to being a galanthophile in the making,that is if I ever win the lottery. Love 'Anna's Red' which I'm hoping to track down this year.

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    1. Ohhh, very advanced Happy Birthday Anna! Yes, your special day is far enough from Christmas that they won't have to be lumped together as just one celebration. For you then I'd vote keep it in December :) good luck with Anna's Red, reserve or buy one as soon as you can as last February it quickly sold out.

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  13. I once went to Sri Lanka in February for three weeks - it was glorious getting away from what is meant to be the shortest month but somehow (to me) feel the longest. Stunning hellebore, Boys. Happy New Year. Dave

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    1. Sri Lanka, wow! Seems you chose a perfect time to go there too :)

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  14. Black hole! I am glad to get all that humbug behind me -- joking --- I think. Well anyway I spend the doom and gloom of January by usually screwing up my website or the computer in general. Come February even up here some hints of Spring bring me back to life. Happy New Year.

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    1. And to you too Alistair :) screwing up your computer and website or not, at least they are still activities that have kept you preoccupied for awhile!

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  15. To be honest, I like winter better than summer, which is my least favorite season. Spring is best. But though winter is dark, it is not particularly cold. The hellebores & Mahonia are budding even now! There are at least 2 outstanding gardens in each of our regional cities of Portland, Seattle & Vancouver. You should come to this part of the world. There are direct, non-stop, overnight flights from London to Seattle. I'll take you on a garden tour.

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    1. Hi Jordan, if summer temperatures gets too hot then it's no good either. We would love to visit your area of of the world, so many beautiful gardens and places to see. It's definitely on the cards, hopefully very soon. Thank you for the offer, would love to and we'll be in touch once we have definite plans :)

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  16. I like your description, 'Black Hole' is perfect. Funnily enough I have found this time of year much easier to deal with since I became a fanatical, rather than casual, gardener. Such a good time of year to do structural jobs and move evergreens, if you can get outside, and then all that lovely planning and seed ordering. I am currently awash with magazine images, plant catalogues, notes from blog posts and website articles, it almost feels as if there is not enough time before the new growing season starts to get organised, and then their is my new fascination with plants that have good winter interest... I somehow wouldn't miss this period of the year for anything, even a trip to the tropics, as I am not sure I would get borders planned or seeds ordered without the extra time to drift and dream and wait for Spring.

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    1. How true Janet, we're finding it too that even at this time of the year it can be a flurry of activities of pretty much the same as what you have just mentioned. And sometimes you may find indeed that there's not enough time before the growing season starts. It may be cold and gloomy on those two months but it definitely has it's own beauty :)

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