Measures of Time in the Garden

Gardeners worry about daffodil leaves emerging this early, but it’s almost never a problem.

Ways we gardeners can determine the time and the seasons…

Our plants are our prime means of determining the seasons. You can look out a window and get a pretty good idea of the time of year just by observing the plants. First jonquils of spring (leaves beginning to emerge already). Aroma of violets. The heat-proof beauty of daylilies and crape myrtles. Spider lilies, mums and other fall color. Berries of the wintertime. They’re all benchmark measures of the seasons.

Continued Below

Goldfinches from the North flock to an old feeder filled with black oil sunflower seed in the Sperry landscape in winter.

Changing of the birds at our feeders and in our landscapes and the nesting of birds in our shrubs and trees are guidelines of the season. The migration of birds will identify the season. Goldfinches and others head south in the winter. By early spring, they’re heading back north. Serious birders know the calls of hundreds of bird species. If you’re unsure, download the incredible and free Merlin app. It will identify them for you.

Continued Below

Daylight into the evenings. Daylight when you get up in the morning. Longer days will tell us the growing season is nearing. Many folks who have lived in the tropics tell you that the lack of seasonality, including the sameness of the lengths of the days, can become monotonous. We here in Texas have just about the right blend.

The purity of sunlight in winter is notable.

Color of the daylight. There is a purity of sunlight in the wintertime. Photographers and other artists will tell you that winter light tends toward rich yellows and oranges. Summer light, filtered by shade and bounced from wispy summer clouds and hazy blue skies, takes on more of a cool bluish-green color. (Such a shame that it doesn’t translate into cooler temperatures in summer.)

I love looking out from our sunroom across the creek to the hillside to the north. It’s shaded all summer, but in winter and early spring the trees become sundials of sorts.

Shadow direction and length. One of my favorite sights in our rural landscape is across our creek and onto the adjoining hillside. Magnificent old pecans dot the natural landscape. Early each sunny winter and early spring morning those old trees’ trunks act as giant wooden gnomons casting their long shadows across the slope.

I’ve been fascinated by sundials all of my life. There are so many types and so many historic ones.

Sundials. To this point, most of our references to time in the garden have been esoteric. This one is graphic. It’s our oldest man-made means of telling the time, but it has become a form of garden art. Sundials come in all manners and modes, from horizontal flat dials to handsome round armillary pieces, even vertical dials that hang from south-facing walls. One Texas landscape architect friend has built sundials in parks where you become the gnomon. You stand on a specific rock, only to notice that your shadow is telling the time.

Posted by Neil Sperry
Back To Top