22 Dec 2015

The Reversal of the Sun


Last night, the skies cleared and, even here in well-lit urban London, there was a glorious bright moon and lots of glimmering stars to be seen.  It was an awesome portent of the solstice to come in the early hours of this morning.

Solstice translates as 'sun standing still' but it's a misnomer because the solstice defines the moment that the earth shifts so that the North Pole starts to tilt back towards the sun and our days lengthen in the Northern Hemisphere. For our Antipodean friends, the opposite is true - sorry, guys, your days are now getting shorter.  For any gardeners not bogged down in the more commercially oriented event of Christmas, there might be a frisson of excitement at the thought of our days slowly getting longer and lighter over the next few months. But I'm warned by my diary page for today ominously declaring: 'Winter Solstice. Winter begins.' Suddenly I have visions of Narnia's winter descending across the land. But without kindly Mr Tumnus.

The solstice was officially at 4.48 this morning although there would have been very little to see as sunrise wasn't (allegedly) until 8.05 a.m.  Although at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, it's the sunset that is more important in winter. Stonehenge, with standing stones reckoned to be over 5,000 years old, is a site sacred to neo-pagans who turn up to celebrate the solstice twice a year. Scientists believe that the site was originally a burial place for over 500 years before the stones were erected.  Whatever the truth, there's a powerful atmosphere there for a fanciful child.  I vividly recall walking among, and touching, the stones as a young child; my dad liked to take us kids off to see sites of cultural or historical interest (Dover Castle, Land's End, Magna Carta, the Round Table, etc).  Maybe I was a geeky kid (no response needed, thanks) but those visits have stayed with me and the stones, especially, wow, they exerted a powerful magic over my imagination.  At the time they weren't roped off.  Anyone could park up on the road and just walk around; you can't do that these days. I don't think we gave a lot of thought to the possibility of the stones toppling, despite evidence that some of them already had.

What is remarkable is that the solstice has been marked in many different cultures for hundreds of years. The winter solstice has always been an important event in the northern world; it was a day that marked the start of winter and a time for slaughtering cattle. In that way winter feed was saved and meat added to food stores over the coldest winter months. Our ancestors traditionally lit fires, told stories and generally hunkered down in the dark days of winter, cheered up by beer and wine brewed during the year that was then ready for drinking - a tradition carried on today by those (myself included) who prepare sloe gin or other festive treats from foraged, or home-grown, fruits.

I'm hoping that the solstice isn't going to be a harbinger of imminently plummeting temperatures.  Inevitably, they can't be far off but, for now, I'm revelling in milder conditions to get jobs done in the garden, usually just managing a couple of hours before darkness falls at 4 pm. We had lukewarm sunshine and temps of 60F on Sunday; if it had been February, we'd have been welcoming in an early spring.  Today was greyer, wetter and a lot windier but, waiting for a pause between gusts of wind, I managed to photograph a few of the plants still flowering to show how mild it is.  I have snowdrops in flower next to summer's bright red geraniums and calendula next to primulas. The echinacea is, admittedly, the last one for this year.






20 comments:

  1. I always welcome the shortest day as it heralds the start of days lengthening again. I too can remember visiting Stonehenge without the ropes! We saw a huge display of daffodils in flower on our way to Bristol airport last week. I wonder what our spring is going to be like and the damage caused if we do get some cold weather!
    Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and look forward to following you into 2016 with a new growing season ahead. Sarah x

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    1. It must be true that it's warmer in the South West than here. I haven't seen any daffodils yet and my own have put up leaves but so far no flowers - which is as it should be! I'm concerned about the weather - my quince tree has new leaves and the other fruit trees aren't far behind. Fleece covering may be essential this year! Hope you had a good christmas; it's so nice to have some time off to relax! Caro x

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  2. What a lovely post Caro. Stonehenge is magical isn't it. And what a fantastic array of flowers you have. But as you say, it is only the beginning of winter in a way. Another quarter of the year to go before spring is here. Despite the daffodils I keep seeing everywhere! CJ xx

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    1. Thanks, CJ. You too with the daffodil sightings? That must be lovely, even if it's a bit soon. I'm enjoying winter so far as I've got time to plan out the garden - seed choosing will be next! Spring doesn't feel too far off for now. Caro xx

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  3. It's a lovely thought isn't it, the days are getting longer again. Even if the coldest part of winter is yet to come. My camellia is the latest to put in an appearance, at least a month early!

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    1. I noticed lots of fat buds on the camellia here, if there's going to be any cold weather, it had better come soon to put a halt to all this early blooming!

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    1. Thank you Endah - and so nice to still have a few in December which is very unusual!

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  5. A most enjoyable post and lovely pictures. Lucky you to still have pot marigolds appearing. Flighty xx

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    1. Thank you, Flighty. My marigolds are, I think, due to my habit of taking off the seedheads and sprinkling the fresh seeds liberally over any bare patches of soil throughout the year. Same with cerinthe and borage so I have those until the frosts kill them as well. Waste not, want not, eh? ;o) x

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  6. Yes in my head I was celebrating the shortest day completely forgetting it was also the start of Winter. Lovely post and have a great Christmas.

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    1. Thank you, Sue; and happy christmas to you too. Winter as we know it has yet to arrive in these parts; in fact, it looks as though I'll be bulb planting in sunshine today! A much nicer prospect than planting with numb fingers!

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  7. It always seems to be a positive turning point seasonally.

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    1. I agree, Sue - and although the day isn't marked commercially, I prefer the quiet turning of the seasons that solstice brings to the brashness of christmas. Must be getting old.

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  8. The winter solstice is always a most special day Caro. I've never seen Stonehenge and must rectify this. I've just been reading our regional long range weather forecast and am wondering if and when winter is going to happen. Season's greetings to you xxx

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    1. The trick these days with Stonehenge would be to see the stones close enough without there being hordes of people about. I recall that there was no-one but my family around when I saw them which made the experience more memorable. (We were probably there at the crack of dawn, knowing my Dad!) The weather is very strange isn't it, buds on the trees here, I shall feel very sorry for them if/when cold weather arrives! Wishing you a very happy 2016, Caro xx

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  9. What an interesting post. I did enjoy it. Here it endless rain....I'm contemplating building an arc. All the very best to you, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas.xxx

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    1. Thank you, Dina. We've had wall to wall grey skies but today there's sunshine promised - just the thought makes me want to leap out of bed and get things done! I chuckled at the thought of you building an ark - very appropriate for you and all your animals! Would they all fit, I wonder? and Pig as the dove of peace, of course! Cxx

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  10. A really interesting post. I too remember Stonehenge without the ropes and walking around the stones. With the winter solstice gone it's noticeable already that there is that little bit more light in the afternoon, despite the gloom.
    Thank you for visiting my blog and helping with the plant I.D. Apologies for late reply, Xmas break in the sun.

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  11. thank you for an interesting post! and yes, we are probably on the downhill slide here in Tasmania - we tend to get more excited about the "longer days on their way" solstice!
    I love your green nicotiana flower (is that right?) - so vivid!

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Caro x

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