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Gardens For Humanity: The gardener’s calendar

(Gardens for Humanity/Courtesy)

(Gardens for Humanity/Courtesy)

A gardener’s sense of time is governed by the seasons, and by the life cycles of plants and other garden residents. There is a rhythm to life that a gardener experiences that is a contrast to the strict lock step of days, weeks, and months.

Rather, it is a flow of time marked by the changes in the habits of birds, animals, plants and insects. These changes also influence our behavior.

Since traditionally our ability to survive depended upon our ability to produce what we needed, and upon the bounty of nature, many holidays in many cultures have their roots in the agrarian experience. Thanksgiving is the culmination of our most prolific growing season.

In spite of drought and extreme weather events in Verde Valley gardens, many saw abundant harvests of apples, nuts, squashes, tomatoes, corn, beans, melons, and other warm weather crops.

Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude, and it is also a threshold to winter, to a different mindset, and to different activities in the garden. We become sensitive to the movement of the sun, of darker, colder days, of hues more subdued. For some, winter is a bleak and colorless time, but it can also be an opportunity to plan, reconnect, and renew.

For gardeners, winter ushers in an introspective time in contrast to the exuberance of spring and summer labors. We become like roots, sheltered in that cozy space under the earth. Our garden tasks focus on soil, the wealth built from the dead leaves of last season. Castoff remains of exhausted plants provide a soft protective quilt for our invisible underground helpers. This turning inward is not idleness, but a time of restoring and preparing for the next season.

In a way, we are like our fruit trees – even in a dormant time, very much alive. If we have a dry winter we need to occasionally water them to provide their roots warmth and access to nutrients. A damp soil during the winter months is essential for the chemistry that warms and nourishes life in the soil. As we care for our fruit trees we can prune away branches that impede their growth, form, and health.

During winter we nurture life that will awaken in the spring. Some bulbs provide a feast of early garden color – crocus, daffodils, tulips, and iris – while others provide a feast on our plates – garlic, onions, carrots, radishes, and beets. It is also a good time to introduce or transplant perennials, giving them time to get a bit established before the demanding stress of sudden growth as the sun moves northward.

Frost hardy leafy plants sown late summer or early fall, and perennial herbs contribute color and variety to our gardens and tables throughout winter months. Rosemary, a hardy perennial shrub common in our region, provides fragrance and flavor, and its light blue flowers provide winter pollen and nectar for honeybees.

The rhythm of life that a gardener observes provides a calendar in tune with natural events. The gardener’s calendar is foremost a response to the rhythms, demands, and gifts of nature, and to the biological calendars of plants.

Learn more about how we can work with the seasons by visiting where you can download a yearly planting guide.

Richard Sidy is president of Gardens for Humanity, a founding member of the Sustainability Alliance and a member of the Verde Valley Food Policy Council. To reach him, email

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