Embracing your garden throughout all four seasons

Dan Pearson discusses the importance of seasonality and why it’s critical that we embrace it when gardening.

Is it really possible to garden year-round? Yes, even in the depths of a gloomy winter. Through years of experimentation, Dan Pearson has mastered the art of embracing all four seasons, from the beautiful skeletons of the winter garden to the heady scent of summer in bloom.

Embracing Seasonality

Seasonality is all about keying into the ever-shifting rhythm of the garden. Even in winter, when the flowers of high summer are a distant memory and the rain is here to stay there is plenty happening both over and underground.

‘In Japan, they have 72 micro-seasons in the classical Japanese calendar, each lasting around 5 days,’ Dan Pearson explains. ‘If you look, if you’re gardening somewhere on a daily basis, you can actually see the changes happen during each micro-season. When an apple tree comes into bloom, for instance, you’ve got those very distinct windows where the buds will swell, then the first ones will pop, and before long, you’ll find the whole tree is in blossom.’

‘In Britain, we are lucky enough to have a very benign climate resulting in winter months where there’s always something happening. When the land slows in autumn, with the harvest in and the hedgerows full with berry, a wonderful change of pace happens, giving you time to take stock and look around,’ he says. ‘For me, winter provides a welcome respite from the frenzy that summer brings with it.’

‘For me, winter provides a welcome respite from the frenzy that summer brings with it.’

There’s a simple joy in engaging with your land wholeheartedly. Come spring, before the growing season really takes off, the white blanket of snowdrops fade, giving way neatly to the first of the primroses and daffodils. Only this immersion into the continuous change of the seasons allows you to fully appreciate the beauty of seasonality.

With the growing changes to our climate, especially the intense heat of this summer, adapting traditional gardening practises is something that Dan is urging us all to embrace. ‘We need to recognise what is happening to our climate and understand that summer is becoming increasingly one of the most challenging seasons. Winter is also problematic due to its recent wetness but we’ve seen this tremendous change with the summer seasons. Even with conscious watering, we’ve seen flowers still failing due to extremities of heat.

‘We must prepare to adapt to a warmer climate as temperatures continue to rise, and treat each season and year as a separate entity. One of the most positive things we can achieve as gardeners is to embrace seasonality and accept the shifting seasons and the blossoming or bareness it brings,’ he says.

‘It’s about understanding how to embrace the quieter periods and pauses of the seasons and enjoying the bared-back pristineness of winter,’

Dan suggests planting a combination of structural shrubs, such as tropical willows, which will come into catkin very early on in the season and provide an early interest. Leaving the garden to stand in the winter and not cutting anything structural back too early until February will maintain hibernacula for insects and provide an uninterrupted pathway for animals through the land. Dan recounts that at Hillside, his garden in Somerset, they have worked hard to relax the land, creating a nurturing, rather than dominating, part of the landscape. Dan’s efforts at Hillside have resulted in a garden malleable to the changing seasons, achieving a balance and biodiversity that led to the garden becoming self-sustaining and healthier.

By learning to love the various seasonal syntheses of your garden, you will begin to understand and form your own horticultural rhythms. ‘It’s about understanding how to embrace the quieter periods and pauses of the seasons and enjoying the bared-back pristineness of winter,’ says Dan.

For further advice on seasonality and naturalistic garden design, take a look at Dan Pearson’s online gardening course below.

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