Green Hands — "Green Hands"
Green Hands
The Column Archive
2000 columns

2001 columns
2002 columns
2003 columns
2004 columns
2005 columns:
2006 columns
2007 columns
What's New
CHC Home
Keeping Time in the Garden

The cycles of the growing season correspond roughly to the calendar, but the garden perceives time more sensitively. Our simple counting of hours and days usually serves us well — for example in the garden calendar put out by the UMass Extension Service each year, loaded with "timely tips." (They're $11, call (413) 545-0895 or visit

However trees turn color in fall when temperatures are just right — no matter if the leaf-peeper tours were all scheduled for the second weekend in October. Jack Frost comes on warm, sunny days with cool but not freezing nights. This year looks to be the sixth in a row we've lacked our historically good combination.

The garden's tempo depends on more than time of year. Mainstream scientists understand some of the cyclic mechanisms by which plants (and other garden denizens) regulate their cycles — temperature, light wavelengths and day length, gravity, chemical signals from the atmosphere and from other plants, magnetic fields (especially the Earth's, which may be in the process of reversing poles).

Some chronobiologists have begun to study the effects of the moon on plants, mainly in Europe and Russia. Will science corroborate folklore's associating the moon with moisture? Thus the waxing moon is considered fertile and wet — time to plant aboveground crops, lay sod, graft trees, and transplant. Under a waning moon, you weed, prune, mow, cut timber, and plant root crops.

Short of understanding all the factors, we can still observe correlations. Phenology — the study of the relation between climate and periodic biological phenomena — emphasizes such record-keeping, resulting in guidance like "plant perennials when maples begin to unfurl their leaves" and "Plant hardy annuals (like pansies and snapdragons) after aspen and chokecherry trees have leafed out."

Ancient Greek philosophers used two different words for time. "Chronos" is clock time, measured and scheduled. "Chairos" refers to appropriateness, to the timeless feel of special events that "take their own time" and there's nothing you can do to hurry them; to the rightness when things happen "at the right time."

Samhain (pronounced sah-win)— the ancient Celtic origin of Hallowe'en — is the celebration of the last harvest: a special time between the end of the old year and the beginning of the new, between the worlds of the living and the dead, the world of science and the world of myth. A pause, when instead of moving through time, we let it flow through us.

© Copyright 2005 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 28 October 2005

Next story (by date)

For more information
  • UMass Extension's 2006 Garden Calendar
  • Garden Calendar
  • Experts: New England's Fall Colors Could Vanish in 100 Years Due to Unchecked Global Warming - from PRNewswire. This story talks about "the fifth disappointing New England fall color display in as many years draws). At the head, it bears the date "October 28" but no year. However if you look at the page source, "doc_issue_date" is identified as "2004-10-28_10:30:00 MST".
  • Old Farmer's Almanac - briefly mentions moon garden lore, posts the current phase of the moon.
  • Gardening and Planting by the Moon - A big site, with lots of info — including ...
    • The Evidence - Studies of the moon's influence on plants, some published in scientific journals
  • Wholistic Educators / Magnets for Health - "Seeds show tremendous acceleration in growth when exposed to magnetism. This same earth's magnetism activates an enzyme system in fruits and vegetables to cause normal ripening and/or fermentation. When the field of a magnet passes through a tomato, apple, or peach, it triggers a loss or gain of protons which speeds up the enzyme system and causes ripening."
  • Phenology - planting by nature signs. Some of these tips, however, look more like foklore to me.