the seasons down under




I've been thinking how arbitrary the traditional seasons are. It's neat, and we're used to dividing the year into four even parts of three months each. The seasons come from the solstices and the movement of the earth round the sun, but these four seasons don't necessarily correspond to what is happening on earth in any given place.

The Australian Aborigines have five or six seasons, the details of which vary according to their geographic location. As traditional hunter gatherers, their understanding of seasonal changes in the environment were vital to their survival. For example, they needed to know when berries ripen, when eels are around, and when they had to move to another place because of heat or cold. Their depiction of the seasons reflected their lived experience.


Tim Entwhistle, Director of the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne, argues for a new schema for the seasons for Australia. He sees the traditional 4 seasons as a carryover from Australia's colonial past. He proposes five seasons that reflect the actual growing times for plants, and the seasonal activities of wildlife. It applies to the southern and eastern parts of Australia, because the climate of the continent of Australia is so varied.

Summer isn't 3 months, Tim argues. It's longer, more like 4 months. Autumn and winter are shorter in reality, barely 2 months each. In Australia spring starts earlier than it's supposed to, a month earlier, and is replaced by sprinter and sprummer, 2 months each, in between winter and summer.

Sprinter is the time of renewal in the natural world, when we see lots of flowers and wattles reach their peak. The start of sprummer is cool, but it gradually warms up as summer approaches. Summer is the hot time of the year but still the flowering season for popular garden plants like crepe myrtles and camellias. Snakes, flies and mosquitoes thrive in the heat. Autumn sees lower temperatures and shorter days, with the appearance of fungi, spiders laying their eggs and deciduous trees losing their leaves. Winter isn't as cold as northern Europe or the north of North America, but it's cold, and it's when biological changes are going on inside plants that will show up later in sprinter or sprummer. Some Australian plants flower in winter: banksias, greenhood orchids, correas and others.

Weather and climate are complex, and the seasons cannot be used to predict exact environmental conditions.  But if the seasons are a better match to conditions on the ground, maybe we can use them for tracking changes in the environment as the climate changes over time.



I'm writing this towards the end of July - end of winter and beginning of sprinter. This makes sense to me. In the garden I notice lots of new growth, tiny self seeded parsley plants, lots of borage springing up but no flowers yet, a few buds here and there, my only deciduous tree (Crabapple) still without leaves but you can see tiny red spots that will grow into buds then flowers then fruit. But it is still cold and the days are still short. I had to stop gardening and come inside at 5.30 today because it was so dark I couldn't see any more.

Hellebores infested by aphids

raindrops

Euphorbia characis
Violet
What Tim is proposing is a huge cultural shift and it will be hard to achieve. But I think it's really important and useful, and I will try to think of nature in these terms. It's important because how we think influences how and what we see, and it will help us to be more observant about the seasonal changes in the growth and interactions of plants and wildlife.

PS A friend just sent me this picture from The Sunday Age, a Melbourne newspaper, published way back in 1995. It's slightly different to Tim's schema, but is the same kind of idea.


Comments

  1. Sue,
    What a wonderful and informative post. Even though our time frames are reversed (we are hot in July and you are cold) what you say makes perfect sense. We should ALL have more than 4 seasons. I do believe in Global Warming ... to a degree. I still believe our Earth has been going through what are really normal cycle changes for millions of years. Pollution and our lack of respect for our Earth has only affected the cycles more so, and not for the better.

    With our present day discoveries - new planets capable of sustaining life, we are just tiny specks in our Universe. I am getting very philosophical, aren't I? lol

    Anyway, I'm sure you know what I mean. Thanks for such a great post.
    One last thing ... what are WATTLES?

    Jane

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Janie, thanks for the philosophical comment. Wattles are the common name for Acacias.

      Delete
  2. I'm jealous, truly jealous. My winters are bitter and cold, and much too long! I love it here, otherwise. We have the true "four seasons" climate, and spring, summer, and fall are distinct and delightful. But I think I would enjoy the more subtle shifts of your Australian climate, too. Like Australia, North America has very diverse climates, too. So, when I get tired of winter, I can visit a different region. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right, Beth, the seasons here are more subtle, but I enjoy the changes. I don't think I'd like to live in places like northern Australia or Asia where the temperature doesn't vary that much. It's always hot, sometimes it's dry and sometimes it's rainy. It's interesting how gardening is so different in different places. Melbourne's climate is similar to California.

      Delete
  3. We are still deep in winter here, but there are definitely signs that sprinter is on the way. I have paper whites and violets in bloom, and lots more bulbs gradually edging above the soil. Yesterday I saw my first wattle in bloom for the season too.
    How I wish we celebrated our seasons changing at the solstice rather than the first of the month. Still arbitrary, but it makes more sense to me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Happy sprinter to you, EC. I wonder if we can change our ideas of the seasons. It's a very deep seated traditional cultural habit.

      Delete
  4. Our seasons are close to those described in Entwhistle's scheme, except flipped to reflect our position in the northern hemisphere, of course. In the US, there have been moves to push for redefinition of our US climate zones to more accurately reflect actual experience but, as that gets tied up in the politics of climate change, with the change deniers still holding more influence than they should, the zone definitions have been tweaked more than wholly revised. In the western US, we're lucky to have another entire scheme created by the Sunset organization (which publishes garden-related materials, including a western garden guide). It describes 24 western zones + 2 in Hawaii in contrast to the USDA map, which describes 13 zones for the entire country. Unlike the USDA zones, which focus exclusively on minimum temperatures, the Sunset zones attempt to reflect cold and heat extremes, plus elements such as marine influence.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Sunset organization sounds great. We need a baseline to track climate changes and the complicated effects on plants and animals. It's a pity science is so politicized.

      Delete
  5. Sue, I think Sprummer would suit me just fine. I don't care that the word Sprummer is showing a squiggly red line under it, I like it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's quite a funny word when you put it like that. Much more relaxed than sprinter.

      Delete
  6. I'm with Alistair. Sprummer sounds like a WONDERFUL season. Would like more of it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If we could put in an order, I'd join you with that ...

      Delete
  7. Sprinter would nicely fit recent conversations wailing about our winter rain and we don't WANT spring flowers yet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's interesting how it does fit our different realities and makes sense.

      Delete
  8. Our seasons are much like Beth's, but her winter is a little bit longer and colder (she lives about a three or four hour drive from me). Our sprinter would run from about April 1st to May 15th, when the soil is usually warm enough for planting tender seedlings.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for this, Jason. It shows how we all live in different climates, even 3 or 4 car drive hours away, so definitely no one size fits all.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular Posts