Transition Time

Latent Potential

This time of year is always hard for me as a gardener. Things are dormant now and it’s a bit too early for most of them to be putting out new energy. It’s a time of resting and preparation and a time to be aware of both the endurance and the impermanence of the garden. It’s a time for reflection on what has been, what is, and what will be in time.

When I walk thru the garden now I see mostly the evergreens that stay with us all year round, sometimes in their winter colors and some their usual greens of varying hues. What I also notice are all the bare stems and especially the places where there is nothing growing at all. It’s those places that intrigue me right now in this interim time. I can remember so well what the plants looked like and in some cases I purposefully don’t clean up the dead fern fronds or the last of the poppies for awhile so I can recall them in their glory. It reminds me that they were there and they will come back. There’s something about a blank spot in the garden that bothers me. I feel like the plants are missing and it feels like loss to me.

Loss is  a big part of gardening. You have to deal with it every year when the “season of falling off and dying” passes us in the fall and we come to the winter of bleak prospects. There really isn’t a lot going on now tho there is still plenty to see, as I talked about in my last post. But loss is the big theme for me right now. I think it happens to me every time this time of year. It just goes with the season. And it’s not a bad thing either. It’s just what it is in the cycle of life. But it’s something you can feel full force in the garden. Things are just gone and we don’t know for sure they’re coming back again. We have to hope they will.

I have a lot of evergreens of all sorts, and they comprise the majority of plants in the garden. I imagine it’s true for most people. They’re the ones who hold the place together and provide us with a sense that the garden endures and that things will be once again as they were in the past. They allow us to keep going on and not feel the loss of the others so much. But it’s still there. Even the evergreens lose some leaves now in the winter.

The deciduous trees and shrubs are special to me in a different way. They give me 4 seasons of beauty and this is the most subtle time to comprehend them. The time when there’s nothing there but stems and buds and the leaves are long gone and on the ground decaying into compost for next year’s growth. They show themselves fully to us at this time of year.

I love seeing the way they are shaped right now. You can really see it in the habits of the plants that are deciduous in a way you never can see the structure of the evergreens unless you do a lot of interior pruning which I don’t really do much of. Tho I could and will do more in time as the plants grow. I like to see the shapes of things. To see their bare bone structures and how they grow into such amazingly different forms and styles. There are so many ways for a plant to manifest its being and I appreciate them all.

Of course we see this in the evergreens as well. Their shapes are more permanent in the landscape and they always look more or less the same except when they put on their bursts of growth in the spring. That’s an exciting time and it won’t be that long till it’s upon us again. But not for awhile yet. We still have a lot of winter to get thru first. All of this transition time. It’ll take awhile and we might as well enjoy it.

We’re on the cusp of the new season now. I see the buds growing on some plants and my Lenten Rose is almost in bloom now and so is the Himalayan Sweet Box and the Winter Daphne. It won’t be long till there are actual flowers in the garden again after this time of other sights to see. There’s so much more to a garden than flowers, tho I think that’s why most people garden. Of course we all love flowers.

But in Asia they have styles of gardening that emphasize the shapes of things and I’ve come to really appreciate that perspective. This is what we see now most of all. The shapes are dominant in the landscape, not the colors of the pretty flowers. This is what we see now in our own gardens.

We see the shapes of the various plants, from the strong uprights of the yews and pyramidalis cypresses to the rounded balls of the dwarf firs and cryptomerias, to the cones of the Alberta spruce and the upward sweeps of the Hinoki cypress. Also the rounded balls of the many deciduous shrubs like the creek dogwood that is upright but still round tho it’s bare as can be. And the “sticks” of so many plants that look like nothing more than stakes in the ground to some people. But to me they are potential.

That word more than any other may sum up this time of year, this transition time. It’s a time of potential, waiting in the ground to burst forth again in the spring with all its magnificence. It’s there in the plants and in the herbs in the ground. It’s in the buds of the evergreens and conifers, in the flower buds of the Pieris and the Mahonias. It’s everywhere and it’s not to be denied. It’ll take over soon and we’ll all be thru this transition time of waiting for things to happen.

So for me it’s a time to just enjoy what we have and appreciate this latent potential awaiting us soon enough. We wouldn’t really appreciate it as much if we had it all the time I suspect, but I speak as a northern gardener and it’s much different in the tropics I suspect. I can’t imagine that prospect and even here in Seattle we have a short winter by comparison with other places in the North. It’s really a brief time to appreciate all this transitioning and waiting and just being with the garden in all its phases.

This part of gardening  – to be with it all the time in every moment if we can, and just see and comprehend what we’re seeing. To listen to the birds sing and the cracking of the ice in the fountain. To Be Here Now in the moment of time right where you are and how you are and everything about the garden and its appropriateness. This is the Magic of Gardening. The garden is never out of tune with itself unless we make it so. We’re the ones who get out of tune with the garden. This is the time when we can go within and let ourselves just let go and tune into the energy of transition and marvel at it.

To latent potential,



2 responses to this post.

  1. Your piece on the garden is winter is so beautifully written. Winter is the season of transition to hibernation and death. In winter the northern winds blow, the precipitation falls, the days are short and the nights are long. I huddle by the hearth, close to home, hibernating and looking anxiously towards the east for the first signs of spring. I celebrate the sight of each tiny pussy willow bud for it heralds the spring yet to come.



    • Your generous words mean a lot to me and I thank you for them very much. I find winter to be the most mysterious season of them all. Things are hidden from us now. They’re either under a blanket of snow or simply gone from our sight. It’s a good time to huddle down and go within and see what we can find. and to look forward to the coming spring. It’ll be here before we know it. All the best to you and yours,



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