Springing to Life*

Spring is generally associated with new life, with flowers and fresh food, the end of the winter hibernation. My hero from the 18th century, Dr Samuel Johnson, defined spring as “the season in which plants rise and revegetate; the vernal season”.

So it makes sense that in many countries – e.g. Afghanistan, China, Iran, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Persia, Singapore and Vietnam – the start of spring is also the start of the New Year.

In China and neighbouring countries, spring and the (Lunar) New Year begin between 21 January and 20 February (i.e. would be 21 July and 20 August in the Southern Hemisphere), depending on the phase of the moon. The date is fixed to the second new moon after the winter solstice – the shortest day of the year – or occasionally the third in years with an extra ‘leap’ month.

In Vietnam the whole of January (our July) used to be celebrated as the start of the New Year but nowadays firecrackers are generally restricted to Lunar New Year’s Eve determined in the same way as China.

As I never tire of pointing out, late July and August is when we get a flush of flowering around Sydney, both in our gardens and in the bush. Wattles, in particular, peak in August across much of Australia. As we’ve discussed before, my view is that spring (or 'sprinter') starts tomorrow, the 1st of August. Shifting spring to the first of August would be the first step towards making our seasons fit the local environment and not Europe.

Although even in Europe there are different interpretations of spring.. In Europe the festivities seem to be more associated with the Vernal Equinox, in the middle of March (our September). All the same, the British don’t seem to be able to agree on when their seasons start. The Oxford English Dictionary bravely defines spring in Great Britain as reckoned astronomically from the equinox to the solstice, but more popularly February to April or (as it says ‘according to some’) March to May.

This would mean for Australia spring starting in 1 August, 1 September or 21/22 September. Not a lot of guidance there but it does include my preferred date of 1 August!

Historically the middle of March (our September) seems more popular. The Romans began their year in spring, using the Ides of March (15 March; our 15 September) as the starting point. Similarly in early Persia, spring and the New Year begin at the Vernal Equinox in mid-March (our mid September).

In North India, it’s a little in between with the end of the winter season celebrated on the last full moon of the lunar month Phlaguna (which can be in February and March; here August and September). The kite-flying festivities in Pakistan, said to celebrate the start of spring, occur during the Hindu season of Vasanta, one of six recognised in Pakistan and India, and running from mid-March (SH September) to mid-May (SH November).

So there is no one standard set of seasons, no one standard start and finish even for the four ‘traditional’ seasons we use in Australia. For me, and I think the Sydney environment, spring (or sprinter) begins tomorrow, on the 1st of August. I just hope it’s a warm and spring-like day so you can visit the daffodil display in our ‘Spring Meadow Magic’ at Mount Tomah Botanic Garden which should be starting about now.

Image: Tulips, now in flower in the Spring (or ‘Sprinter’) Walk in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Photo Simone Cottrell.

*This Passion for Plants posting will also appear on the ABC Sydney website (under 'Weekends' or search 'gardening'), and is the gist of my 702AM radio interview with Simon Marnie on Saturday morning, between 9-10 am.


Jim said…
Oh no... Here we go again... Is that time of year already? Once more unto the seasonal season wars...
Right thinking scientificly adept people realize that there are only two seasons, the hotlight and the colddark centered around their respective solstices. All else is cognitive artifact of lesser human brains perceiving pattern in the continuum of transition where there is none...:)
Tim Entwisle said…
It being cold and slightly wet in Sydney today hasn't dampened my enthusiasm. The tulips in the botanic gardens and my waxflower at home remind me it's sprinter time here on the coast. I expect the higher intellects you speak off would be able to distinguish between plants, animals and maybe rocks. Give them a few hundred years and they'll realise there is a whole world of biodiversity out there to perceive and plot. They have a lot to look forward to!
Andra said…
In my country spring starts in march.For me is strange to find out that in Australia spring starts on the first of august.
Tim Entwisle said…
Having recently moved to London I am looking forward to spring in March - particularly as we now start the long, dark winter...
Hill said…
You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be actually something that I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!