December the 21st, the shortest day of the year might not seem like much of a cause for celebration to us, but to our pre Christian ancestors it was a time to honour their gods by lighting fires, symbolic of the life giving light and heat of the soon to be returning sun.
Many of us have long since forgotten the significance of the winter solstice but to those of us tied by occupation or interest to the natural rhythms of our gardens, this is a turning point in the year from which the hours of daylight slowly begin to lengthen.
Until the 17th of January sunset will be just one minute later each day, but every little helps and to the plants and animals in our gardens the hours of daylight and darkness are critical.
Photoperiodism governs many of our plants' processes and they are categorised by how they respond to it. Long day plants flower in spring and early summer when daylight hours are getting longer whereas those which flower after the 21st of June as the days are shortening are called short day plants. Animals respond too, some migrate, others hibernate or grow denser fur or feathers.
Unlike plants and animals, our own human biology might not be noticeably affected by photoperiodism, but just like my ancestors I'll be pleased to see the back of the shortest day and look forward to the pleasures I know my garden will give me as the light levels begin to rise and one of the earliest and most beautiful flowers begins to bloom.
Hybrid hellebores are the highlight of my winter garden, unaffected by the worst winter weather their wonderful flowers have earned them the common name of Christmas rose and although they are not related to roses at all it is easy to see why.
There are amazing varieties of Helleborus x hybridus, flamboyant doubles, anemone centred, spotted, and picotee flowers to rival anything found in mid summer. Their colours range from sultry slate to gleaming white with every shade of plum and pink between, even pale yellow and apricot too.
In my garden they have self seeded around and carpet the ground under the apple trees where they illuminate the dark days of the winter solstice and like the fires of my ancestors are a sure sign of lighter and brighter days to come.
As featured in the Voice Magazines