February 2nd, 2010
Setsubun, Halfway Through the Season

Lupinus texensis
2010-02-02. Bluebonnet seedlings. Given all the rain in central Texas since September, the bluebonnet plants are large and plentiful.

Dateline: February 2, 2008

Anemone coronaria
The Anemone coronaria has sprouted adding to my anticipation of spring. This is the first year I’ve grown them.

In the days when people spent more time observing nature than television, this week marks a significant moment in the year, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Many cultures celebrate this turning point in winter as the beginning of the new year, the beginning of spring, even though for many the worst of winter is yet to come. For Christians, the end of the Christmas Season and the liturgical year is celebrated at Candlemas. Americans try to forecast the weather on Groundhog Day. The Chinese New Year (based on a combination of solar and lunar calendars) begins. And the Japanese celebrate setsubun, literally halving the season, driving evil spirits from their house while inviting good ones to stay on the eve of spring.

Anticipation of spring is running high here at Zanthan Gardens. The Spanish bluebells, Hyacinthoides hispanica, are nosing up. Spanish bluebells
I planted them to remind AJM of home. Traditionally the English have used Spanish bluebells in their gardens because they are larger than the native English bluebells of the woods. However, recent worries about non-native plants have created controversy over Spanish bluebells. I’m surprised they do so well in Texas. They’ve come back every year neither increasing much nor diminishing.

I was very excited to step out into the garden after a few cold wintry days and see the Tulipa clusiana. I was afraid that with all of the rain last summer that these species tulips had finally rotted away.Tulipa clusiana
Tulipa clusiana likes hot baking summers and doesn’t require any chilling period to bloom. As such, it is the ideal tulip for Austin, where most tulips are difficult to naturalize.

I worried that last summer’s rain might have also done in the delicate triandrus daffodil “Hawera”. This is one of the few daffodils I’ve grown which has come back reliably over many many years and flowers without any chilling.
Narcissus triandrus Hawera

Like Yolanda Elizabet at Bliss, I’m excited to see the summer snowflakes coming up. Unlike many bulbs, they don’t mind Austin’s clay soil.
Leucojum aestivum

The overwintering annuals have put on lots of growth–or at least the ones that I managed to thin and replant during December have. Batchelor buttons

This is the second year I’ve grown bachelor buttons, Centaurea cyanus. In fact, these plants are from the seeds I had leftover from last year’s seed packet. I’m so pleased with their perfomance (and how easy they are to grow) that they have one a place in my permanent repertoire. Behind the bachelor buttons in this photo are the baby blue eyes, Nemophila insignis, which desperately need to be thinned.

This weekend promises to be beautiful, sunny and in the 70s. I have loads of pruning, weeding, and transplanting to do (and watering because it’s been so dry). What joy it will be to be out in the garden, though, checking over all the plants just waiting to burst forth in bloom.

Update: February 2, 2010

In some ways, Spring 2010 couldn’t be more different than Spring 2008. Then we were at the beginning of the drought and now we’ve had 5 months of cool, rainy weather and a killer freeze. All the overwintering annuals are large and plentiful and trying to bloom well ahead of schedule. Because this winter has been cloudier and cooler, this copious tender growth keeps getting nipped back by weekly freezes.

The Anemone coronaria did not survive the drought. Nor did my narcissus. But the Tulipa clusiana, Spanish bluebells, and Leucojum aestivum carry on rain or shine.

Consoloda ambigua
2010-02-02. Larkspur buds. The larkspur, which are usually in full bloom in April, keep sending up flower stalks that are cut down with each freeze.

While the rainy weather has allowed the self-sown annuals (including weeds) to proliferate, it has kept me from most of my gardening chores. I haven’t even sown many new packets of seeds such as the bachelor buttons yet. I have a short window of opportunity in which to sow seeds around Christmas after the leaves fall. If the weather is not encouraging or I’m too busy with the holidays, then I miss my chance before the heat sets in. Not that I won’t try anyway. This year might be a long cold spring letting us have flowers into May. Well, we can dream.

by M Sinclair Stevens

16 Responses to post “Setsubun, Halfway Through the Season”

  1. From Carol:

    I can feel the joy you take from your garden in this post. 70’s and sunny sounds perfect. Here, I’ll settle for “above freezing”, which is what it should get to later this afternoon.

    Enjoy your weekend in your garden!
    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

    Yes, I can barely contain myself. My mood is certainly affected by the weather. I love growing bulbs because it’s so exciting to see them come back each year–providing one is able to find the right kind of bulbs for one’s climate, which is a bit tricky down south. — mss

  2. From Mr. McGregor's Daughter (Chicagoland):

    There’s always such anticipation when the bulbs start sending up shoots. I never realized that February 2 is the halfway point of meterological Winter.

    More or less. Getting the lunar and solar calendars to sync up is always a challenge. — mss

  3. From entangled (virginia):

    MSS, you lived in Japan for a while, correct? Do people there really observe the 24 solar terms (Risshun, Usui, etc.)? I have a book of Japanese seasonal crafts that mentions these 2-week seasons, and I’ve read quite a bit about them online, but always wondered how relevant they are to modern life in Japan.

    Yes, I did. The 24 periods are called sekki and this is one of the best explanations of the Japanese calendar that I’ve found in English. The terms are very poetic, I think. Although the Japanese use the Western calendar in everyday life, many festivals and symbols relating to the old calendar are still observed. The spring and autumn equinox are national holidays. The foods one eats, the pattern and color of dishes on which they are served, the colors and designs of kimono, the type of decorations and scroll hanging in the tokonoma are all very related to the season. I don’t know how the current crop of young Japanese feel about these things. My guess is that despite their modern trappings, they have been well-trained to feel the same nostalgic seasonal associations as their elders. (I just typed setsubun on Flickr and got 1706 hits. More if I do it in Japanese. Ooh. Now I feel nostalgic. — mss

  4. From Kathryn Hall, CA:

    Hi! Thank you for visiting plantwhateverbringsyoujoy.com.
    Yes, we were thinking very much alike today! Not a great surprise, but a pleasant discovery! Thanks for letting me know!


    I was glad to learn about St. Brigid’s day from your post. And the term “cross-quarter” day. The more we study different cultures and traditions, the more we learn how similar we all are. — mss

  5. From Pam/Digging (Austin):

    You seem to have as many snowflakes coming up as you do oxblood lilies in the fall. Well, maybe not that many—but a lot. I only planted a dozen or so, but I’m excited to see them coming up.

    No, not even close. I only have three small clumps. They do not multiply very rapidly (perhaps that’s my fault in not dividing them more often); however, they are very persistent. — mss

  6. From Aiyana (Arizona):

    I hope you post photos when all your bulbs and flowers bloom. My wildflowers started off with a bang, but they are a lot smaller than last year at this time. I’m a bit worried it will get hot too fast and burn them off, if they don’t reach the flowering stage soon. We had a profusion of Desert Bluebells in bloom at this time last year.

    Oh, I will. If you follow the links, you’ll see some of the photos from previous years. I think it got to the 80s this weekend. I’m more worried about how dry it is rather than how hot it is though. I hate to be out watering in February but that’s what I’ve been spending a lot of time doing. — mss

  7. From Steve Mudge (Fort Worth):

    Its 68 degrees at 6:00am in Fort Worth! We were out working in the yard all weekend, really perfect weather. But need to remember something a Texan told me when I first moved here–there’s usually four big cold fronts in the winter and the last one hits around April 1st, so be careful about putting out spring plants too soon. That said, I went ahead and planted the tomato and pepper seeds with the nice weather to get them up and growing–if the weather goes below freezing, like its supposed to do tomorrow morning, I’ll just bring them inside.

    Wow! That’s almost summer hot. You’ve said exactly what I was going to say in answer to Aiyana’s comment above. It can be 80 in January but we will be sure to get a few nasty cold fronts yet, usually with snow or ice. I don’t put my tender plants out until mid-March. The plants that are coming up now (except for the anemones which I’ve never grown before) are all survivors of many years. — mss

  8. From Colleen:

    Thank you for giving this time of year a bit of perspective—I just usually consider this the “February doldrums,” when I still have several weeks to wait before getting out to the garden. I like the tradition of setsubun much better!

    In Austin, we often get a big winter storm about this time of year. In 2008, we’re in the 80s. We never know what to expect, weather-wise, down here. — mss

  9. From Annie in Austin:

    My anemones are coming up, too – but no Spanish bluebells, darn it. Used to have them like weeds in IL but didn’t even think to try them here.

    It’s good to hear how other people mark the seasons and passages – Candlemas and Setsubun..

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    I’ve been happy with the Spanish bluebells. I got mine from McClure & Zimmerman over ten years ago. They aren’t aggressive and the foliage dies down very quickly after they finish blooming. They don’t seem to mind either Austin’s drought years or floods. — mss

  10. From Jan, Louisiana:

    My snowflakes are also coming up, and I can’t wait for the blooms. I have thought of planting the Tulipa clusiana but didn’t know if they would grow in Louisiana. After seeing yours, however, I may give them a try. Same for the Spanish bluebells.

    Jan, Always Growing

    The Tulipa clusiana like a hot dry summer. But they seem to survive Austin’s occasional wet and humid summer, like 2007. My advice is always, “Try it and tell me what happened.” — mss

  11. From Angelina:

    I haven’t seen anemones in two and a half years–basically since moving to Oregon. Do people here not plant them? I grew them in my last garden and loved them! I never see them for sale here so I actually forgot about them. Now I want to find some and put some in. Most bulbs and rhizomes do well here.

    I love bachelor buttons.

    I’ve never seen anemones before except in photographs. We’ll see how it goes and report back. — mss

  12. From kate:

    There is something about seeing new shoots of spring bulbs pushing up. All that hope and promise in those bits of green. Spanish Bluebells are so pretty. I will look forward to seeing yours. And the Hawera Daffodils will be a huge treat to see.

    I’ll be curious to see how your Anemone coronaria do – I bought a bag of these bulbs and stored them in the refrigerator last winter. When I planted them last spring, they all came up. Some of them didn’t bloom, while others did. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for yours. They are such lovely flowers. The concept of over-wintering annuals is so foreign to me. I love the idea that they do this – I’ve always thought it a shame that we grow these beautiful annuals and then plop, they land on the compost pile.

    Your comment on Colleen’s blog really struck me and has had me doing some serious thinking about what I’m doing with my blog. Thanks for that.

    I’m curious to know how the Anemone will do, too. I just hope the raccoons won’t dig them up. They’ve been digging everywhere in my yard all month. As for the comment at Colleen’s, she really got me thinking. Sometimes it’s hard to stay on track. I have to pull back and remember my purpose. — mss

  13. From Pam/Digging:

    We can dream indeed. While I lost a number of plants in the freeze, I do have a bumper crop of seedlings coming up, like pink poppies that I’m trying for the first time. My clusiana foliage is up also. Not too many bluebonnets though.

  14. From Annie in Austin:

    Last fall I finally planted Spanish bluebells, MSS but they didn’t show last week. Just took the umbrella out and a couple of tiny points are visible. Still see no sign of the Tulipa clusiana that bloomed near the patio last spring. Ranunculus leaves are up as are buds of Grand Primo narcissus.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  15. From Jenny Austin:

    I love the idea of having Spanish bluebells. Must look for them. Like you I think this spring, when it arrives, is going to be spectacular for some plants. I have so many bluebonnets I have started to pull some out. Sacrilege, you may think, but they can be bullies. New growth in the garden is always a delight. Let’s just hope we do have a spring to enjoy those blooms.

  16. From Dirty Girl Gardening, California:

    Those bluebonnets are so sweet… looks like a very healthy plant.