Firstspring, secondspring, say what?

I’ve used the terms firstspring and secondspring a few times now so I’d better explain.

I work with my gardens on the local seasonal pattern, which is a six-season cycle. When I was a wildflower tour guide, the immediate next question I always got was “what are the other two?”. And it doesn’t quite work like that, but ok, let’s start there. On this blog, you’ll hear me use autumn, winter, firstspring, secondspring, firstsummer and secondsummer. They’re approximately 6-10 weeks long, averaging two months each. So, let me explain how it works.

Those four seasons you’ve always heard people talking about? They come from England, or Europe – places which are cool enough that the sun is the biggest driver of the natural world. Things happen when there’s enough light, or enough dark, or the dark’s getting longer or the light’s getting longer or there’s more light than dark or… you get the picture. The sun gives you four seasons in a year – a season where it’s pretty dark and cold, a season where it’s pretty reasonable and steadily getting warmer and brighter, a season where it’s warm to hot with long days, and a season where it’s pretty reasonable and steadily getting cooler and darker. Our official seasons in Australia are taken straight from dear old Mother England, with the sole concession to local conditions being to flip them for the Southern Hemisphere. Which is why, across almost all of Australia, on September 1st you can tune to any radio station and hear the host say “You’d never know today was the first day of spring, would you?”.

Australia is rather bigger than England, with huge variations in climate, and it’s at much lower latitudes so across almost all of the country we are never really short of sun. What we are short of is water. Our climate is water-driven. Things happen when it rains heavily, when it rains gently, when it rains from the east, when it rains from the north-west, when it rains while warm or while cold, when it’s warm but not raining, cool but not raining and so on. That gives us a quite different seasonal pattern, that varies immensely across every different part of the country. It’s great fun to look up for your local area, I encourage you to do it.

The local Aboriginal people, the Nyungars of Perth, had six seasons, delineated by weather patterns and by the behaviours of animals and flowering or seeding of plants. It’s not just Aboriginal people, though. I know pagans living locally who spent a couple of years studying local patterns in order to create a new Wheel of the Year when they realised they couldn’t make the old-style quarters work very well here. They independently came up with the same six. Working as a walking guide, I found the six-season cycle far more useful in planning how and where to lead bushwalks than anything else, because it was the best predictor of weather conditions, of walker comfort and of what there would be around to see. And in my garden, the six-season cycle is essential for knowing when to plant.

So, what are the six? I could give the Aboriginal names which roll off the tongue beautifully and deserve to be remembered, but that doesn’t communicate meaning as much as it gives you six new words to forget as soon as you click off. Instead, let me put it to you this way. Start with “autumn”, which is now about two months long. It usually begins somewhere between the autumn equinox and the first of April. (Perthites, notice how this means that autumn no longer starts with a 40-degree-C heatwave.) Then you have “winter”, which is approximately June and July, also sometimes called “first rain”. Next comes “firstspring”, sometimes called “second rain”, roughly August and September. Then there’s “secondspring” (October-November), “firstsummer”(Dec-Jan), and “secondsummer”(Feb-March), each of which has distinct qualities and is somewhere between one and three months (averaging two months).  They don’t match to our months perfectly, and their start and end changes each year, but that’s the rough guide. I used to use the “rain” names, but climate change is screwing with the rainfall patterns a bit so calling them “winter” and “firstspring” is less confusing.

So: autumn, winter, firstspring, secondspring, firstsummer, secondsummer. On this blog, I’ll almost always use these seasonal descriptions. My planting year and growing cycles usually begin in autumn after spending all of secondsummer hunkered down, hiding from the heatwaves and waiting the season out, so I mark that as kind of a year-beginning, but you can start the year anywhere you like. And if you live in Perth you’ll probably find that the idea of a long spring and long summer and then a cool season makes a certain kind of sense.

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5 Responses to Firstspring, secondspring, say what?

  1. Pingback: Snails for Christmas | AgriTapestry

  2. Pingback: Secondspring, welcome! (and now I’d better get on with it) | AgriTapestry

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  5. Pingback: Autumn, the season that’s not quite what you think | AgriTapestry

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