THE shortest day of winter has come and gone.
In Sydney last Tuesday, June 21, the sun rose at 7am and set at 4.54pm, just under 10 hours of daylight.
This is about four-and-a-half hours shorter than the longest day, December 22, when the sun will rise at 5.41am and set at 8.06pm.
In June the sun is lower in the sky and emits far less heat than in December, which is why there is less growth in the garden at this time of year.
Because our farm is 700 metres up on the Dividing Range, we have four distinct seasons.
Seasonal variations are an important part of my gardening year as they give me the chance to grow so many different plants.
Much as I enjoy tropical gardens, I can't imagine actually gardening where the climate is the same all year round.
Not to mention the lack of variation in daylight hours: on the Equator the day is divided pretty well in half, with 12 hours of light and 12 of darkness.
We are lucky in NSW in that our winter is short. Even on the high country the weather is often mild in May and although July and August can be fairly brisk, it soon warms up in September.
This year several spells of cloudy, damp weather delayed the onset on frost. Then last week the clouds slid away, the wind dropped in the late afternoon and I could sense the temperature falling. Sure enough by 6am the next day it had plummeted to -5 degrees Celsius, and morning fog kept it there for several hours.
I often walk round the garden just staring at the plants. So I was thrilled during gardener and TV presenter Michael McCoy's recent High Horticulture gardening symposium (see below) to hear Fergus Garrett, head gardener at Great Dixter in Sussex, say that he thought the most important skill a gardener could possess was to be observant.
It was a heartening comment coming from someone who must know everything about horticulture from raising seeds to pleaching hedges and pruning large trees, and as soon as the symposium ended I rugged up and set off for a walk.
It's surprising how much colour there is in the garden in mid-winter. Several shrubs are holding their autumn leaves, the reliable and drought hardy smoke bush (Cotinus 'Royal Purple') and Berberis thunbergii atropurpurea whose leaves are a deep glowing crimson.
Sacred Bamboo (Nandina) also sprouts scarlet shoots in cold weather despite being evergreen.
A few nerines are hanging on and I noticed that a clump of N. bowdenii, whose flowers are normally sugar pink, is actually much paler, a soft, shell pink.
Scent came from sparkly white paperwhite jonquils and double cream 'Eerlicheer'.
My purple Algerian iris 'Mary Barnard' blooms well before the pale mauve species, lovely with the scentless yellow jasmine (J. nudiflorum) with green stalks.
Winter days may be short, but there's still lots to enjoy in the garden.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.