No really, go out and smell the flowers

How do we time our seeds every year? Is it a book, is it the back of the seed package, is it the weather forecast? All of these things can help- for sure, but how can you really tell that it's warm enough to plant peas or get started on some spinach?

Observation. Look around you. Are there crocuses up? Are the lilacs leafing out? Have songbirds started singing?

Phenology is the science of appearances. It involves recording observations about specific plants (or animals)every year and correlating them to what you are growing in your garden. This is what helps you plant onions in the spring when the violets bloom or know that when a certain variety of apple blooms, you should cover your carrots because the carrot rust fly is about to fly. Not only does it help you with your garden it is also a great way to tune into the natural world.

'phenology does more than just observed appearances; it correlates its observations. First, it recognizes that every year when the violets bloom, a whole series of forces is involved- soil and air temperatures, hours of warmth and sunlight, inches of rain and percentages of humidity. Only when conditions are just right do those petals open. And when conditions are just right for violets, they are just right for other plants too, often domestic plants whose caretakers worry about planting schedules.'- H, Moliter. The Great Code in Harrowsmith May/June 1987.

Phenology of specific plants are usually recorded in five stages, but you can choose just one or two of these stages to suit your needs. The same characteristics should be recorded year after year for the same plant, to give your data some consistency.

First leaf

Full leaf
95% of the active buds have leaves

First bloom
5-10% are blooming (over the whole plant)

Full bloom
95% of flowers are opening but none have withered

End bloom
95% of flowers have withered

How to start your own home garden phenology?

Make an index of perennial plants growing around the garden. Try to choose a variety of plants- some bulbs, some shrubs, some trees that you will notice. Keep records over the years and compare them!Then you can correlate with things in your garden, like when the lilacs leaf out, you can plant lettuce. Learn from experience and ask you neighbours what they have observed over the years!

You can also participate in citizen science where you can share you observations with people all across Canada.

Today we went on a silent walk up to easter bluffs on Cortes. It was great to spend a morning walking through the woods observing without talking, meditating on the natural world around us. If you can take some time at some point this week and go out into a park or green space where you can observe without talking I would recommend it. It's amazing how much we don't hear, see, smell, feel when we are caught up with talking. You'll be glad you did.


  1. I love this! I am totally going to have a silent walk with Rory. It is amazing how much we don't 'see' because we are so busy carrying on with ourselves.
    I am going by my Lee Valley frost schedule that tells me when to plant! Hopefully that makes for much less leggy tomatoes this year.
    much love!

  2. Nothing smells in Calgary! Evgeny and I have been searching for earth smells on our walks, and they are few and far between! I need a good ol' whif of coastal rain.


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