Dormancy: a ballad of hope

Pulling some favorite poetry books and mystery novels off the shelf, I realized that the seasonal process of drawing inward had already begun without even really noticing. As colder weather approaches, we begin a healing and reinvigorating process that will last through the winter months and that expresses itself in many ways. We light candles more often and cozy up our home;  we spend more time reading and playing board games. We sip more herbal teas and spend more time making soups and baking our favorite comfort foods. Our energy appears to shift inward as if we are trying to match the organic rhythms of the season, in much the same way that plants do in a state of dormancy.

Chill time

In our gardens, an equally reinvigorating process is also taking place. A state of dormancy that started at the end of summer sets in. This quiet and miraculous process begins to take place deep in the roots and foliage. Take perennials for instance. All signs of visible growth vanish, and they begin to use the stored sugars and carbohydrates they produced during the growing season to survive the winter. This state of dormancy –which is a temporary inability to resume growth–, is an adaptive response that allows them to conserve energy. They protect themselves from unfavorable environmental conditions and take this time to fine-tune their development.

a perennial pink bergenia

Herbaceous perennials die to the ground at the end of the season and then regrow from the same roots the following year. Non-herbaceous perennials keep a mantle of leaves throughout the year, and shrubs will keep a vestigial woody structure in winter. Perennials are dependable performers that offer an enormous variety of color, texture, and form. If they were to remain actively growing in the winter, the water stored in stems, leaves, and trunks would freeze and cause structural damage. Dormancy provides them the opportunity to pause and prepare themselves for optimal conditions: the right amount of sun, water, shade, nutrients, and the right temperature.


This seasonal cycling between growth and “chill time” is something we share with all living things in nature. But for us, the colder months are more of an opportunity to look inward, be thankful for what we have, and let go of whatever doesn’t serve us anymore so that we may grow stronger, kinder, happier. These months are also an invitation to dream and make plans.

The earth’s song is faint but there even so,
A ballad of hope: preparing to grow.
Look to your garden, understand its way;
Remember, this dormancy is not decay.

Arthur Lancaster Parkerson
So as you dream about next year’s garden, consider setting seeds for perennials, drought tolerant, edible, and/or flowering plant medicine native to Portland. Yarrow, Elderberry, Wild ginger, Salal, and Showy milkweed are some suggestions. But give us a call, we love to collaborate with clients at! We are here to consult and design edible and fruitful gardens, working with all skill levels and garden states.

Tenderly yours,