A recent Herb Quarterly column by Jim Long caught my attention. A sidebar on cool season herbs advises planting certain seeds in the fall and early winter. Included in his list are cilantro, dill, poppy and larkspur. Long says he usually plants between Halloween and Thanksgiving but sometimes as late as Christmas.
I have dabbled in fall and winter sowing, without any serious focus or follow-up. But my dill languished this last season and the article boldly predicts superior results from fall sown dill:
If planted in the early winter, larkspur and dill arise out of the ground at the desired time and grow into robust, healthy plants that produce throughout their own cool season.
Robust! Healthy! Unlike my own dill, which failed to thrive. This was undoubtedly due in part to transplanting, a practice that can send dill into a permanent pout. I am cautiously converted and my dill seed is waiting for the happy coincidence of daylight and my presence at home, a coincidence that occurs with great regularity on Saturdays and Sundays.
Winter sowing is a popular topic with an active forum at Gardenweb. Followers are enthusiastic and opinionated. But their practice is a bit different from what I have in mind. I intend to plant the seed in the ground, in a location where I want the plants to grow. Winter sowers plant in containers. As a consequence my seedlings will be harder to spot, especially when covered with decaying leaves.
There is something arcane and and almost mystical about the whole process. Much as with bulbs, I can fantasize at length about what is happening under the ground when the dark damp days of December and January keep me inside.
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed
The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the spring shall blow
Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth.
- John Davies, Ode to the West Wind
My seeds will hardly lie like corpses. Tiny sprouts and fragile root hairs will begin to reach through the cold soil without even a hint above ground to betray the small miracle below. The seeds will follow their own schedule, one as old as plant life itself.
It is the stuff of winter rumination, a tenuous thread connecting the gardener to the year's cycle. Chill wind, dark and snow to the contrary, there’s much activity continuing, out of sight.