At this time of year, I become intensely aware of light. I drive to work as the sun is rising, and I drive home as it is setting. Fortunately for me I drive in the right direction to enjoy the splendour, driving eastish in the morning and westish in the evening. Sunrise and sunset can be the highlight of a busy day. I have been known to gasp, or stop the car to enjoy it.

Iris reticulata ‘Katharine Gold’

In February I start to really notice the increasing light levels. The sun rises two minutes earlier and sets two minutes later each day. By the end of February we have nearly eleven hours of sunlight, compared with nine hours at the start of the month. We are on the up.

I feel natural daylight in my bones. It is like a tonic. Our skin is transparent. You can see this if you shine a light through the end of your finger. Sunlight is important for making Vitamin D, regulating our circadian rhythms (when we feel awake and sleepy, but also when we need to eat and fast) and regulating our hormones. Exposure to direct sunlight has been shown to help with a range of skin conditions. Research also suggests it is powerful in treating depression.

Iris reticulata ‘Katharine Gold’. Seen from above. I love the way irises space themselves out so perfectly.

Human beings evolved for thousands of years being exposed to many hours of natural daylight and almost complete darkness at night. There is some evidence to suggest that disrupting this pattern with artificial light and not getting enough time outdoors can have consequences for our physical and mental health.

Iris reticulata ‘Katharine Gold’. A ‘fall’ petal holding rain water.

Light levels are measured in ‘lux’.

A sunny day can be measured at 10, 000 lux. A cloudy day might be 1,000 lux. Indoors tends to be around 25-50 lux.

Iris reticulata ‘Katharine Gold’. The delicate colouring of the outside of a ‘fall’ petal.

On a working day, I have limited opportunities to lux out. But there are certain steps that can make a big difference. I try to take a half-hour walk every lunch time. Morning light is believed to be best to regulate our sleep, but any natural light is better than no natural light.

If the sun is shining through the window, I will get up for a movement break and stand in the sunshine for a few minutes. I know I am not getting the benefits of UVB (95% of UVB is blocked through windows). But I am getting the psychological benefit from the sun’s warmth.

Iris reticulata ‘Katharine Gold’. Rain or shine, she stands up tall.

Even on a cold, blowy, rainy day, I feel significantly better after a short walk outside. Grey sky overhead feels better than no sky.

Iris reticulata ‘Katharine Gold’. Shivering slightly but undeterred.

This post has featured Iris reticulata ‘Katharine Gold’. This is in a pot on the step which I see from my kitchen table. Katharine has withstood high winds, lashing rain and biting frosts. Her delicate structure is angled to catch the maximum sunlight for her small frame. She stretches out her standard and fall petals in each direction, along different planes. She lets the light shine through.

Iris reticulata ‘Katharine Gold’

She has soaked up all the sunlight she possibly can. I am following her lead.

You can read more about the effects of natural sunlight and how light may be improved in the work place here:

The Mindful Gardener aims to bring you little pops of wonder through the year. If you would like to receive an email each time a post is published, click on the ‘follow’ button below. Your email address is stored safely and not shared with third parties. You will not receive spam.

32 Comments Add yours

  1. Kath says:

    So enjoyed your lovely blog beautiful Iris so nice to see again and the lighter night

    1. Thank you Kath, that’s lovely to hear. It does feel we are opening out into spring, doesn’t it?

  2. Emma Cownie says:

    What beautiful flowers. I always feel that once I have made it to February, that’s the worst of the darkness over. I did no realise that the day light increases by 2 hours during the month.

    1. I feel like that about February; whilst it is still a winter month, there is the promise of spring, and some days feel like we’re there already.

      1. Emma Cownie says:

        Yes, most evening I am saying stuff like “Look its still light at 5.30”!

  3. A beautiful post in both the gorgeous images and the thoughtful words, Ali. The garden gets me outside in the season but I credit my dog Angel Eyes for getting me outside year-round 🙂

    1. A dog is a really good reason to get out. I always feel better after blowing the cobwebs away.

  4. Anna says:

    It’s been a while but I found it very difficult to leave home for work and return in the dark in the winter months. I always looked forward to the end of January when I started to notice a visible difference and now the days are most definitely lengthening. A beautiful iris – on my wish list to be able to gaze on next February 😄

    1. I try to mix it up every year, but I do love this iris and may well grow it next year.

  5. Jo Shafer says:

    February is my worst month for winter depression simply because of the lack of sufficient bright sunshine. I’m sleepy. I burrow in my quilt. Even my spaniel snuggles against me for afternoon naps. Of course, books and music help, and physical activity. We take short walks when it’s not too cold. Snow would be a blessing on these dull grey cloudy days. Well, ’nuff fussing.

    1. Yes, I definitely have a winter gear where everything slows down. It feels natural and right to take it easy and cosy up.

  6. Brian Skeys says:

    A lovely seasonal post with beautiful pictures.

  7. Heyjude says:

    Lovely to see a post from you again Ali. I miss your beautiful photos and poetic prose. I wish I could say that the light has returned to the south-west but sadly all we seem to have is constant rain and gale force winds. Not conducive to getting out and absorbing any light at all 😕

    1. Ah, it’s lovely to hear from you Jude. Yes, wind is my least favourite weather condition. We have had so much rain; everything is sodden or submerged. Ready for some sunshine!

  8. Ann Mackay says:

    I enjoyed both your writing and the lovely photographs. Your iris reticulata images of last year inspired me to plant up a shallow pot with them and as a result I now have lots of ‘Cantab’ and ‘Harmony’ braving the chilly wind. I too am finding that the returning light is energising me – late winter/early spring is a time of excitement and anticipation for me! 🙂

    1. That is so nice to hear, Ann. I will look up ‘Centab’ as I am not familiar with that one. I love to hear about the collective energy rising! We are all connected.

      1. Ann Mackay says:

        Cantab is a lovely soft blue – makes me think of chambray fabric. Hopefully I’ll have some photos of it on my blog this weekend… 🙂 I think you’re right about us all being connected, especially through nature and even more so when we’re tending our gardens.

  9. Fascinating information about lux levels. Absolutely mind-blowing!! No wonder we all feel better if we spend time outside.

    1. It confirms the hunch we all feel, doesn’t it?

  10. Cathy says:

    It’s good to have another mindful post from you Ali – such wisdom! I love the quality of light at this time of year, particularly in the day – there is something so special about it. Must look out for this iris again – couldn’t find it before

  11. Cathy says:

    That was meant to say ‘in the early part of the day’…

    1. Thank you so much for the link, Cathy. Your interest and endorsement means a lot!

  12. This is a great post Ali. This feb has been awful with storms every weekend so will be glad to see the back of it!

    1. I know; the sun came out for a little while this weekend and it was such a relief! It’s hard to believe we will ever be able to sit out in the sun again when it is blowing a gale in February. The worse the weather in February, the sweeter the sunshine in March.

  13. susurrus says:

    Katherine seems to be all light from your pictures. 10,000 lux is a lot compared to being inside. I don’t get enough sunlight. I recently read that being near trees has healing powers too. I can’t remember where now.

    1. Yes! I read that too! Just gazing on a tree calms the nervous system and hooks us into our parasympathetic (rest and digest) response, away from the sympathetic (fight or flight) response. I try to gaze at trees whenever I get the opportunity!!

  14. I did not know this about Lux! Thanks for this post, Ali. It is a good, gentle reminder that I need to get outside during the week more. I have been doing a good job of getting out on the weekend but not as well during the week.

    1. I find it very hard too. Our modern lives are not set up for beneficial outdoor time, so it is good for us to make the most of any opportunity. Also by talking to people about the importance of outdoor time, we might be able to bring about change. At work we have been focusing on wellbeing and are encouraging one another to take lunch breaks outside, or use outdoor spaces to break up car journeys and sit under a tree for lunch, and even having walking meetings.

      1. I love this! I think the talking about it does indeed help. Sharing the positive benefits being outdoors brings folks is really inspirational.

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