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Summer solstice 2012: Happy first day of summer!

Ornamental grasses, roses, hostas and other perennials in

Ornamental grasses, roses, hostas and other perennials in Jessica Damiano's backyard (June 20, 2012) Credit: Jessica Damiano

Finally -- summer! The mild winter we had didn't have me pining for summer like I do most years, but still, it's my favorite time of year. Perennials burst with color, and the transient portion of the garden -- the edibles -- finally get a piece of the spotlight. Couple that with school letting out and a more laid-back vibe -- plus my birthday, naturally -- and summer is a pretty sweet time for me. This year, it kicks in at 7:09 p.m. (EDT) in the Northern Hemisphere.

And it isn't just the first day of summer; it's the longest day of the year, too, albeit by just a fraction of a second. Probably best to spend that time pulling an extra weed or two.

OK, so we don't actually have more time. The day is still 24 hours long. But the day-night ratio leans in favor of daylight, which is tied to the way Earth is tilted on its axis and pointing more toward the sun than on any other day. And because the sun is hanging directly overhead in the Tropic of Cancer, which is the realm of my Zodiac sign, I'm a happy girl today. If it weren't so humid, I'd be sitting in my backyard, basking in the sun.

This is all counter to my feelings about the winter solstice, which, as you might have guessed, is the complete opposite -- the shortest day of the year -- and for me, probably the gloomiest.

And we humans aren't the only ones who appreciate extended sunlight. In parts of Alaska, because most of the 24-hour period is bathed in sunlight this time of year, plants really take off, growing at more than twice the rate of what we consider a "normal" day here on Long Island. So it stands to reason that the longer day -- though barely noticeable to us -- will give our plants a little boost, too.

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