Outdoors Recreation

The Observant Gardener: Persephone Days

My Pond in Winter. Photo by Judith Canty Graves

By Judith Canty Graves

The ancient Greeks explained the change of seasons, and especially winter, with the story of Persephone. The daughter of Demeter, goddess of the harvest, Persephone was abducted by Hades and taken to his realm in the Underworld. Demeter was so upset by her daughter’s disappearance that she stopped tending the earth. As a result, the plants died and the landscape was barren.

Eventually, Persephone was allowed to leave the Underworld and return to her mother for half the year. When she returned, the earth warmed and became green with new growth, so the Greeks thought of her as the goddess of spring.

During autumn and winter months, many gardeners refer to the short days of sunlight as “Persephone Days.” Now, in January, with the earth cold and brown, we are experiencing our Persephone Days. Recently, I walked around my yard during a blustery winter week of snow, ice and bitter windchill as I carefully observed the barren landscape. My garden beds had only dirt and snow in them and my pond was ringed with ice. The contrast between summer and winter could not have been more striking.

When a frigid wind swirls, it feels as if winter will never end. The cold is penetrating. The earth is hard. The water is icy. I know that by July the garden beds will be overflowing with color and green foliage, and the pond will be full of minnows and frogs. In January, however, July feels like an eternity away.

To overcome that feeling, I focus on my garden notes from the previous summer and on the many colorful garden catalogs delivered in the mail. In my sunroom, the amaryllis bulbs I planted in October start producing magnificent large blooms of many colors. As the morning light streams in, I sit back and appreciate the magic of these exotic plants.

The pond also changes with the seasons. Even in winter it is a beautiful sight, showing the entire structure of a magnificent willow tree in its reflection. Let the cold wind blow now; it will not last. I can anticipate what is coming even as I enjoy seeing the handsome trees without their leaves. Over time the spring peepers and other creatures will begin their cycle of life in the pond as the warm weather approaches.

Winter can be depressing for many people, but gardeners know better. We know what has grown before will grow again. We do not doubt it. We realize that, like Persephone returning from the Underworld, the warmth of the sun and the green landscape of spring will return.

The American painter Andrew Wyeth alluded to this anticipation when he wrote, “I prefer winter and fall when you feel the bone structure of the landscape. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn’t show.”

Judith Canty Graves is a home gardener with a background in photojournalism. To see more of her garden photography, visit TheObservantGardener.com.

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