Garden Lifestyle

Winter Solstice and thoughts about Gardens of Use and Delight

Another year has rolled around… and we are celebrating the winter solstice.

Gardens of Use and Delight is a wonderful gardening book--chockablock full of good information, not to mention a fun read--I laughed out loud a number of times! Click on other pix to enlarge and read captions.
Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger

Here it is again… another year has rolled around… and we are celebrating the winter solstice. Although it officially happened here at 12:30 a.m. this morning, I attended a solstice celebration last evening. It is unseasonably warm here in Maryland and it was 60 degrees F last night, so for the first time I can remember in years, we weren’t bundled in scarves, heavy coats, long johns, gloves and hats.

This is the shortest day of the year and the longest night. From this day until the first of January is a time for reflection and repose, as well as celebration. Although the Winter Solstice marks Midwinter, from now on the days become longer, though barely noticeable at first. I am rejoicing at the thought. The newscaster said today that in Alaska, theirs was definitely the longest night with only about four hours of sunlight—I don’t know where that is in Alaska, however I am glad I am not there.

Literally translated from Latin solstice means “sun stands still.” During this longest night and shortest day, the sun is farthest from the Northern Hemisphere. Throughout history, people have recognized this day on the calendar as a turning point, when the sun reemerges and each day becomes a little longer. The Winter Solstice is considered the birthday of the unconquered sun and the moment of new beginnings.

Ancient rituals of the solstice were festive affairs. Often they were celebrated with days of feasting, colorful costumes, music and dancing. Huge bonfires were built and burned believing it would encourage the invisible sun to return to warm the cold earth. It is difficult for us to fathom the true depths of winter as our ancestors did, they constantly felt the need to preserve light and to ensure the return of the sun. 

Meanwhile, we are gearing up for the holidays and a new year. I have been baking and keeping the stove going and decorating the house with greenery. And I have one more favorite book to tell you about if you want a holiday gift for a gardener. I had the great pleasure of finally meeting Jo Ann and Jigs Gardner this past spring, when we presented at the Ozark Folk Center. I own all six of their books and the more recent, Gardens of Use and Delight (Fulcrum, 2002) is a lovely read, packed full of useful information and garden stories from their many years of experience. They are an amazing and fun couple to hang out with and I admire their dedication and perseverance in all of their years of gardening experience.

Rosalind Creasy’s testimonial on the back cover sums it up nicely, “As I read Gardens of Use and Delight, I was struck by its authenticity, springing as it does from two people who are in direct contact with their piece of soil… Their thirty years of hard-won garden wisdom is a treasure for anyone cultivating the edible and non-edible gifts of the garden.”

The book is divided into three parts: Part One—The Whole; Part Two—The Gardens; and Part Three—The Integrated Landscape—Practice and Philosphy. In the first part, they discuss the farm as it was and what it is today and how their vision became a reality. The Gardens vary from a kitchen garden, an herb garden, fruit garden, a rose garden, natural garden to containers. And the third part contains everything from a growing guide, seed saving, composting, maintaining, harvesting and more. There are recipes for the kitchen, as well as crafts and herbal products. The watercolors by Elayne Sears add the perfect touch to this lively and informative garden tome and I highly recommend Gardens of Use and Delight. This would be a great gift for a gardener to wile away the winter hours indoors, while awaiting the spring, longer days and gardens to come.

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