Friday, February 20, 2009
A god's garden in a pot, or just some grass for a cat
For my garden column in Southside Pride in March, I'm writing about starting seeds indoors, which reminded me of Adonis gardens, which I first read about in Eleanor Perenyi's book Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden. She explained that women in ancient Greece and Rome would plant little pot gardens of wheat, barley, lettuce and fennel for the festival of Adonis, which I took to be in the spring, like Easter. The seeds would grow quickly, then became potbound and die, symbolizing the short life of the handsome young demigod and lover of Venus/Aphrodite. And then the women would toss them out into their gardens.
Except it turns out I was mistaken on several points. I thought it was a sort of fertility thing, and it even made sense in a way -- if you started a pot of seedlings and then tossed them into your compost pile while they were still green, they would add nitrogen to the pile. But when I started looking for more information about Adonis gardens, I learned that the festival most likely took place in the summer and was meant to symbolize the wasted and unfertile life of the young hunter -- for he died without fathering any children. Actually, I made up that last part (I'm pretty sure he had no children), but it makes sense to me. The original Adonis gardens were just tossed into a stream or something, they weren't turned into anything useful, symbolically or otherwise.
Then I got out the book and re-read the passage on Adonis gardens. Perenyi claims that the custom of growing these temporary gardens in pots on the rooftops is the origin of pot gardening. And she also claims that a Christianized version of the old Adonis cult continued in Sicily into the 20th century, when women would plant pot gardens to decorate the church on Easter. I guess that's where I got the idea that growing grass for our Easter baskets was a remnant of this old pagan practice. So I must have put these bits and pieces of information together with my own thoughts about turning the spent gardens into compost and made up my own version of the custom. I guess that's how rumors and misinformation get started!
I still like the idea of planting my Easter basket as a kind of Adonis garden, even if the precedent for such a practice is unclear.
This photo is of my young neutered male cat, Tres, doing his imitation of Adonis frolicking in his garden. No, there is no catnip in this pot -- just wheat grass and alfalfa.