Roses always speak of love, I think.
The Victorians had a secret language of love – flowers. I don’t know who decided that the peach blossom said, “I am your captive” or who then decided sending back a bunch of daisies meant, “I share your sentiments.” I do know that a century ago Kate Greenaway compiled and illustrated a volume called The Language of Flowers that listed hundreds of plants and flowers and translated their messages.
If a gentleman wished to compliment a lady, he could send a white camellia and testify to her “perfected loveliness” while a white hyacinth whispered of “unobtrusive loveliness.”
The Bridge of Flowers is all about love – for the community
A bouquet of red tulips would be a “declaration of love,” but we all know that the course of true love never runs smooth. Flowers don’t tell only of virtue, devotion or constancy. A modern lover might be surprised to have the florist deliver an armful of thornapple, but would surely suspect that a negative statement was being made. Greenaway’s hidden message is “deceitful charms”.
Inspired by Kate I’ve come up with my own possibilities for sweet whispered messages.
Cut flowers are wonderful, of course, but a living plant speaks even more eloquently of a green and growing affection that will not wither. Think of a pot of forced white tulips glowing in the candlelight saying, “You light up my life.”
Sunny roses for sunny loving days
Parma violets are one of the most romantic flowers. Fragrant nosegays of them litter the pages of sentimental novels and are presented to divas by ardent admirers. But if I set out a potted Prince of Wales, one of those faithful blue violets, my beloved should understand I consider him my own noble prince.
If my sweetie is even more than a prince, more than an ace, I would present him with a rex begonia, noted for its large handsome leaves in deep royal hues, which declare, “My King!”
Or, in a gentler mood I would set out a delicate angel wing begonia with pale pendant blooms blushing in the candlelight, “My guardian, my angel!” (You will notice that in the throes of a romantic message, there is no such thing as too much soppiness.)
Love has inspired countless volumes of poetry, and romantic rhymes have been uttered behind the palms at a ball and over the French fries at McDonald’s. I wish I were capable of poetry, or at least of reading a roundel or sonnet to my beloved. Surely my spouse would immediately understand that when I set out a bonsai landscape, an artistically windswept miniature tree on a mossy bank, that I am referring to the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
“Here with a loaf of bread beneath the bough,
A flask of wine, a book of verse – and thou
Beside me singing in the wilderness.”
I will supply the wine, bake the bread, and even roast the beast for my love to consume and enjoy.
If I come home with a blooming passionflower, its twining, clinging tendrils and passionately purple flowers would leave little to the imagination about the sweet nothings I’d like to be whispering.
More subtle would be a pot of oxalis, often sold as lucky four-leaf clovers, but the leaf segments are somewhat heart-shaped and in my book their message is, “You are my good fortune.”
We women know that there is no better place for a heart-to-heart than over a lovingly prepared meal. I could set out a centerpiece of potted herbs. In a look back I could take a leaf out of Kate Greenaway’s book and choose peppermint for warmth of feeling, and sage for domestic virtue. Or, thinking of the song, “You’re the cream in my coffee. . .” my modern message might be, “You are the flavor and savor in my life.”
Love, like many plants, is tolerant of occasional forgetful carelessness, but routine observation and thoughtful tenderness will make it flourish like a green bay tree.
A rambler rose, but true love rambles no more.
One of the very first things I liked about our new house, or more specifically our new yard, was the very tall evergreen in the northwestern corner. It is a magnificent tree that might be 30 feet tall with graceful pendulous branches. On our first drive past the house I admired this beautiful tree in the backyard. It is not like any tree we had in view in Heath. There most of the conifers are pines or hemlocks.
I thought this tree was a Norway spruce although I cannot say what depths of my mind or imagination made me think so. With so much else to do I did not go out of my way to try and identify it properly. Now that it has produced some cones in its upper branches I have been able to confirm that it is indeed a Norway spruce.
Our tree doesn’t have any cones near the ground, but a zoom lens on my camera puts them within identifying distance and the long cones do match the photographs I found online.
Norway spruce cones
The Norway spruce, as you might imagine, is native to Europe and beloved by the Norwegians. It is disease resistant and deer don’t like to eat it. It likes acid soil and is hardy in zone 2 (hardy to -50 degrees) and tolerant of a zone 7 climate where the temperature rarely goes below zero. Any tree welcomes good soil, but this tree is very tolerant of clay or sandy soils with the caveat that it get at least 25 inches of rain a year. According to US Climate Data Greenfield gets an average of 50 inches of rain a year. After seven months working on our new house I have learned that my biggest gardening challenge is the poor drainage of my clay soil. The Norway spruce does not lack for moisture.
It is a fast growing tree, especially in the first 25 years after being planted especially under good conditions. At maturity it can reach a height of 100 feet with a 40 foot spread. It is not a tree for a small garden! Our street was laid out around 1925 so the tree was probably not planted before that, making it nearly 100 years old.
Norway spruce has a deep and wide spreading root system making it very sturdy in heavy wind, hence its frequent use as a windbreak tree.
Learning that the Norway spruce was a good and valuable timber tree, I did not think that it would make a very good Christmas tree. I was wrong. I just learned that Norway sends a majestic Norway spruce every year to London, Edinburgh, New York and Washington, D.C. In London it stands regally in Trafalgar Square; I don’t know where the other cities place their spruces. The trees are a gift in gratitude for the aid given to Norway during World War II.
We’ve had several varieties of Christmas tree over the years. Our first Christmas tree in Greenfield in 1971 was a straggly hemlock that began dropping needles as soon as we brought it into the house. A new friend took me and my three girls into the woods to have a real Christmas experience and cut down our own tree. The experience was not quite what we expected or wished for but it has made one of our favorite family stories.
Our first tree in Heath was a fat Colorado blue spruce that was growing right in front of the windows where we had our dining table to get a view of our beautiful landscape. The tree was not part of the view we wanted to admire. It had to come down. It was not too hard to cut down, but it was so fat and bristly with sharp needles that we all got a bit bloodied while trying to drag it into place. I’ve been told that while the Colorado blue spruce is a popular Christmas tree, it is often sold as a small living tree in a pot so that it could be planted outdoors later. I certainly can understand that a baby blue spruce is easier to handle than a mature specimen. I hope most people do a better job of siting the tree than our predecessors did.
When we planted our snowbreak in Heath with Conservation District pines, we also planted a number of Balsam firs. We were able to harvest those trees for Christmas over the years, and did at least one additional planting that got us nearly through our tenure there. I do have to say we have had some very odd looking trees over the years. Planting trees intended for Christmas does not necessarily mean you will prune and care for those trees the way a professional tree farmer will.
Our Christmas Tree
This year for the first time in many years we bought a tree on Greenfield’s Main Street. It is a fat Fraser fir, one of the most popular tree varieties. It was well pruned and tended which means it has a lovely regular shape, but it does not have the space between its branches to hang larger ornaments. That was an adjustment for me, the chief tree decorator. When we had our own very irregular Christmas trees there was always empty space for large ornaments.
So this year, we have an imposing Norway spruce in the backyard protecting us from any bitter northwest winds, and a charming Christmas tree in our new dining room where we will enjoy roast beast and sugar plums, and celebrate all twelve days of Christmas. On January 6 the tree will be taken down and set out in the garden (such as it is) to hold suet and seeds for the birds.
My wish is that you each celebrate the holidays for at least 12 days, and find many happy days waiting for you in 2016.
Between the Rows December 26, 2015
On this Valentine’s Day I’d like to share the story of daughter bonnie Kate’s wedding, a chapter from my book The Roses at the End of the Road.
Illustration by Henry Leuchtman
Bonnie Kate’s Wedding
Our daughter Kate was never much interested in the garden, but when I planted the first roses in 1981 and laid out the plan for the Rose Walk, she did express a romantic desire to be married amid the roses. On a June Sunday in 1994 it came to pass.
Like Adam and Eve who began their life in a garden, Kate and her beloved Greg stood with family and friends behind them, with roses and broccoli in front of them, and promised to be loving and faithful, in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health and in joy and in sorrow.
The minister, who is a friend and neighbor, asked the assembled guests if we would do what was necessary to support this new marriage.
Certainly many people had already done what they could to make the wedding beautiful. Neighbors had mowed the lawn, cleaned the house, brought barbecue grills and flowers and salmon mousse. Kate’s siblings had built flower boxes, laid the stone terrace, trimmed and weeded and bought new clothes. So many people had promised aid and comfort – and they all delivered. No one forgot or failed. It was a miracle of love and generosity.
So having put hearts and hands to work for the wedding, we willingly pledged to support the marriage.
At least a few of the guests were experienced gardeners as well as experienced husbands and wives, and I expect they were already thinking of the supports that might be needed. Certainly newlyweds, like new gardeners, need encouragement along with a calming hand on the shoulder as the mysteries of growth unfold.
Gardens don’t always turn out as expected. There are inexplicable failures. Seeds don’t germinate, blight attacks the tomatoes, and delphiniums wither and die when you absolutely know you fertilized and staked just the way the book said.
Fortunately there are also those unexpected joys and bonuses. Cauliflower succeeds even though you heard it was really hard to grow, or an interesting sedum comes in on the root of the bee balm. Who knew it was there? Who knew such a pretty thing existed? Who knew it would love your soil?
Of course, each failure, each success, each surprise means the garden changes. Gardeners change. We lose interest in the cabbages, and develop a passion for squash.
We love fancy jam and decide to grow fancy berries. We decide dahlias are vulgar and devote ourselves to dwarf conifers.
Perhaps most amazing of all, we realize that there is always something new to marvel at and enjoy. Suddenly we see that the garden is not only color and fragrance, we become aware of the garden sounds: the wind rattling the bamboo, the deep thrum of the August cicada. It may have been there all the time, but we never noticed, or gave thanks.
Happy the spouse who can watch with delight as new passions, new skills and talents emerge, even as some loved habits and thoughts fall away.
Kate and Greg and Reverend Comstock
It rained all week before the wedding. Saturday the skies were dark, but dry. At the appointed hour and preceded by her sisters, Kate entered the wedding tent. Just as her train cleared the tent the skies opened. Torrents fell and the assemblage laughed. When it was time for the bride and groom to take their vows the rain stopped – just as suddenly as it began. Greg and Kate stepped out into the dazzling sunlight promising to love and honor each other forever..
A few minutes later, while the photographer was busily snapping away, heavy mists blew across the hillside. The view disappeared. We couldn’t see across the pasture any more than we could see into the future. There was only romance and the scent of rain-splashed roses.
At such a moment it’s easy to imagine plenty and health and joy. After all who sets out the tomato plants without picturing the abundant harvest of red fruit that delights the eye, pleases the palate and satisfies the belly? But as Adam and Eve found in that first garden there can be trouble as well.
Gardeners spend a lot of time on their knees, in careful observation, in grubby and tedious weeding, in setting out slug traps, in admiration, in supplication, in gratitude. As a wife I’ve spent a few hours on my knees, weeping, praying, cursing – and giving thanks for my great good fortune.
In the garden there are beautiful roses, fragrant herbs, tender lettuces, nourishing beans – but lurking in the soil and air are slugs and bugs, beetles, wilt and blight. The garden is not carefree. And yet, the slimy slug is just as inevitable in the healthy garden as the singing bird. Sun and rain. Brilliant day and darkest night. All inevitable. All necessary.
And so as Henry and I watched our bonnie Kate and beloved Greg step into a new space to make a garden of their own, we tucked our prayerful wishes into their tool basket. Wishes for strength and patience and joy.
May your Valentine’s Day be filled with romance and joy – and maybe some patience.
PS – Copies of the whole book are available in local book stores, on Amazon and right here.
Last Christmas in Heath?
The decision has been made. This is our last Christmas in Heath. Of course, life being what it is, nothing is certain, but we are looking for a house in Greenfield where we will celebrate Christmas 2015.
Decisions like this are not lightly made, but for the past couple of years we have been thinking the time has come to be 45 minutes closer to our children, and where we will not have to hop in the car for every little errand. Henry and I met in Greenfield in 1971 when the children and I lived on Grinnell Street; a romantic aura still clings to the town for me.
It is the nature of days to change. Every year, season and day is different. Weathermen keep records of change and try to predict the next change, but change is the constant. Holding the thought and hope that we will be in a new nest by next Christmas, every moment now here in Heath in the Last. This is the last December 21 in Heath. This is the last view through the window where we look out over our garden and landscape. On December 22 the view will have changed. The light will have shifted, the snow will be melting. It will be different.
There is nothing like knowledge of imminent change to make one pay attention to the moment. Quotidian pleasures like the morning cup of coffee by the woodstove with my book for an hour are more intensely felt because their duration is now limited. Every day errands, to the transfer station, the library or down to Avery’s Store take me over and down the hills, through beautiful snowy woods, and past tumbling streams. I have watched the trees grow, and watched them bend and break in storms. With every change I have come to appreciate and love this landscape more and more every year.
Though I love my domestic landscape, and the landscape of Heath I look forward to the move to Greenfield with happy anticipation. I have lived long enough and in enough different places to know that each holds its pleasures, as well as its particular drawbacks. I was born and lived in New York City for part of my childhood, but part of my childhood was spent on a dairy farm on the shores of Lake Champlain. I have lived in other small towns, and in busy suburbs. With Henry I lived in Maine, then in his ancestral apartment in Manhattan. Together we found our dream home in Heath, but left for brief adventures in Beijing. I have been happy (most of the time) in every one of those apartments and houses. I have been transplanted before.
I see change not only as inevitable, but as a good thing, especially when we are choosing this change and not waiting for circumstances to force change upon us.
One Christmas tradition we established here in Heath is cutting our Christmas tree from our own land. The wild choices were not always beautiful so when we planted our snowbreak we also planted a number of balsams. Over time we refreshed this planting with more balsams, but even these have all been harvested. This Christmas we thought we might have to buy a Christmas tree, but we could not break tradition. If this was our very last Christmas at the End of the Road we needed to find own tree.
So we booted up, gathered the loppers and saw and set out across the field. My husband was quite sure he had seen a suitable tree at the edge of the western woodland.
I doubted his memory. I thought there are only pines in that woodland, not suitable Christmas trees. I kept my thoughts to myself as we tramped across the frozen snow and we did find the tree Henry remembered. It would have been suitable, but it was broken and bowed down by the recent snow and ice storm.
What to do? Then I looked into a nearby pine thicket and thought I saw a balsam. Henry quickly affirmed that it was a balsam, perfectly suitable. In fact, it is one of the best trees we have ever harvested for our Christmas. Some were small, one was very prickery, one had branches only on one side, and some seemed to limp with a bend in the trunk. This tree is perfect for our last Heathan Christmas.
Family traditions are important, but when circumstances change a tradition might have to shift a little bit. Will we decide to visit a tree farm next year and chop down a tree there? Or will we go to the open air market and choose one of those trees? Either way, the tree will be set up where we can admire it every evening, colored lights will be strung and ornaments recounting the history of our years together will be hung.
We put down roots when we moved to Heath in 1979. Our life grew rich and we enjoyed the fruits of many friendships, which will continue. Our life here has reached maturity and we can feel the winds of change blowing seeds of that maturity down to Greenfield, to a new, smaller garden to take root where we can flourish again.
In the meantime, we will virtually join you and the celebration around your Christmas tree, tall or small, and wish you every holiday joy. Merry Christmas.
Between the Rows December 20, 2014
Gifts for the Gardener begin at the garden center
I have never thought it very hard to find gifts for the gardener. After all, what does a gift say? I love you? I understand you? I want you to enjoy your days? I want your dreams to come true? I share your passion and I know just what you need?
No matter what your message there are garden centers and other kinds of shops that have just the gifts to convey these messages to the gardener in your life. I made the rounds of some of these stores and this is what I found. The Shelburne Farm and Garden Center has colorful Dramm long armed five liter watering cans ($30), and equally colorful one gallon Gardman watering cans ($18). A rolling Saucer Caddy ($40) holds more appeal for me as I get older. My potted plants get bigger every year and moving them a bigger chore. These gifts say ‘Lets have some fun in the garden, but let’s not strain ourselves. I want you in one piece at the end of a gardening day.”
SF&G also has a nice array of gloves. I used to pride myself on not using gloves, but after years of dirty nails and dry calluses I decided gloves are a Good Thing. Of course, gloves like Cool MUD gloves ($10) with water repellent nitrile have gotten lighter, more comfortable and breathable. One style of Women’s Work gloves is flowery and has nice long gauntlets ($20). When I got to the Greenfield Farmer’s Cooperative on High Street I found they had a whole aisle of gloves. And a lot more besides. Gloves are a consumable; they wear out and need to be replaced from time. A gift of gloves says “Don’t worry. Dig in. There is always another pair. Better the gloves get ugly than your lovely hands.”
There are fewer flowers in the winter, but SF&G has bags and bags of bird seed and a whole array of bird feeders. Attract the birds and you will be able to enjoy these flowers of the air. I met a neighbor there and she expressed her pleasure at finding that birds love safflower seeds, but squirrels don’t. Good information.
Blue Pots at the Greenfield Farmers Coop
Greenfield Farmer’s Coop has a fabulous array of Burley Clay pots in sizes from about one cup ($7) to large handsome pots that can hold a striking flower arrangement that is a work of art or even a small tree ($60) These pots come in lovely blue, and subtle shades of green or brown. They also have an array of black metal trellises, perfect for supporting ornamental vines in the garden. Prices range from $25-$40. They say “Isn’t it fun to have plants grow up and add a new dimension to the garden?”
Grow Bags are another way to have fun and continue the vegetable garden indoors during the winter. The Farmers Coop has several Grow Bags ($7-$15) that include coconut coir instead of potting soil, but you will need your own seeds (any left from the summer?), a liquid fertilizer and good light. I think these are great for growing herbs and greens like lettuces. You know your beloved just can’t stop wanting really local food.
Christmas platter at Stillwater Porcelain
On the other hand, sometimes you want to stop thinking about tools and chores. Sometimes you just want to surround yourself with the images of flowers and nature while carrying on in your non-gardening life. I stopped in at Stillwater Porcelain in ShelburneFalls where Pat Pyott has a unique way of creating ornamental tiles, with realistic images of Queen Anne’s Lace, autumn leaves, herbs, an evergreen branch. There are functional pieces like a variety of plates to tiles that surround a mirror. Prices range from $15 for lovely tree ornaments to $218 for a platter that will hold the roasted holiday beast. “I know you want to be surrounded by nature in every room,” these gifts say.
J.H. Sherburne embroidered cases
Just a little further down State Street is J.H. Sherburne’s shop. Jo-Anne has garden ornaments, and lovely botanical jewelry. I could not resist the gold and silver bulb complete with leaf shoots and roots that provided a space for a sprig of leaf or flower. I am not really a jewelry person, but I found this absolutely irresistible. She also has a collection of brightly embroidered Guatemalan cases, from luggage ($187) to a change purse ($7). I don’t have a cellphone (no service in Heath) but if I did I would love a flowered cellphone case ($14). I like the juxtaposition of technology and a flower garden.
Portrait by J.H. Sherburne
Jo-Anne is also a fine artist and just think what a gift a portrait of the beloved would be, set among the colors of the garden. Full information about how that process works is on her website.
Gift certificates carry all sorts of messages. They can say, “I know you, and I love you and your garden, and while I have no idea what you want or need, I want you to have it.” This message is often sent to experienced gardeners who can be very particular and opinionated about tools or plants. A gift certificate is a gift of anticipation, of time for thought and the delight in picking out just the item you have been longing for. There are times when a gift certificate is the perfect gift. What about a gift certificate to OESCO where fine tools are found in Ashfield? The Greenfield Farmers Coop, the Shelburne Farm and GardenCenter, JH Sherburne and Stillwater Porcelain also have perfect gift certificates.
Between the Rows December 13, 2014
Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer
It’s a truism that every garden is different. Gardeners don’t begin by asking “how can I make my garden unique” they begin by looking for ways to bring their passions and preferences into the garden. This search will include choosing plants and planning pathways, but it will also include finding chairs and a table for conviviality, a birdbath for attracting the birds, possibly even a protecting summerhouse. In her new book, Cultivating Garden Style: Inspired ideas and practical advice to unleash your garden personality ($35. Timber Press), Rochelle Greayer provides inspiring ideas and information about different garden designs and accessories.
Nearly encyclopedic this is not a book that requires beginning at page one and marching on to page 304. The bright illustrations inspired me to browse through the book first, trying to find myself within a category or two. Is my garden Cottage Au Courant with its controlled chaos? Possibly. But what about Sacred Meadow? I am surrounded by meadows. Definitely not Wabi Sabi Industrial, but still, I do long to be able to recycle odd and rusty junk into useful and beautiful garden details.
Greayer herself does not worry about purity of style. Though she lives in eastern Massachusetts now, she was born in Colorado, and describes her garden as “Handsome Prairie, with healthy dashes of Sacred Meadow, ForestTemple, and Homegrown Rock’n’Roll thrown in.” Clearly unique gardens are not created by locking yourself into a theme, even if it is your own.
Cultivating Garden Style – Wabi Sabi Industrial
The various themes are beautifully photographed and provide that initial inspiration, but the sections on Learning, Doing, Growing give you practical information about how to achieve the garden in your mind. These sections cross over the various themes. You will need advice about deck essentials, buying plants, choosing a tree, understanding and using microclimates, making paths, or creating visual illusions no matter what kind of garden you are creating. She also provides directions for a number of DIY projects like making planter sconces, oilcloth placemats, a fountain, and lighting fixtures.
Pith & Vigor garden newspaper
Greayer’s prose style is chatty and informative. She loves talking to gardeners, learning from them and teaching them. For years she has written a garden blog, www.studiogblog.com which is currently taking a new form but remains a pleasure to read. She is also the editor of a new quarterly garden newspaper, Pith&Vigor, of which I am a charter subscriber. The first issue includes an interview with Ken Marten and his directions for making an exquisite terrarium, how to make a mushroom garden, a bouquet gathered on the Massachusetts coast in mid-September, an autumnal container arrangement and an article on how to grow giant pumpkins – and compete! Lots more in this issue and to come. Subscribe for $32 a year, for a paper and online subscription by ordering at www.pithandvigor.com. A subscription to Pith&Vigor would make a great gift for gardeners on your list.
There are other subscriptions that will feed a gardener’s interests in more specific ways. Recently I was given a subscription to the quarterly Heirloom Gardener, published by Rare Seeds Publishing, an arm of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. The lushly illustrated current issue contains articles about poisonous plants, indoor gardening with herbs and bulb forcing, crops and seeds of the Incas, and rare fruits. And more. $15 for one year (four issues). Call 417-924-8917 or order online at heirloomgardener.com.
For many years I have been a member of the American Horticultural Society. One of the perks of membership is the bi-monthly magazine The American Gardener with regular articles about plants from ornamentals to poison ivy. Did I know there was anything good to say about poison ivy? No. But it seems it seems that it has the “potential for use in a variety of commercial applications, including an environmentally smart replacement for the petrochemicals used to make paints and industrial coatings.” There are also interviews with fascinating gardeners, book reviews, news about AHS programs – and more. You can join online. The basic membership at $35 will get you The American Gardener, free or discounted entry into many gardens and arboreta and plant shows around the country as well as the member seed exchange.
I am also a member of the New England Wildflower Society where a year’s membership at the $55 level gives me free access to the famous Garden in the Woods in Framingham, and a discount at Nasami Farm in Whately where the NEWFS propagates many thousands of native plants. I am a regular shopper at Nasami Farm. There are many workshops available at a discount. Membership will also give you a subscription to their newly overhauled magazine, reciprocal admission to 270 public gardens, and borrowing privileges at their 4500 volume library. You can join online at www.newenglandwild.org You don’t even need to be a member of NEWFS to read their blog about native plants, or use their great Go Botany database to help you identify plants. All this is yours for free.
Gardeners are always learning; and a gift of books or memberships in a horticultural society are good ways to keep feeding their hunger for new information, and new pleasure. Happy shopping.
Between the Rows December 6, 2013
Timber Press and Rochelle Greayer are helping me celebrate 7 years of blogging here at the commonweeder.com. You still have another day to leave a comment here by midnight Saturday, December 13, and have a chance to win a copy of Cultivating Garden Style AND a copy of my own book The Roses at the End of the Road. I will announce the winner on Sunday, December 14.
Rosemary in Bloom
Mary Gardens do not bloom in December, but since the liturgical season of Advent is a time of waiting for the momentous birth of the Christ Child I cannot help but think about what a confusing time it must have been for Mary.
All mothers waiting for the arrival of their first child often feel confused because emotions can range from frightened to joyous. What will the birth be like? What will the baby be like? What will the woman be like once she is a mother?
I think about Mary on that long donkey ride to Bethlehem. Mothers are weary and expectant during that last month of pregnancy as the baby comes closer and closer to being a reality. The very young Mary must still have been trying to get her mind around the memory of the angel who told her she would carry this special child, and the visit to her cousin Elizabeth which was more confirmation that this child was going to be very special.
In ancient times the pagan goddesses all had flowers associated with their personalities. For example, the rose and the lily are connected with Venus, denoting her love and her purity. Mary is a unique figure to all Christians; it is no surprise that over the centuries such a figure would have many stories grow up around her. In an age when most of the population was illiterate, symbols were important to storytelling. In Mary’s story various plants became symbols of her character and the events in her life. Some people have taken those symbols to create a Mary Garden where they might meditate on her life.
Most paintings of the Annunciation, show an angel appearing with a white lily to tell Mary that she would bear a son who would ‘be the greatest and shall be called the son of the Highest.” The lily, white for purity with a golden heart, is the first symbol of Mary and is considered essential to any Mary Garden. The second symbol, the iris, is more important because of its sword-like foliage than its flower. When Mary and Joseph presented the new baby in the templeSimeon said, “This child is destined to be a sign which men will reject; and you too shall be pierced to the heart.” Confusion upon confusion – angels, shepherds, wise men and dire warnings, and she just a new mother with a baby.
Mary came to be called the Mystical Rose and so roses are also necessary in a Mary garden. Thornless roses symbolize Mary who herself was declared born without sin, and all the roses with thorns stand for the rest of humanity with all their faults and failings. Roses for Mary are either white for purity, or red for the passion.
Myth and legend grew up around Mary and many flowers were thought to refer to her domestic life. I can imagine women over the ages thinking of the ways they share Mary’s duties and chores. Mending is no longer a major chore, but Mary’s Candle is one name for the giant mullein (Verbascum), its tall yellow flower spike standing in for a candle that provided light for Mary while she mended the Christ Child’s clothing. Right by her side would have been her tools, Our Lady’s Thimble, otherwise known as the Bluebells of Scotland, and Our Lady’s Pincushion, the Scabiosa.
Many other flowers are connected with Mary from the common marigold which is Mary’s gold, only to be found in nature, the blue of forget-me-nots as clear as Mary’s eyes, and Our Lady’s Keys, the primrose. Some of these associations make more sense than others, but all are beautiful in a garden.
The first garden known to be dedicated to Mary was created by the Irish St. Fiacre in the 7th century. The first record of a Mary Garden was a 15th century listing of plants for the St. Mary’s garden written by the sacristan at the Norwich Priory in England.
The flowers in a Mary Garden are an aid to meditation. Spring brings us columbine for Mary’s shoes, and alchemilla for lady’s mantle for her cloak. Pulmonaria, and other plants with white mottled foliage have been called milkwort or Mary’s milkdrops. You can see that many flowers for a Mary Garden are humble cottage or wildflowers, as unassuming at Mary herself.
A Mary Garden could also include a ground cover like vinca (Virgin flower), foxglove or Our Lady’s Glove, pansies or Our Lady’s Delight, or lilies of the valley for the tears she shed after the crucifixion.
It is thought that the first Mary Garden in the United States was planted at St. Joseph’s Church in Woods Hole on Cape Cod in 1932. Full information about this garden, and MaryGardens in general can be found at the University of Dayton in Ohio,http://campus.udayton.edu/mary/resources/m_garden/marygardensmain.html.
Even if you don’t have an outdoor garden, you can have a Mary Garden. All it takes is an image of the Holy Mother, and potted plants like the prayer plant (Maranta leucoreura) whose foliage closes in the evening like praying hands, and rosemary. My own rosemary plant is producing tiny blue flowers right now, a reminder of the legend that on the flight to Egypt the Holy Family stopped so that Mary could wash the Christ Child’s clothes. She asked plants nearby if she could hang the wet clothes on them to dry but only the rosemary bush consented. To this day rosemary’s blue flowers are a reminder of Mary in her blue cloak.
When you need a respite from the happy holiday hullabaloo, take a few minutes to sit quietly with your plants, no matter which, and meditate on the joys of the season.
Don’t Forget: You can win a copy of Rochelle Greayer’s fabulous book Cultivating Garden Style, AND a copy of The Roses at the End of the Road by Yours Truly simply by leaving a comment here by midnight, December 13. I will randomly choose a winner of this Giveaway celebrating 7 years of blogging at commonweeder on Sunday, December 14. Thank you Timber Press.
Between the Rows November 30, 2014
Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer
My first blog post went up on December 6, 2007, which means I have seven happy years to celebrate on this blogoversary. In that first post I wondered whether 67 was too old to begin blogging. I guess I didn’t need to worry. I don’t have statistics until 2010, but since then I have written 1582 posts and received over 6000 comments. I don’t feel a day older and there are many new ideas and plants, and gardeners out in the world to meet and learn from. And many wonderful books. In that first post I mentioned Eleanor Perenyi’s book Green Thoughts and I have written about many more garden books since then.
On this Seventh Blogoversary Timber Press and I are giving away a copy of Rochelle Greayer’s new book Cultivating Garden Style: Inspired ideas and practical advice to unleash your garden personality. This bright and cheerful book contains hundreds of ideas for creating a beautiful and personal garden. Browse through the wonderfully illustrated page and consider – is your garden Wabi Sabi Industrial? Hollywood Frou Frou? or a Pretty Potager? Do you long for a Forest Temple? A Sacred Meadow? Or are you Organic Modern? Of course, as you browse you might think you cannot pigeonhole yourself like that, and why should you. Rochelle herself describes her garden as being influenced by her childhood in Colorado but she’s a little bit Rock ‘n’ Roll as well as Handsome Prairie.
We all deserve to let our best selves shine, but sometimes we need information about how to make that happen. What do you know about decking or outdoor fabrics? Rochelle has answers and ideas.
Roses at the End of the Road
I will also be giving away a copy of my own book, The Roses at the End of the Road, with charming illustrations by my husband. I do give some basic information about growing roses, but when people ask me what my secret of success is I always say it is choosing the right rose. I don’t fuss with my roses or use any poisons. I was a beekeeper and I treasure all the pollinators who come into the garden. I do talk about neighbors, the history of roses, and my own adventures among the roses. I had no long held desire for a rose garden until I planted the Passionate Nymph’s Thigh rose and thus began my own love affair. There is no explaining passion.
To win both of these books all you have to do is leave a comment here by Midnight on December 13 here I will draw a winner at random on Sunday, December 14. Once I have the winner’s address, I will send the books right out.
You’ve got to love a man who thinks you look like this. And I do!
I have written about the language of love before, giving it my own modern spin. Sharon Selz at The Country Woman Magazine has created several bouquets filled with loving messages in a more traditional tone. The bouquet pictured here says:
I am lonely without you and desire a return of your constant love and affection.
Flowers: hyacinth (constancy), jonquil (I desire a return of affection), rose (love), heather (solitude)
I expect one could deconstruct her beautiful tussie mussies to create your own specific Valentine’s Day message. Did you know that while the rose is always about love different types of love require different roses. For example the white rose is for innocent love, while the red rose says ‘I love you’ in the most direct way. There are many ways of looking at the language of the rose.
I have an annual subscription to the Jacquie Lawson website which allows me to send gorgeous animated and musical e-cards (for any occasion) to friends. A card I have sent to many people is The Eloquent Arrangement in which a basket of flowers is assembled and when it is done the recipient can let her mouse hover over each blossom to read the message sent – allium for patience, dogwood for durability and pimpernel for change, all aspects of love. The basket contains other flowers and other aspects of love as well.
As you prepare for Valentine’s Day, what tussie mussie might you assemble – with traditional meanings, or possibly with your own symbols and references?
We all need to pay attention to the wisdom of the young. My husband was telling our visiting great-grandaughter Bella (age 7 1/4) that while Granny didn’t make New Year’s Resolutions, she did try to do a little bit of everything that she wanted to enjoy on New Year’s Day.
On New Year’s Day Bella went to Eastern Heath to spend the afternoon with her good friend Hazel. They both returned to our house for supper. There was time for dragging out the dress up box, reading, and art work. Hazel was in a representational mode, but I thought Bella was working in a more abstract vein. However, it turned out she was making out a list of what she planned to do in 2014. First came Cook, then Bake, Read, Write, Color, Do Workbooks, Have a workout and run, Go ice-skating, Have Playdates, Relax, Make disigns for my room and my friends, Share with Lola (her younger sister), Sing, Dance, Eat and drink a lot to stay hidrated.
That could be a good start on a working list for many of us. In fact, during her visit, we did cook (saumon en papillote), bake cookies, read (a lot), sing (operatically), dance and have a playdate – with Hazel. A good start on the year. I hope I will do as well.
Hazel and Bella dancing and singing