Spring Flowers and Mary Gardens

In the spring, after clearing out dead growth and trimming back spring-pruned plants, you can enjoy crocus, tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths. Snowdrops are another early bloomer, sometimes flowering well before the last snow. The catch is, you should plant spring-flowering bulbs in the fall because they require a dormant period to bloom. Bulbs put in in spring may send out foliage but may or may not bloom.
If, however, you procrastinated and left your gardens unplanted in the fall, consider buying already bloomed plants that you can sit out in pots on a windowsill, patio or sidewalk. With a little arrangement, you can have all the beauty of a flower bed in a more convenient and manageable form.

To keep rot from destroying your spring garden if you live in a wet climate, add a medium to your soil that helps it to drain, keeping water off the roots. Spring is also a good time to fertilize. Work any organic matter into the soil to add nutrients for your plants, or if you have less time, try a time release formula that will keep your plants fed for longer periods with less effort. Coffee grounds and tea leaves are excellent examples of nutrient rich instant fertilizer that most people just throw out. You can also steep used tea bags and use the light tea that results as a weak fertilizer.

Take into account the seasons when thinking about light and shade. In the spring you will have considerably more sun in a garden under deciduous trees than in the fall, when the foliage can reduce your garden to near-full shade. Many spring-flowering bulbs do well in either full or partial sun, but certain varietes, including anemone blanda, dogtooth violets, grape hyacinths, or snow drops prefer partial to near-full shade and may not do as well in full sun. Again, a key issue is drainage, since water tends to collect in any dips or hollows in the garden. Watch your garden and work up the soil periodically with a trowel to aerate your plants if necessary.

A charming custom you can imitate to whatever degree suits you is the Mary garden, a spring-blooming garden composed of flowers or herbs having to do with the Virgin Mary. Even before the ground has thawed, you can buy or germinate certain of these – lily of the valley, rosemary,snowdrops, violets, miniature roses – and arrange them in window gardens with miniatures to give a hint of spring.

Usually in a typical Mary garden a statue of the Blessed Virgin has a prominent place, sometimes in the center or in a grotto by the wall, often with a birdbath or fountain placed near it. The following plants are mainstays of traditional Mary gardens:

Columbine and Trefoil, purported to have sprung forth at the touch of Mary’s foot, are also known as Our Lady’s shoes or Our Lady’s slippers.
Lily-of-the-valley (Our Lady’s tears). During May, Germany’s Maiglockchen (May bells)is used there to fill chapels in churches and homes.

Foxgloves are shade-loving, colorful additions to any garden. The bells were referred to as “Our Lady’s thimbles” during the medieval period.

Marigold (Mary’s bud) according to legend, adorned Mary’s dress.

Snowdrops are the first bloomers in Europe, where it is much loved and given in bouquets as the first floral tribute of the year during Candlemas. It symbolizes Mary’s purity and innocence.

The lily is of course a traditional Easter plant, symbolizing the resurrection of Christ. On July 2, the Feast of the Visitation, lilies can also be found. This beautiful flower has for many ages symbolized innocence, purity, and virginity.
Rosemary is an early spring bloomer, and it is said that the plant originally bloomed in white but turned blue (Mary’s color) after serving as a drying rack for Baby Jesus’ newly washed clothing as the family was journeying back from Egypt.

Violets are associated with Mary’s humility. Legend has it that when she spoke the words, “Behold, I am a handmaid of the Lord”, violets sprang outside her window. The angel who had visited her blessed them as he left the house, giving them a particularly sweet smell.

The fundamental Catholic devotion called the “Rosary (rosarium) of the Blessed Virgin Mary” comes from “rosary”, which meant a rose garden but later was extended to mean “rose garland.” Three colors most commonly associated with Mary are white roses – her joys, red roses – her sufferings, and yellow (golden) roses – her glories.

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