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Easter Gardens

Article posted on 14 December 2011 Leave a Comment


The attraction of an Easter Garden is irresistable. It can be tiny, little more than a seed tray in size,or large enough to actually walk into. Provided that scale and proportion are taken into account, the design is at the command of your imagination.

There are two key elements in an Easter Garden: the stark crosses on Calvary, and the flower filled garden with the empty sepulchre representing Christ’s utlimate triumph over death. You can create such a garden using plant materials that have traditional or folklore links with Easter.

For the starkness of Good Friday, and ideal material is the yew, symbol of mourning. One ancient Passion-tide carol tells how a group of maidens, searching for Christ, find him in the shade of a yew tree. Or use leafless branches of thorn, to represent grimness, combined with sprays of yew to make a striking backdrop for the Hill of Calvary.

By tradition, both the poplar and aspen were the trees from which the cross was made – which is why they are trembling with shame to this day. Holly and bramble have been credited with providing the material for the crown of thorns. If you can make crosses from twigs or branches of poplar or aspen, anchored firmly on the summit of Calvary with a pile of stones or pebbles, all well and good. But when it comes to the crown of thorns, a ‘switch’ of brambles is easier to manage than holly leaves.

Link Calvary and the Garden with pulmonaria (lungwort) and, if you can get it, persicaria (a member of the polygonum family), for both share the legend that they grew at the foot of the Cross, and the blotches on their leaves were caused by Christ’s sweat falling on them. Primroses are the flower of spring and no Easter Garden is complete without them, especially as ‘Easter Rose’ is one of their old country names. BY virtue of being close relations, primulas and polyanthus can be used too – their stronger colours being a perfect foil for the paler primroses.

In Greek mythology daffodils were sacred to the dead and the Elysium Fields were a golden carpet of them. Daffodil is a corruption of their Greek name, asphodel, but because of their flowering time their Christian nickname is Lent Lily or Easter Lily. Use some of the miniature varieties, among them Jack Snipe and Little Witch – they are quite enchanting.

At Easter, a genuine lily, the arum, invariably decorates the altar. It too has an Easter folklore link, for it is said that the first arums grew on the spot where Christians knelt to pray in Gethsemane. Lily of the Valley has the country name of Mary’s Tears – either her tears of sorrow at her son’s death or her tears of joy at his Resurrection. Their exquisite perfume is said to give people the power to see a better world.

One of the most exotically beautiful spring flowers is the pasque flower, a member of the anemone family that takes its name from the French for Easter. According to legend, it was growing beside Christ’s tomb and so witnessed his Resurrection, as did the wallflower, whose petals are arranged in the form of a cross.

There is a definite place for herbs in an Easter Garden. Bay – symbol of victory – has always been a popular church decoration at Christmas, but at Easter its symbolism really comes into its own. Rosemary is not only sacred to the Virgin Mary but is also said never to exceed the age of Christ on earth. It is also the aromatic herb that goes with lamb – the Easter Food.

Some wild flowers have strong Easter associations. The stitchwort is known as Easter Bells, and the Scarlet Pimpernel, growing on the slopes of Calvary, is said to have been spotted with Christ’s blood as he walked to the summit. Speedwell has the country name of Christ’s Eyes, and its botanical name links it with St Veronica. After she wiped Christ’s fave she accidentally dropped her kerchief on a clump of blue flowers growing by the roadside. When she picked it up she found that the flowers carried the impression of Christ’s face on their petals.

As well as the figures that are an integral part of any Easter Garden – the Angels, St Peter and St John, Mary Magdalene and Jesus himself, you could add some ‘properties’ made to scale. These could include a discarded spear and shield – from the guards who fled from the tomb – and a gardener’s spade. According to one Easter legend, the robin gained its red breast from the blood of Christ while it was trying to pull off his crown of thorns. A tiny robin would not be out of place beside the cross.

And finally, somewhere, half-hidden in the foliage of the Easter Garden, a nest containing a few tiny eggs would add a symbolic and a traditional Easter touch. Because they are oval, without beginning or end, eggs have always been a symbol of eternity. Christians also see them as a representation of the stone rolled away from the mouth of the tomb at the moment of Christ’s Resurrection.

Elizabeth Pook

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