By Nora Steinbrech
IOWA CITY — It was just about this time last year when I looked out over the four-foot drifts covering my garden, imagining the Helleborus gathering their strength to push through the hard half-frozen earth. They are the first to blossom each spring and are called Lenten Roses because they traditionally appear sometime during that season.
Easter came so early last year I hadn’t really expected these tough little plants to keep their promise. I waited until late in the afternoon on the last Saturday in Lent, carefully scooped back the remnants of snow and ice, and there were the first glossy, dark-green leaves and a blossom tightly coiled against the cold.
Whether tending the plants or simply walking or sitting, a gardener can find in a garden time for reflection, working through problems and simply calming the spirit. While I greatly admire my friends’ vibrant gardens, alive with gorgeous color, my little wildflower garden under the shade of old oak and linden trees is, I think, one more suited to me.
Most of the plants in my garden are familiar wildflowers. They bring back memories of springtime walks in the timber with my grandparents when I was a little girl. That’s why I still prefer to think of them by their traditional names, many of which are biblical.
If you have a bit of shade in your yard, here are a few old springtime favorites you might enjoy:
• Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans) is a mound of small blue blossoms whose leaves might be thought to resemble the steps of a ladder.
• Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), whose maroon striped, yellow-green flower forms a curved canopy over Jack.
• Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) has a tall stalk with many leaves that curves gracefully, concealing a line of small flowers on the underside. Scars on the roots are a somewhat circular impression believed to resemble the ancient seal of King Solomon.
• Christmas Ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) at one time were used as Christmas decorations.
• Forget-me-nots (Myosotis laxa). Several patches of these tiny blue flowers remind me of St. Anthony. What would I do without his interventions!
• Trillium (Liliaceae). The three petals bring the Holy Trinity to mind.
• Job’s Tears (Smilacina racemosa) is also known as “False Solomon’s Seal.
• Our Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium calceolus) is a wild orchid whose more common name is Golden Lady’s Slipper.
• Passion Flower (Passiflora). Early gardeners saw many things that reminded them of the crucifixion. The five stamens suggested the five wounds, the three carpels were the three nails, the tendrils were the scourges and the corona with its many narrow divisions was the crown of thorns.
A few Sundays ago, Father Ed Fitzpatrick at the Newman Catholic Student Center here in Iowa City encouraged us to “Be quiet and listen to God.” A wildflower garden is a wonderful place to do just that.