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The Garden Gate: March on the mark for transition

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By Ellen Probert Williamson

March, in the Native American Indian calendar is the month of the awakening moon.

This is in recognition that the most significant thing about this month is the transition from winter dormancy to spring trees, flowers and animals takes place.

In the Chinese flower calendar, the flower for March and spring is the tree peony, symbol of love and affection.

In Japan, the cherry blossom is the flower for March.

There are all kinds of images connected with the month of March: lions and lambs; the bridge between the seasons; the voice of the turtledove.

And, of course, the image of the wearing of the green on St. Patrick’s Day when we all, no matter what our ethnic heritage might be, become enthusiastically Irish.

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland. Legend has it that the good saint used the trifoliate leaves of the shamrock to illustrate his sermons about the Trinity.

Irish peasants still put shamrock leaves in their shoes to ward off evil spirits. Finding a four-leafed clover or shamrock still is considered a sign of good luck to come.

Shamrocks are the national flower of Ireland and the state flower of Vermont.

Then, too, there is Arbor Day, founded in 1872 by J. Sterling Morton in Nebraska, where it is still celebrated in April. But now the day is noted all over the world and in different months and times of the year.

In Tennessee it happens in March, in Alabama it comes in February, and in Hawaii, it comes in November. France, Norway and the British Empire take note of Arbor Day during different months of the year.

But when you think about it, Arbor Day can be any day on which you plant a tree.

Soon squirrels and birds will be building their nests in treetops. Any day now you may see fluffy-tailed squirrels wrestling with crumpled sheets of newspaper and other such materials. While any kind of paper will do, newsprint is the preferred kind. Printer’s ink has long been known as a good moth and vermin repellent. So is cedar bark, with which the squirrels also like to line their nests.

Could it be that these little animals know instinctively that cedar bark and newsprint will help to keep their homes free of injurious parasites?

How glad we are to welcome the first flowers of spring after the dreary days of a colder-than-usual winter. The days are growing longer, and there seems to be a new quality to the light, and spring is personified with daffodils and crocus.

Crocus has a venerable history, both in fact and legend. There are more that 75 species and almost as many shades and variations of color in the crocus family, which is the same family as the iris.

According to Greek legend, the crocus was named for a young man of the plains who was named Crocus. He was in love with a beautiful shepherdess of the plains who would not return his ardor. He pined away and died of a broken heart.

In compassion, the gods turned him into a flower called crocus which has been used to adorn weddings from the time of Zeus and Hera until now.

In ancient Rome, in the time of Nero, the crocus was considered to be a heart tonic and a potent aphrodisiac. The flowers were often strewn in banquet halls, courtyards and on small streams which flowed through gardens, thereby scenting the air.

Returning Crusaders in the early Middle Ages introduced the saffron crocus to the court of King Henry I of England, who became very fond of it as a spice flavoring. When court ladies discovered that saffron is a good hair coloring substance to produce the blonde tresses that were the current fashion, they began to use up the available supply. The king was so annoyed that he forbade this use of his favorite spice under threat of dire punishment. The fashion for blonde hair immediately waned, not surprisingly, after this.

It is known that the crocus was cultivated in Israel in the time of Solomon for its yield of saffron, a popular spice in the ancient world.

In the sentimental but romantic Victorian language of flowers, the crocus signified youthful love and ardor and great lightness of spirit.

Saffron is grown as a dyestuff commercially in Spain, Italy, France, Greece and Asia Minor.

The dye is made from the dried stigmas of the flowers and between 7,000-8,000 flowers are needed to produce 3 1/2 ounces of dye.

The traditionally yellow robes worn by Buddhist monks have been dyed with saffron for centuries.

We have embarked on the austere days of Lent, which will soon lead us to spring and then to the joyous celebration of Easter.

Lent is an old English term, meaning to lengthen, which became very early associated with the lengthening days of early spring.

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Ellen Probert Williamson lives in Kingston. Her column appears regularly in the Roane Coun
ty News.