YOU could say that Easter
began in a garden. Since the Middle Ages, and possibly earlier,
European churches have created a temporary garden, often on Maundy
Thursday or Good Friday morning, lasting until the end of Easter
Week and beyond.
In certain mainland European
traditions, the garden remains until Pentecost, and some old
churches even have Easter sepulchres built into the sanctuary, to
the north of the altar. These would be dressed with plant material
and garments, adding a visual dimension to the Easter liturgy.
In 1955, Constance Spry
designed an Easter garden for St Paul's Cathedral. Based around the
font in the west transept, and incorporating the larger-than-life
statuary, it was a necessarily grand affair. Moist peat, hemmed in
with silver-birch logs, made flowerbeds, alongside areas of turf
surrounded by a cypress "hedge", all laid over a waterproof
A colleague of Spry's,
Sheila Macqueen, recalled the feature in her book Flower
Decoration in Churches: "Against the background of tall
cupressus, silver birch, and also rhododendron, forsythia, and
other flowering shrubs, daffodils, hyacinths and polyanthuses were
planted. . . The area around [the font] was transformed into a
little formal garden divided into sections, each one surrounded by
a box hedge. . . The beds were planted with the little flowers
which children like, such as daisies, forget-me-nots, and
primroses." You get the picture.
Hundreds of visitors
witnessed this ambitious project during the two weeks after Easter,
and it is my theory that the doyenne of flower-arranging thus
influenced decades of Anglican Easter gardens. Osmosis via Oasis,
if you like.
ONLY a hardened soul could
not respond to the joy and glory of flowers in church after Lent,
and the emptiness of Holy Saturday. Nevertheless, I suggest that
the best place for the Easter garden is outdoors. This makes it a
true "garden", and a public witness. It can rightly become the
focal point for the Paschal vigil, and, on a practical level, it
can house a spot for the Easter fire.
As a gardener, I have always
struggled with seeing grass become etiolated, and primroses
decline, in the gloom of a church, all destined for a compost heap
at best. Better to dedicate a patch in the church grounds as the
Easter garden, and watch the plant-life return and proliferate year
Many of our spring
garden-flowers originate in the Mediterranean basin. If a sunny
spot can be found, then these should thrive, bringing a piece of
the Holy Land to us. As a proviso, I ought to add that many
churchyards are ecologically important. Therefore, a previously
gardened area is probably more suitable than the wilder parts.
Spring blooms are important
providers of nectar and pollen for early pollinators, although
daffodils tend to be avoided by bees. Instead, use other bulbs:
scillas, crocuses, anemones, fritillaria persica, grape
hyacinths, and stars of Bethlehem.
That favourite rockery plant
Aubrieta is usually a carpet of colour at Easter time. The timing
of Easter can, of course, vary by five weeks, and the preceding
weather has an effect on what flowers are in season. Consequently,
it is as well to have a range of spring flowers in your Easter
garden, and aim to add a few new specimens bought at their peak
NATIVE British plants make
sense, too. Blackthorn, or sloe, is an excellent early source of
food for bees, and can recall Christ's Passion. Pussy Willow,
Salix caprea, has a long association with mourning. Pasque
Flower, Pulsatilla vulgaris, is one of our most beautiful
native wildflowers and, now scarce, a priority species under the UK
Biodiversity Action Plan. It takes a while to get established, and
resents disturbance; so find it a sunny spot in light soil, and
leave it alone. In time, it colonises an area via seed.
When arranging the plants,
it may help to remember that Mediterranean gardens are all about
contrast - hard surfaces, with soft foliage, and blooms, vertical
accents, and spikes with rounded mounds.
The addition of props is a
matter of taste, and may bring issues of vandalism. Some "hooks"
for the mind can help people to engage in prayer and reflection; so
these could be temporary additions, or just sturdy and simple.
This valuable tradition is part of our heritage, and deserves to