Autumnal Planting | Lenten Lilies

Wild daffodils
Wild Daffodils at Newent, Gloucestershire
© Copyright Pauline E and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Today is the Autumnal Equinox and gardeners all over England are busy planting bulbs for next spring. Yesterday I sat in a low chair and planted dozens of wild daffodil bulbs in our former vegetable patch — not the lovely little bright yellow Tenby type but the, to my eyes, even lovelier, narcissus pseudonarcissus, which is seen at its most glorious in the so-called Golden Triangle between Newent and Dymock in Gloucestershire.

I love the alternative names for these daffodils: they read like a litany of spring — Verill, Bell Rose, Bulrose, Chalice Flower, Daffy-down-dilly, Eggs and Bacon, Lent Cock, Lent Rose, Trumpet Narcissus, Yellow Crowbell. Best of all, I love the name Lenten Lily. They do not last long. They are said to bloom first on Ash Wednesday and die on Easter Day. Housman wrote one of his typically melancholy poems about them, and I found myself repeating lines from it as I planted the bulbs:

And there’s the windflower chilly
With all the winds at play,
And there’s the Lenten lily
That has not long to stay
And dies on Easter day.

It reminded me of something I think we are apt to forget, so busy are we with the daily round and the demands made on us by the present. We work for the future, knowing full well that the future is not ours to command. I myself may not live to see my Lenten lilies bloom, but someone will. Planting them is not only an act of faith in a future hidden from view but the expression of a desire to make that future a little brighter, a little lovelier for others. There are many people whose lives are bleak and unhappy; many children who don’t have enough to eat or the chance of going to school. What we can do to help may be little enough, but we have to start somewhere. We may be able to give time or money or expertise; if we can, we should. We may perhaps be able to plant a few flowers for others to enjoy. All of us can give prayer.

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