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Consider the Lilies of the Fields

Easter is never the same date two years in a row. In 2005, it falls on March 27th.

Certain plants are associated with particular holidays. For Easter, the lily represents the very spiritual essence of the occasion. On that day, it is used on altars and crosses.

Lilies are mentioned in the Bible a number of times. However, the most famous is probably a passage from the Sermon on the Mount, when Christ said, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet…Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Unlike some bulbs, the flowers of Easter lilies are always white, a color that symbolizes innocence, virtue, and purity.

According to legend, lilies grew in the Garden of Gethsemane. They sprung up from drops of Christ’s sweat that he shed during his agony on the cross.

Yet the role of lilies in Christianity didn’t stop there. Traditional accounts say when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden that Eve repented and shed tears. From those tears arose lilies.

The lily is also associated with the Virgin Mary. Legends say that when her tomb was visited three years after her burial it was empty—except for the magical white lilies. Early Christian artists and writers alike perpetuated this story. They chose the lily as a floral emblem for her. Paintings showed her receiving a stem of pure white lilies from the angel Gabriel when he announced she would be the mother of Christ. Art also showed her and the baby Jesus with vases full of white lilies.

All of these traditions and stories are very meaningful, but they aren’t supported by historical fact. The real truth is that the Easter lily is from Japan. It isn’t native to the Holy Land. However, that doesn’t have to detract from its symbolism.

For the Greeks and Romans, the lily was truly the flower of love. They used it during ceremonies of worship for Venus and Aphrodite.

To the Turks, the lily was a tasty food. They roasted the bulbs and ate them.

The original Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum) is native to the southern islands of Japan. By the 1880’s it was being grown in Bermuda. Until World War II, Japanese growers exported the bulbs to the U.S. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans began growing their own in Oregon.

Though the Easter lily may not be mentioned in the Bible, others are. You can learn more about this from “Flowers of the Bible and How to Grow Them” by Allan A. Swenson. This was published by the Citadel Press, a division of Kensington Publishing. In this classic gardening book, the author provides complete details on all the different plants mentioned in the Bible along with the biblical texts. He explains how to design and create a biblical garden, what plants to use, and how to use them for different purposes in garden design, for example in meditation and prayer areas and family memorial spots. For anyone interested in garden history, this book is a must-read. In addition to gardening how-to’s, it features complete lists of biblical gardens you can visit around the world.

Some lilies, including the Easter lily, have a wonderful fragrance. Though the Easter lily is snowy white, other kinds of lilies are available. They’re a favorite cut flower. The famous French artist and botanical illustrator Pierre Joseph Redoute did paintings of lilies during the 19th century. His work was greatly admired by Empress Josephine, who was especially fond of flowers. The Easter lily wasn’t known in Redoute’s day, but he did paintings of other kinds of lilies.

Some kinds of lilies are hardy enough to grow in cutting gardens. These usually bloom during the summer months. Learn all the details on how to grow these plants from “Landscaping with Bulbs-Complete Guide to Growing Beautiful Bulbs.” This is part of the Black & Decker Outdoor Home Series from Creative Publishing International. It gives all the instructions you need for choosing and growing lilies and other bulbs. It features an encyclopedia of bulbs with color photos and descriptions of each and complete instructions on how to grow and care for them. There are over 300 gorgeous color photos.

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