What’s in a Name?

Photo by Jill Wellington on Pixabay

As a gardener, I must admit that I prefer using the common or folk names for flowers. These sometimes-ancient names are often whimsical and enchanting, like “Miss Willmott’s Ghost,” whose origins we explored last week.

Who wouldn’t love calling flowers by such names as cherry pie plant, lady’s slipper, love-in-a-mist, baby blue eyes, bachelor’s button, quaker ladies, whirling butterflies, johnny-jump-up, busy lizzie, or candytuft? It makes the heart sing to use endearing names like these.

The scientific or botanical names for flowers, on the other hand, can seem daunting. They’re usually derived from Latin, and while they can give a more accurate description of what a plant’s nature is, they can sound a bit intimidating to my ears.

In fact, some botanical names actually sound like a disease:

“Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve got Scabiosa again.”

“That’s nothing! You should see my sister’s Myosotis: it’s rampant.”

“You don’t say! But did you hear about Kelly? She’s got Nepeta nervosa.”

“No! Is she seeing a psychiatrist for that?”

(In case you’re wondering, Scabiosa is the botanical name for the pincushion flower; you might know Myosotis better as the little blue forget-me-not; and Nepeta nervosa is a type of catmint.)

I’m so glad that we have the opportunity to use informal names for the flowers we cherish.

In the same way, believers have been given the great privilege of using a remarkably intimate name for God: “Abba Father.”

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Miss Willmott’s Ghost

Giant Sea Holly: Photo by Matthew Richardson on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

I saw Miss Willmott’s Ghost this week.

No, I don’t know anyone by that name, and I haven’t seen any actual ghosts lately.

I’m referring to the giant sea holly, a plant whose nickname is “Miss Willmott’s Ghost.” I happened to see it on a visit to my city’s botanical gardens recently.

The giant sea holly was given this whimsical moniker in honour of the equally eccentric Ellen Willmott, an English gardener who lived in Victorian times.

Apparently, Miss Willmott so loved this plant that she carried its seeds with her at all times in hopes of helping it proliferate. On a regular basis, she would secretly scatter the seeds in other people’s gardens when visiting them. Later, this silvery thistle-like plant would mysteriously appear, no doubt causing the garden’s owners to do a double-take and wonder how it got there.

Perhaps we as believers in God should take a page from Miss Willmott’s book. Not to engage in any guerrilla gardening necessarily, but to follow her example of planting “seeds” wherever we go.

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Prayers Live On, Like Lilacs

Lilac shrub in full bloom. Photo by Holger Schué on Pixabay

This is a special time of year in my part of Canada: the lilacs are speaking!

Lilac flowers don’t use words, of course. They announce their presence through their beautiful fragrance and delicate purple colour.

But there’s another way lilac shrubs can talk to us. Their very location can give us clues to the history of a place.

“…the story of early Canada can be read in the lilacs clustered where log cabins once stood, at the edge of abandoned fields—flowers marking time in centuries.” (from “A New Leaf,” by Merilyn Simonds)

Settlers to the northern parts of North America would often plant lilac shrubs on either side of the front door to their farmhouse. Generations or even centuries later, the building has long since been torn down, but the lilacs live on. If you see a pair of lilac bushes in a field or empty lot, you can be pretty sure they used to flank someone’s front door. The house is gone, the family has moved away, but the fragrance of the lilacs they planted still fills the air.

This reminds me a bit of how prayers can live on, long after the person who prayed them is gone.

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The Sweetest Perfume Can’t Be Bought

Vintage perfume bottles
Photo by domeckopol on Pixabay

We humans can’t help but react instinctively to a beautiful smell, can we?

In my last post, The Perfect Recipe for Bread, I mentioned how wonderful the smell of freshly baked bread is in your own home. The same is true when you bake a cake, cook a roast, light a scented candle, or when you bring a bouquet of flowers inside: the aroma fills the whole house and gives you a deep sense of pleasure.

You get the same pleasing effect when you take a walk in your neighbourhood and can detect cooking smells emanating from houses as you pass by: here someone’s making a rich stew, over there a spicy curry. Even better is strolling by someone’s garden and being enveloped by the scent of the lilacs or roses growing there.

But what if a beautiful aroma could permeate an even bigger area?

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Some Things Never Change

Photo by mabi2000 on Flickr CC BY-SA-2.0

During this worldwide crisis, many of us are concerned about the changes that are being wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. We wonder what the world will look like once we emerge from the lockdowns.

Will life truly return to the way it was before? Will there be thousands of small businesses that will never reopen? Will we ever be able to gather in large crowds like we did in the past? Will the way we “do life” have changed permanently because of this pandemic?

It’s at times like these that we need something that never changes, much like conifers. During the winter, when deciduous trees are bare, I’m thankful for coniferous trees. These loyal friends, like the spruces, pines and firs, still have their mantle of green, which they’ll keep year-round. These silent sentinels might not be flashy, but we can count on them not to change.

God’s character is like that, too.

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How To Make Maple Syrup

Collecting maple sap the traditional way, in buckets

Sometimes the sweetest things take the most effort to produce, don’t they?

Take, for instance, maple syrup, one of Canada’s iconic products. We often use it atop pancakes or waffles, or in desserts (see below). This delicious liquid starts out as sap collected from sugar maple trees.

Right now it’s maple syrup season in Eastern Canada: as the weather warms, the sap in the trees starts flowing freely. Holes are drilled into the trunks of the maples, and buckets or tubing collects the dripping sap, which is then transported to a central location.

And then it’s ready to be bottled, right? No! Actually, the process has only just begun.

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Orchestra In Your Garden

Snowdrops, one of the harbingers of spring

Finally! At long last we’re starting to see signs of spring here in Toronto.

There’s still a bit of snow on the ground, but the tiny snowdrops in my garden are already shyly blooming. The tulips are just starting to poke the tips of their leaves above the ground like a periscope, as if checking to see whether it’s safe to emerge.

“The flowers are springing up, the season of singing birds has come, and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.” (Song of Solomon 2:12 NLT)

After a long winter, it makes my heart sing to see the beginnings of spring.

But do the flowers and trees themselves sing? And if they do, what is their song telling us?

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Promises of Good Things To Come

Vintage seed catalogues from the 1890s.
(Publicdomainpictures.net)

When winter still has us in its icy grip, it’s hard to imagine that it will ever let us go. There seems to be no end to the frigid temperatures and snowstorms, and it can really get a person down.

What can we do to give us hope during a bleak, cold winter?

A favourite thing that gardeners do is to curl up indoors with some seed catalogues. They read about the promise of future luxuriant flower gardens and abundant crops of vegetables. It lifts their spirits and helps them hold on until spring comes.

Let me show you what I mean:

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Try Looking Up

People transfixed by their phones, Hyde Park, London
Photo by Waterford_Man on Flickr CC BY-2.0

The other day I went for walk at the Toronto Botanical Gardens. Even though the trees were bare of leaves and there was snow on ground, it was still a place of great beauty.

I noticed something strange, however, about the other visitors to the park. I must have passed at least a dozen other people as I walked the winding trail down the ravine to the river, but they were all standing stock-still.

Had I wandered onto a set for some science-fiction movie, in which aliens freeze people in place in advance of taking over the planet? Or had all these people been suddenly afflicted with a disease that left them immobilized?

No, the reason they were standing as motionless as statues was because they were all staring down at their smartphones.

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An Unexpected Friend

Last summer, I had an unusual visitor. A lady I didn’t recognize came to my front door and rang the doorbell. I’d never seen her before, but she was clearly from the neighbourhood, as she had come on foot.

She said she had come to apologize to me.

I was mystified. This lady was a total stranger: why would she need to apologize to me?

“What on earth for?” I asked her.

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