August 15, 2018 // Perspective
Flowers for Mary: finding beauty in the backyard
Janet Easter is experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions as she arranges a bouquet in her backyard, and she is unfazed.
“I’m having contractions, which is hilarious,” she says, stripping the leaves off a hydrangea in one swift stroke.
It’s 80 degrees on a Friday afternoon in a Pittsburgh suburb, and Janet is glowing, her 36-week belly draped in a chambray shirt, her honey-colored hair braided across her head like Heidi.
“I don’t really know how this is going to look yet,” she says, tilting her head. “I’m going to make it up as I go.”
Making it up as she goes is a crucial skill for a perfectionist who will soon be tending to three kids under 3. It’s a far cry from her days as style editor of Verily magazine, when Janet coordinated slick New York City photo shoots and relished in her autonomy.
Gardening has helped the 31-year-old stay-at-home mom embrace the journey. “I believe all growth comes through some pain and sacrifice, and planting a garden teaches you this in a very physical, tactile, human way.”
Janet’s personal growth is evidenced by her ability to laugh at the inevitable missteps of a novice gardener. “I tried my hand at sweet peas this year,” she says, pointing to a single bloom. “It was not successful. That’s OK. The dahlias are as big as my head!”
The 1-year-old toddles around wearing only a diaper as Janet arranges her bouquet at a workbench by the back door. She tucks mint in around a dahlia and inserts lime-green amaranth on opposite ends.
Next up is a cream-colored cosmos with an arched stem. “I actually love flowers that are kind of kooky and droopy,” she says. “I’m going to put it on the side to hang out.”
The finished product looks like the handiwork of a skilled florist, a soft blend of greens and creams at varied heights. Janet sets the bouquet on an antique mantel, pausing to lament the descending ants and then grabbing some water to offset her contractions.
She settles into the swing on her front porch, rocking and reflecting. Her longtime love of flowers recently took on a new enthusiasm when she discovered the Marian theology behind flowers, staying up late one night to devour the University of Dayton’s International Marian Research Institute website, her heart racing.
Medieval Christendom knew flowers by their Marian meaning, standing for her spirituality, divine graces, mysteries of the rosary and life with the holy family. Baby’s breath represented Our Lady’s veil; a dandelion, Mary’s bitter sorrows; peonies, Pentecost.
But these symbols were largely forgotten once the printing press brought the proper classification of plants to the masses — save for a few remaining names, such as marigold, Mary’s gold.
“Of course there is this connection!” Janet says now. “As Catholics, we hold a sacramental view of the world.”
She has since memorized the Marian meaning of each flower in her yard, and she’s quick to look up additional flowers that enter her home.
She has written about this passion on her new website, EverEaster.com, and launched a popular Instagram hashtag (#everflowerfriday) to encourage other Catholic women to “listen to the sermon preached to you by the flowers,” in the words of St. Paul of the Cross.
For as far as she has come — as a gardener, a mother, a believer — Janet feels she is at the beginning. That thought makes her smile as she swings on her porch, framed by the backlit leaves of a climbing rose bush.
“What’s exciting to me is that learning about faith is endless,” she says. “I think I’m on the brink of something big — a lifetime of delight and discovery.”
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