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In This Place

Signs of spring in St. Mary's garden

Susan Moeller

On the first day of spring, I went looking for it in the garden at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.

By mid-March I’m pretty desperate for any sign of spring on Cape Cod. I feel as worn out as the browning Christmas wreath on the neighbor’s front door. Oh, I can push through the dark of November and even manage three months of winter. But by March, darn it, I want some spring. I appreciate the occasional 60-degree day and tenacity of the snowdrops and crocuses, but I know there are still several weeks to go before the big show of yellow daffodils and forsythia that bring the joy to those gray April days that never seem to get above 44 degrees.

The St. Mary’s garden is a small oasis tucked behind the church on Route 6A in Barnstable Village. It’s worth a stop anytime but is known for its daffodils, which are scattered in bunches along the pathways and invite you to meander, looking for the next batch. In fact, the church has traditionally held its annual daffodil tea in mid-April, but that’s still on hold due to COVID.

The garden has grown over the years since it was first conceived and created in the late 1940s by the Reverend Robert Wood Nicholson. Neighbors and parishioners have contributed parcels of land, to say nothing of their time and gardening skills, and several are memorialized or even buried in a quiet garden cove.

The garden also has several lovely non-horticultural details. When a church renovation uncovered the foundation stones of a former tavern on the site, they were used to build a stone wall. Arnold Geissbuhler, the famous Dennis sculptor, created the small pool’s cornucopia and the statue of Saint Fiacre, the patron saint of gardeners. My favorite detail is a wood carving by Harriet Stockton Worthington: an 8-or-so-inch aging English gardener in his boots and floppy hat. He leans in to prune his grapes, looking almost as gnarled as one of his vines.

The St. Mary’s garden is open every day from dawn to 6 p.m., and even dogs are welcome. A sign encourages visitors to approach with gratitude for not only the garden and its gardeners, but for all of God’s creation.

It was easy to feel grateful on a warmish first day of spring. A stand of yellow crocuses had pushed through the moss. None of the daffodils were blooming but their strong stems held promise. A rhododendron the size of a panel truck was swollen with buds. And the skunk cabbage, with its green and purple hood, was going gangbusters in the wet areas.

spring bulb
Susan Moeller

By the way, the skunk cabbage’s hood-like leaf is called a spathe and it surrounds a fleshy spike of petalless flowers called a spadix. When the spathe opens in the spring, it attracts pollinators like flies and carrion beetles. While the skunk cabbage – named for its less than pleasant odor – might not produce glorious blooms, it’s as sure a sign of spring on Cape Cod as ospreys, peepers and wearing flip-flops with your down vest.

So I’d say my mission to find spring was accomplished. Of course there was that moment of inadequacy when I thought about the spindly daffodils in my own yard and the perennials waiting to be tidied up. But I sat for a moment and was grateful for many things, particularly that spring always brings hope, and in a world that seems to have gone mad at the moment, that people have taken the time to create this small pocket of peace.