Mary, Mary

Paper Bark Maple in the park
Paper Bark Maple in the park

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row

I thought of this while watering our garden. It is something that’s been floating around in my head since grade school or before. Where did the rhyme come from and what does it mean? I went to Wikipedia.

One theory is that it is religious allegory of Catholicism,  Mary, the mother of Jesus, bells representing alter bells and the cockleshells the badges of the pilgrims to the shrine of Saint James in Spain (Santiago de Compostela). We have a couple of those badges. The pretty maids could be nuns, but even within this strand of thought there are differences of opinion as to whether it is lament for the reinstatement of Catholicism or for its persecution.

Another theory sees the rhyme as connected to Mary, Queen of Scots (1542–1587), with “how does your garden grow” referring to her reign over her realm, “silver bells” referring to Catholic cathedral bells, “cockle shells” insinuating that her husband was not faithful to her, and “pretty maids all in a row” referring to her ladies-in-waiting – “The four Maries”.

The “Quite contrary”part is said to be a reference to her unsuccessful attempt to reverse ecclesiastical changes effected by her father Henry VIII and her brother Edward VI. The “pretty maids all in a row” is speculated to be a reference to miscarriages or her execution of Lady Jane Grey.

I love the fact that no one really knows what it means anymore and yet it is still around.

I picked a variety of greens for our first dinner salad from the garden, basically thinning the rows of greens we had platted too close together. Romaine, mesclun, cilantro, some basil, butter crunch, arugula and some spinach.

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