A wee potted shamrock: a bit of Ireland all year

The 'little clover' served as a centerpiece for more than St. Patrick's Day.


Charlie surprised me at a garage sale last summer by plunking down 50 cents for a potted shamrock, a winsome enough little plant, but we had never before had anything that needed regular watering other than our dogs – the cows being accustomed to drinking from the stream in all but droughts and hard freezes. In fact, with 80 acres of pasture, trees, and wildflowers just beyond our back stoop, whatever did we need of a potted clover?

Still, Charlie wanted that oxalis, or shamrock, which was making the most of its small container, offering a riot of trefoil leaves and delicate white flowers.

Since it was summer, the plant's first home was the round table on the front porch, where we generally had lunch. We simply left a water glass out there and refreshed the plant as needed. It greeted us coming and going and thrived there in the dappled sunlight through October. We brought it inside just ahead of the first freeze – and it became our first official houseplant.

Recommended: Forget Irish cliches: How much do you really know about Ireland? Take our quiz.

We placed it on a small round table in a corner of the kitchen between south- and west-facing windows, where it continued to bloom.

Its long, delicate stems swiveled in slow motion with the arcing slide of the afternoon sun from its noon zenith to the tree line in the west. Then, the shamrock seemed to nod off, too, leaves and flowers gradually tenting down. I became enamored of this daily ritual and often glanced at the plant's progress toward repose as I worked at my desk.

Its sleep, like ours, lengthened with the winter nights. When Christmas rolled around, neither Charlie or I mentioned a tree. We decorated the corner around the shamrock and spread our wrapped gifts under the table it occupied.

It may have been a bit incongruous as a yule centerpiece, but it seemed pleased, opening a whole new spray of slender white blooms for the occasion.

Despite its nickname (from the Irish seamrog, meaning "summer plant" or "little clover") and those chilly dawns when the wood stove burned low, the oxalis held up well during the coldest months. Now it seems poised to come back into its own preferred season.

As for March 17, in lieu of wearing shamrocks, we'll celebrate the day paying homage in another way – with a repotting ceremony. And maybe we'll recite part of Andrew Cherry's verse:

There's a dear little plant that grows in our isle,'Twas St. Patrick himself, sure, that set it;And the sun on his labor with pleasure did smile,And with dew from his eye often wet it.It grows through the bog, through the brake, through the mirelandAnd they call it the dear little shamrock of Ireland.

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