In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb


“In like a lion, out like a lamb.”

In March, month of the vernal equinox, New England transitions from winter to spring and can experience a broad range of weather from raging blizzard to warm days with temperatures reaching the 60s F. 


It is also mud season for those who live on gravel roads, which is, depending on the rate of thaw, either “not too bad” or “living hell” with axle deep mud. It is also when maple sap flows and we flock to sugarhouses for that delicious treat: maple syrup and sugar candy.

ImageSt. Patrick’s Day, celebrated in varying degrees, can be a time to break out of winter’s doldrums with total abandon imbibing glasses of green beer, or for those more temperate, cheery bouquets of green carnations, bells of Ireland and gifts of oxalis, commonly known as shamrocks. The triple-leaved symbol was used by St. Patrick in the 5th century to teach ‘heathens’ about the Holy Trinity and the three Christian virtues of faith, love and charity. The four-leaved clover, because of its rare occurrence, became associated with good luck, symbolizing respect, health, wealth and love.

Generate your own good luck by growing oxalis from bulbs on your windowsill. Easy to grow, they come in many varieties. The family Oxalidaceae has 6 genera and over two hundred species originating from all over the world, with the majority from the Americas and South Africa. The latter being the easiest to cultivate.


Bulbs planted in full sun in spring will form mounds of foliage in four to six weeks and are covered with blooms until cooler weather sends them into dormancy. Not winter hardy below zone 7, they must be dug up and stored over winter. After a period of rest, they can be repotted in 50/50-peat/perlite mix indoors and will bloom throughout the winter. Not liking wet feet, water sparingly only when dry.

Oxalis regnelli is the classic green shamrock with bright green foliage, topped by abundant white, five-petalled blossoms. O. triangularis has large purple leaves with deep pink interiors. O. tetraphylla ‘Iron Cross’ has bright green leaves with purple splashes at leaf junctions. For the unusual, O. vulcanicola ‘Molten Lava’ sports chartreuse to orange foliage with yellow flowers. All make great additions to container gardens.


Oxalis tetraphylla ‘Iron Cross’ at Powell Gardens, photo: Alan Branhagen, Director of Horticulture.

“May your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow and may trouble avoid you wherever you go.”  ~ Irish Blessing

About Eliza Waters

Gardener, writer, photographer, naturalist
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13 Responses to In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb

  1. Fascinating story Eliza. I’ve already become familiar with Oxalis but with the three leaf clover kind that grows in the wild (like yellow and pink wood sorrel), I didn’t know about the true Oxalis with the four leaf clovers. Are the three leaf clovers considered shamrocks at all and bring good luck as well, or is the term reserved for the four leaf clover only? I wasn’t even familiar this this family and was surprised to find only three leaf varieties. Great post.

    • Eliza Waters says:

      Thanks, Maria, for these questions because I didn’t really clarify this point in my article. ‘Shamrock’ comes from the Gaelic ‘seamróg’ and in Ireland it is a three-leaved plant in the clover family (Leguminosae), particularly lesser yellow trefoil (Trifolium minus). Occasionally, they form four leaves, which is associated with good luck. Oxalis, because of its similar appearance, is commonly called a shamrock, although it is of a different plant family. Commercially, it is generally Oxalis offered for sale during March for St. Patrick’s Day.

  2. Like the statement about “not too bad” or “living hell” — I think that can apply to many situations in life!! 🙂

  3. mk says:

    I will try to rethink the oxalis in my yard as a reminder of the trinity of virtues. In that case, virtue abounds in my yard. I’d better find a leprechaun pretty darn soon, for all the oxalis I have been plucking from my yard!

  4. Robbie says:

    very interesting:-) I had no idea they could be grown by bulbs in the spring. Where do you find them? I have never seen them before. The plant above is stunning!

  5. ladyfi says:

    Amazing first shot with all that mud! March is a good month!

  6. Spy Garden says:

    Love the idea of clover in a windowsill. We love eating “common clover” in our garden (is that oxalis too?) it tastes lemony. My husband and I are “mostly” 😉 Irish and we always celebrate St.Patty’s with our family. Just caught up with some of your posts, and some of your newer pictures are really great!

    • Eliza Waters says:

      So nice to have you on my site! Thanks for your kind compliments. Yes, most likely, you’re eating oxalis – does it have yellow, 5-petalled flowers? That’s the one around here. The lawn clover with 3-leaflets and cluster of tiny, white pea-blossoms are legumes. I haven’t tasted those, so not sure what they taste like. Happy St. Patrick’s Day and may the luck o’ the Irish be with ye!

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