Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.
The history behind the rhyme:
Mary is Bloody Mary (Mary Tudor), daughter of King Henry III. Mary was a Catholic, and the garden refers to the graveyards, which increased in size with Protestants she had killed. The “silver bells” were thumbscrews which crushed the thumb between two hard surfaces by the tightening of a screw. The “cockle shells” were believed to be instruments of torture which were attached to the genitals (I mean, it’s in the name, it’s not that hard to believe). The “Maids” were a device to behead people called the Maiden – the original guillotine. So, just remember that when you sing it to your kids, it’s quite gruesome.
Mary was a farmer’s daughter, who liked to tend to her garden – a little patch of soil which was not used by her father to farm. She likes to enter gardening competitions to raise money for a larger patch of soil so that she can increase her little garden. Her favourite flowers are silver bells – which look like bluebells, except they’re a silvery-white colour. On the weekends, her father takes her to the beach, where she collects cockle shells because they can’t be found in the countryside, and she just loves the colours, and she places them all around her patch of soil so that when the sun reflects off of them, they reflect a rainbow colour. She also grows pretty maids on a little bush (above picture) and she thinks they look like love hearts, a few of which she brings to the little old lady down the lane to cheer her up.