Filling those Bare Spots, Practical Gardening

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

The gardening season is well underway. It’s the time of year when bare spots show up in the garden. Not only bare spots where the bulbs and poppies use to be, but you may have an area of winter-killed perennials or maybe the transplanted seedlings you started never took.

There are several ways of filling in bare spots.

A container garden can be placed in the location or maybe a shrub if you decide to add more structure to your landscape.

Another consideration is planting fast growing annuals. Flats, cell packs and pots of annuals are usually on sale this time of year. Local greenhouses often have a nice selection still available as do some big-box stores.

There are several annuals that are considered quick fillers:

Coleus works well in areas having light shade. These beautiful annuals are known more for their amazing leaf colors than their flowers. Coleuses are available in a variety of sizes, leaf textures, and of course colors ranging from deep wines to bright chartreuse.

For flowers in shady areas, Impatiens and Wax Begonias are the standard go-to plants. They come in a wide range of colors with single or double blooms. These annuals respond very well to being pinched back to promote branching and more blooms.

If you need a ground cover for shade use silver leaved Lamium, cultivar ‘White Nancy’ to draw light into a shady area. For colored blooms try ‘Pink Pewter’. The bonus is this groundcover is perennial. With its shallow roots it is easily removed before winter if you want it only as filler for summer.

For the sunny garden Petunias and Marigolds are the most common quick filler. Although, there are lots of others to choose from!

The popular Wave Petunia and other branded petunias can be found in pots. If you intend to buy a flat of petunias late in the season be aware that they will be leggy and they too will benefit from a light pinching back.

Marigold blooms range in size and types and come in pale yellow to deep bronze. In early July you will want to look for plants that have already been pinched back and are bushy in appearance.

Zinnias, whether tall or short, fill out quickly in sunny sites but need good air movement.

A tall annual that fills space quickly is Cosmos. They have very fine leaves on multiple branches, adding great texture to the garden as well as prominent blooms.

There are a few tricks to remember about filling in bare spots when planting annuals late in the season.

Plant the annuals closer together by one-third than what the tag says. The growing season is shortened so you will not get the full spread (or height) as indicated on the tag. Even though the selection may be minimal, look for bigger, beefier plants.

In early July when purchasing packs or a flat of annuals, especially the taller varieties, the plants will probably be root bound. Trying to tease the roots apart before planting using your fingers will do more harm than good. What I found works best is to take a pair of garden scissors and nip off the very bottom of the root mass by about a quarter inch.

With potted plants that are severely root bound, cut an X with scissors across the bottom of the root mass and one quarter of the way up the sides. In both cases cutting and not tearing the roots apart will allow new roots to develop without too much trauma to the plant.

Remember to keep you new plants evenly moist if the weather is hot and dry and before long that bare spot will have disappeared.

To Stand in Wait


Over the years I’ve learned to not turn away from dark nights and to accept the journey inward as a journey towards God. By entering fully into them is to come out the other side sooner. The intense darkness of some of those episodes can, at times, push me over the edge of human limits and leave me flat out in despair.

To despair, according to the Catechism (#2019), is to lose hope and turn your back on God…and a sin. Not that I intentionally plan to turn away from God, its just when mentally muddled it happens. The Sacrament of Reconciliation always brings release and relief. Avoiding the same confessor and remaining behind the screen in the confessional offers—I believe—a fuller sense of God in the moment. It takes the personal element away and leaves the spiritual to resonate.

Off I went a few weeks ago for what I expected to be the usual every-other-week cleansing. It became much more…about 30 minutes more. (And how did the priest know there was no one waiting after me?) Father wanted some answers, and he took his time looking for them.

He appreciated my anchoress tendencies and disciplined life of prayer. But in that confessional, and under God’s watch, the priest said I was to leave my rooms. I nearly gasped at that—leave the silence of my upstairs hermitage!? He also suggested (insisted?) that I find a spiritual director, specifically a Roman Catholic priest loyal to the Magisterium—an odd thing to say but I understood his warning.

What Father said next was a greater challenge than finding a priest with free time. He said I was to “…learn another way to love beyond the silence of prayer.” That it was necessary for me to go and serve people in a way compatible with my hermitic nature, and after having served return to my rooms. I was to offer love and carry back the day’s offerings as the root for prayer.

Since that Saturday afternoon the Holy Spirit has stepped up the challenge. A priest who I didn’t know contacted me to be an intercessor. I’m baffled how he found me, and why. I had commented to another priest during lunch the impossibility of finding a spiritual director among his brothers. A few days later he called with the phone number of a priest long retired from, among other things, spiritual direction of priests, who was willing to meet with me.

After Adoration last week I felt an insistence to stop at a care facility for women. The meeting with the administrator ended with my being dumbfounded. Nearly all of the forty-five residents were Christian, more than half of them Catholics. They did not have anyone ministering to them—no pastors, priests, or sisters. I shared with her that I was not trained in any ministry and all I could do in the company of these ladies was to pray. And at that she nearly cried with relief for that was exactly what she had prayed for.

There is a shifting taking place, a wave forming from the depths. It is as unsettling as when in 2009 I left behind the familiar life as a gardener to learn to write. Terrified would be the least of words to describe how I felt about picking up a pen instead of a trowel. The only option then, as is now, was to trust that God had a better plan beyond my imagining.

Prayer is my default in life. It is spiritual air, often a quick breath in a moment of need. The Holy Spirit is asking that Iwetake a deeper breath instead of a pant. And maybe share the breath of God with those who stand in wait for their last.

Pray for me, will you? I have no idea where I’m going, but I’m in the boat, sail up.

Water Wise, Practical Gardening

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

The heat of summer, especially in July and August, increases the challenges of maintaining a garden. You will need to pay attention to your plants’ need for watering.

If you have mulched your garden, pull it away from the plant and check the soil for dampness before you water.  Push your finger into the ground around your plants. You want the top 2 to 3 inches of the soil to be dry and the soil below that to be moist. Plants look very similar wilting from too much water as too little. And before you turn on the hose, check your local weather forecast to see what Mother Nature has planned.

Soaker hoses buried beneath mulch are the best way to keep your garden watered and reduce diseases. You may not have this luxury and, like me, use overhead watering. To measure water when using a sprinkler, mark the inside of a coffee can with a permanent marker indicating each inch and place it within the area you are watering.

A five gallon pail filled with water equals about an inch when poured around a small ornamental tree. Time how long it takes to fill the pail, and then you’ll know how long it takes to hand water a tree needing an inch or more per week.

Here is some watering advice from the book Month-by-Month Gardening in Michigan by James A. Fizzell:

Annuals: Maintain a regular watering routine. When the plants begin to wilt, apply a measured inch of water. This amount will moisten the soil about 6 inches deep, plenty of water for about a week on heavy soils, about half that long on sand. Do not water again until the soil dries down 2 inches deep.

Perennials: Water plants when they show wilting. Apply an inch of water per week for mulched beds.  You may need more for bare soil (…and why, I might ask, is it bare?).

Herbs: It is important that most herbs grow on the dry side. Check the soil. If it does not rain for a week to ten days, apply an inch of water. Water early in the day so plants dry before dark. Soaker hoses are better for herb gardens, keeping foliage dry.

Roses: Keep soil evenly moist but not wet. Check soil two inches down before watering. It is best to hand water  and keep the leaves dry.

Shrubs: Set slow running hose under plants every two weeks, soak them until water begins to trickle off. Pay particular attention to newly planted shrubs with underdeveloped root system; they may need weekly watering until established.

Trees: Apply 2 inches of water to entire area beneath the tree’s canopy using a sprinkler. In severe drought you may need to water every 2-3 weeks.

Some additional watering tips:

Containers and hanging baskets dry exceptionally fast this time of year because the plants are bigger, using more water, and because of the dry hot air. Increase your watering frequency to accommodate this need, sometimes watering a small 10” hanging basket twice a day when in full sun. Be sure to use fertilized water once a week.

For trees and shrubs on a slope that do not have soaker hoses, set a slow running hose on the up side over the root ball.  The water will trickle down towards the trunk and disperse over a larger area.

To water an area where hoses don’t reach, I use a 30 gallon soft rubber garbage can set in the tailgate (or trunk) of my car, secured with bungee cords. I fill the garbage can to within six inches of the top with water, cover it with its lid, drive to the site, and then scoop out water using a smaller pail or watering can.

It takes a bit more work this time of year to keep our gardens, but well worth the effort.

Shepherdesses, Catholic Photo Challenge

Image courtesy Lisa Hendey.

They are not deep in my life, these three women.  Yet in my walk through unfamiliar pastures they are examples of Christ’s hands, His voice, and His love modeled in a world gone terribly wrong.

It is the building up of  little things of love that matter, and women are good at building incrementally. Pat Gohn, Maria Morera Johnson, and Lisa Hendey easily share the morsels of love left behind by Christ, creating a feast for the Family of God.

They continue to be distant shepherdesses in my spiritual walk, and that of many others.

And though I do not have a picture of Elizabeth Scalia, she too shepherds well.

(And sorry I couldn’t follow the Catholic Photo Challenge theme for Father’s Day–still, it’s about whole and holy nurturance.)


Four Waters of the Soul


“A beginner must think of herself as one setting out to make a garden in which her Beloved Lord is to take his delight[1]

St. Teresa of Avila was a Spanish Carmelite nun and mystic who was an affectionate extrovert of great joy and determination. By her own admission, she tells of her exploits as a teenager with a great attraction to fashion, perfume, and boys! Her poor widowed father in exasperation and fear for her virtue sent her to an Augustinian nunnery, and once there her life found a different kind of fertile soil.

Often sick in her early years she did not labor in gardens as required of the other Sisters, but she did convalesce in them and found them a source of meditation and insight. It wasn’t until she was around forty and having regained her health that her spiritual development really began to take root and at forty-seven she began writing about the practice of prayer.

Part of her early writings on spiritual doctrine depicts different stages or grades of a life in prayer in metaphorical terms taken from watering a garden, known as The Four Waters. The water being how God reaches the soul and our soul is the garden to be grown for his delight. A very simple description of prayer is that God plants the garden that we grow through prayer which is equated with different ways of irrigation:

  • We draw the water from a well using a rope and then carry the water to our garden; this is an active form of praying, using one’s faculties and reaping what benefits one can through ones own efforts. We work at this and with diligence unless what God had planted withers and dies.
  • Next, to simplify the flow a water-wheel is used which has dippers. As the wheel turns the water is poured into a trough that hydrates our garden. St. Teresa describes this stage as a point when the faculties of the soul begin to recollect itself, bordering on the supernatural, and this enjoyment brings greater delight. Here we have learned to increase the flow of prayer and are aware of our growing with God.
  • The flow of irrigation is then expanded by means of a stream. This form of prayer is more mystical, requiring little human effort with all the faculties focused on God. At this third way of watering the garden of our souls, we have a flow of prayer that moves steadily throughout our day. We can dip into the stream when needed to water an area of our garden that the Holy Spirit has brought to our attention.
  • In the final method of watering our garden we accept the rain God sends without our own effort. This is called the Prayer of Union and is totally infused by God, a mystical action taking place in varying degrees. It is the ecstasy of prayer, those brief and unexpected moments when the beauty of our garden is so pleasing to God that our senses are overwhelmed as God rains upon us to cool our fervor and enhance the flowering soul.

In her book, The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa gives a much more expansive and beautiful explanation of the gardens of our souls.

[1] Teresa of Avila, The Book of my Life, Part Two, The Four Waters. There are many translations available on St. Teresa’s writings.