Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac

CGSA arrivalLent feels a little less penitential today and, well maybe, for a few more weeks!

The books arrived from Ave Maria Press this afternoon; two weeks early. The launch of this (my third) book, is set for Monday March 23, 2015, and can be preordered on Amazon, if you would like.

I want to say thanks to the many friends (and editors!) who gave breath to a gardener’s attempt to evangelize.

In all things may God be glorified.


A Catholic Gardner's Spiritual Almanac

Here is the link:


Gardeners Love These 16 Flowers for the 8 Beatitudes

Herbaceous plants and hardwoods hold meaning in Christian art. Throughout history flowers have been used to signify personal affections. In the language of flowers there can be more than one connotation for a plant, though usually it holds the same sentiment.

In my new book, A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac, I share with readers how plant symbolisms relate to our Catholic heritage. I also guide you in how to create spiritually centered gardens.

During Lent we look to the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-11) to guide our journey to a personal resurrection at Easter. There are many plants that can be grown in your garden that relate to the sentiments of the Beatitudes, here are just a few. You can create a garden themed to a specific Beatitude—using trees, shrubs, flowers and herbs symbolizing, let’s say, meekness—or incorporate into an exiting garden just a few plants representing those Bible versus.

You can find out more about plant symbolisms in my book, online, or at the library.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: those who recognize their need for God and his loving grace. They may be economically poor and rich in faith. Unattached to the things of this world, they seek the kingdom of heaven.

file0001405663451 carnationCarnation, poor heart


file4731340648180 parsley or corianderCoriander, hidden worth





 Blessed are those who mourn: those who lament their present state and weep for their sins, and for the souls in purgatory. They will be comforted by God.

file0001186517680 zinnia and Divine MercyZinnia, thoughts of absent friends

file6971301019924 PansyPansy, clarity of thoughts





 Blessed are the meek: those who are far from being week, they possess an inner strength to restrain anger and discouragement in the face of adversity. They will inherit the world to come.

file0001673080711 sweet woodruffSweet woodruff, humility

_MG_6856 fernsFerns, sincerity





Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: those who choose, as their first priority, to live rightly according to God’s will. They will be satisfied by God with eternal rest.

file7651243141762 black eye susanBlack-eye Susan, justice

file7181279389027 poppyRed Poppy, consolation





 Blessed are the merciful: they imitate God’s mercy by extending forgiveness to others. They are patient and understanding in bearing others’ faults, in being charitable and compassionate. They will receive God’s mercy in their final judgment.

file0001965829310 chamomileChamomile, patience

file0001389942275 ladys mantleLady’s Mantle, comforting





Blessed are the pure in heart: those who act with integrity in their thoughts, words, and deeds. They intentionally act to keep themselves undefiled by evil and lustful thoughts. They will be united with God, will see the Beatific Vision in eternity as the angels see him now.

file1011261996332 dillDill, powerful against evil

file0001484766303 lavenderLavender, devotion and virtue



Blessed are the peacemakers: those who strive to live in peace with others, and attempt to sow peace in their world through sharing the Gospels. And to share the Word is to be a child, a son of God.

PICT2587 irisIris, a message

DSCN1378 yarrowYarrow, everlasting love





 Blessed are those who are persecuted: those who are abused, slandered, and oppressed for being a public witness to Christianity. They are a target for hatred. Persecuted Christians will receive great rewards in heaven.

IMG_0752 bayBay Laurel, glory

file3021341154406 mossMoss, enduring devotion






(All images courtesy of



All the Holy is Hidden

Asian MadonnaThe Blessed Mother statue is only twelve inches tall. Finding a place to store it for Lent shouldn’t have been that hard. At a Catholic Writers Guild Conference I’d bought this smaller version of the original from the Korean woman who was the sculptor.

The soft light from the candles in my prayer space enhanced the artist’s design. The hands of Mother Mary are against her chest, tipped back in a way that gives the impression of an opening lotus flower. Her head is tilted, her Asian eyes and delicate smile are directed at baby Jesus standing in the blossom of her hands.

Setting the statue on a side table, I changed over the altar. The green linens of Ordinary Time that covered my altar for a brief four weeks after Christmas are again folded away. The bottles of holy water from Lourdes, Fatima, and my grandmother’s cabinet are nestled in a draw below the altar along with silk flowers, holy cards, crocheted cross bookmarks, and a small framed picture of Blessed Mother Teresa.

Honoring the traditions of Lent, I’ve placed deep purple cloths on the altar and over the sacred images on the walls. I hesitated before covering the lithograph of St. Mary Magdalene. This saint has journeyed with me since childhood and we greet each other every morning as I enter the room to pray. I carefully drape a cloth over the print of Divine Mercy and as I do so offer prayers for the precious souls in Purgatory. My room feels empty. The absence of Other sharing my prayers is pronounced.

Everything is readied except for the twelve inch Madonna. I hold her tight to my chest as I bend down to look in lower cabinets for storage space. I continue to hold her as I walk from one room to another and then back trying to find a safe place for her to rest. Standing in the prayer room with its purple linens, Mary pressed near my heart, I realized I was tearing up.

A memory comes of when I was a child. I had a favored stuffed toy, a sleeping white kitty with pink nose and slanted embroidered eyes. From bed to sand box to washer and back to my hands it would travel. A day came when I was to visit grandmother and my Kitty was placed in a grocery bag along with my clothes. I wanted to carry my Kitty in my arms, I didn’t want to let go. As long as I held her, near and tight, I was safe.

I felt a little silly at 60 welling up with tears as I stood there holding the statue. I had a new appreciation for the self-conscious tears of a friend who was preparing to move to a smaller house. She was taking down her family pictures from the stairway wall and was feeling the absence of loving memories even before they were boxed.

My desiring to hold close a sense of safety was once again the motion of my arms. I didn’t want to let go of the Madonna, I didn’t want to be without that statue in my sight for the forty days of Lent. I wanted to embrace, as nearly as I could this side of heaven, the nearness of my Holy Mother.

(Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved. Column first appeared 2/13.)

Parsnip and Apple Soup, a Sweeter Fare for Meatless Fridays

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love apples! Seriously. Love them almost more than chocolate. Biting into a warm, crisp, just picked apple in autumn is only one step away from doing the same in summer with tomatoes.

Living in Michigan, where apple production ranks number three in the States, the harvest of this fruit peaks in late September through early October. There are so many apples to choose from that I would have a great time every week at the farm markets buying mixed bags. I’ve long since given up storing a bushel of apples through the winter, buying instead a few specialty varieties each week.

Apples are wonderful to teach the youngest of children about our faith. When you cut an apple in half along the equatorial plane, the cross section in the core looks like a star; the five-pointed Epiphany Star. The five seeds inside the five-pointed star stand for the five wounds of Christ.

Children love stars, and while stars are not traditionally associated with the Lenten season, there is a weekly program for children, six and up, called The Seven Stars of Lent. This worship resource helps to prepare children’s’ hearts to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.

A second apple story used to teach about the Trinity is cut an apple in half from top to bottom and note the three parts: skin, meat and seeds. The outer skin represents the Father who encompasses all, Jesus is the meat of the fruit that feeds us, and the seeds are the Holy Spirit that when planted, will bring new life. An apple wouldn’t be an apple if any one of these elements was missing; so, too, with the Trinity.

Now, since you’re cutting up all those apples for educational purposes, how about a recipe! This is a savory and sweet soup more for the adult pallet; try cutting the spices by half for kids.

Parsnip and Apple Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped sweet onion (Vidalia is best)

2 1/2 cups (about a pound) peeled and chopped Pink Lady apples (or any slightly tart apple is fine—Granny Smiths are too sour!)

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 1/2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger or 1/2 teaspoon dry

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

3 1/2 cups (about 1 1/2 pounds) chopped peeled parsnip

1 clove garlic finely chopped

4 cups chicken broth

1 cup apple cider (don’t use apple juice)

1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Sour cream dollops when serving

In a stock pot, sauté onions in oil until tender. Add apples, curry, ginger, and cardamom.  Simmer for about a minute to dissolve spices, stirring constantly. Add broth, parsnips, garlic, and cider. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until parsnips are tender. CAREFULLY blend soup until smooth using a blender (or use an immersion blender). Serve with sour cream.

A side note here, I like to use oven roasted parsnips. They tend to be sweeter and lend a fuller flavor to the soup. Of course, your stove-top cooking time will be reduced.

This column, in totality, originally ran the autumn of 2013. I thought the soup sounded perfect for Lent!

(Image courtesy

Who Wants a Date?

shutterstock_185743793The houseplants in the upstairs hermitage needed watering. There aren’t as many as there used to be. As I now spend more time indoors as a writer, rather than outdoors as I once did being a gardener, I wanted sunlight streaming through the windows. The numerous houseplants I once had hoarded the light, so I gave the largest plants away.

I’ve written before of my love of the Crab Cactus, Schlumbergera, of which I have three—oh, and a start of a forth from a branch that snapped off. There is also the white orchid and honeysuckle, and by the north window in the oratory two African violets.

Earlier this winter the violets nearly died from lack of water. For the first few weeks when the furnace was running, I forgot to check them sooner—smaller pots dry quicker—and they dried back hard. It doesn’t take long to damage a plant!

While watering I noticed, with relief, they had recovered nicely with an abundance of new leaves, fuzzy and bright green.Violet new leaves

Quite a while ago I read the story of a woman who had a male friend who attended AA meetings with her.  The woman, who was moving out of the area, had met him for lunch and during their conversation asked how he was managing being alone. He shared with her the advice he’d received from his therapist, who had given him a concrete marker of when he could begin dating. It was, her friend believed, an easily attainable goal: keep houseplants alive for one year, and if he did, then get a pet. If he could keep both plants and pet healthy and happy for the following year dating could start.

It was nearing the end of that time when she unexpectedly saw her friend again. After their excited greetings, she asked if he was dating. He began to tear up and leaning in for a hug told her, “No, the damn plants keep dying.”

Yes, yes, I can almost hear some of you yelping about having a black thumb. But the story is a good lesson about attentiveness that is not centered on one’s self.

First you must want to spend a little time and learn what it takes to care for something—like a specific houseplant. Does it need bright, indirect, or low light? What is the temperature and humidity in your home, and is it suited to that plant? Watering needs vary depending on plant species, its size, and the previous two points. Once you learn these things, you need to be willing to invest that knowledge in the object and be attentive to it—plant, pet, or person.

When I consider friends who have taken on the role of a catechist, well, most anyone grounded in faith, I see this playing out. They’ve nurtured their own seeds of faith, having investing time to learn about our religion. After that they then could be attentive to the developing faith of others.

Neglect the truth of what is needed for proper development, being too busy to be attentive, and damage takes place, stunting growth.

Moving on to water the remaining plants, I step past my old dog, Lilly, sleeping in her bed, and walk carefully to the next room with the an elderly kitty rubbing against my leg. I have no desire to date, but if I did, I might be about there.

(Image of violet flowers by Petr Baumann, courtesy