Top 5 Flowers of the Annunciation

The flowers associated with the Annunciation represent in varied ways the spiritual fruit of the event—purity of heart, humility, fruitfulness, and The Mother of God.

The Annunciation to Mary found in Luke 1:26-39 and Matthew 1:18-21, is not only recognized by Roman and Eastern Catholics, but is also recorded in the Qur’an. We read in the Bible that the angel St. Gabriel came to Mary and announced to her what her vocation would be; “…you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus… therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” (Lk 1:30, 35). This closeness with God and her trust in him allowed Mary to fully submit to his request at the Annunciation, and allowed God’s saving grace to work through her.

file0001616564937 Madonna LilyThe most familiar flower is the Madonna lily, Lilium candidum. This plant symbolizes confirmation of a message from God to only the purest of hearts. It is included in paintings of the archangel St. Gabriel—messenger of God, and on the staff of St. Joseph to indicate his worth to guard and care for Mary and the Son of God, and of course artwork of Mother Mary.

Native to West Asia it is seen in images dating back 4000 years. This is a true lily and can grow up to five feet, but more commonly 24-36”, being topped with its signature white trumpet flowers. It is easily grown in most gardens. Where temperatures run high keep the soil cool with a deep layer of mulch. This plant reproduces from both bulblets and seed.

There are several plants associated with the Virgin’s humility.

Bluebells, Hyacinthoides italica, represents humility, constancy, and gratitude. The Italian squill or bluebell is a spring flowering perennial bulbfile000108135389 Bluebells English native to the central Mediterranean region. In a woodlands area, plant the spreading English Bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, for an exquisite blue carpet of flowers in spring. Take note—this is a dominant spreading plant having a special beauty in mass and is not suited to grow among other flowers.

In your garden you can also use these plants symbolic of humility: spring blooming Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica, the woodland violet, Viola odoratoa, or the low growing herb thyme, Thymus vulgaris.

file7111268216518 Camellia WhiteMary’s purity of heart is symbolized by the white flowering Japanese Camellia, Camellia japonica ‘Alba Plena’. An interesting note, the genus Camellia was named after the Jesuit priest George Kamel who was also a botanist.

For most of us, this is a potted plant. It is an evergreen shrub in warmer Zones 8-10. For more information on growing this beautiful fragrant plant visit the Royal Horticultural Society web page.

Mary’s fruitfulness is symbolized by the pear tree, Pyrus communis. The European pear or common field pear is the parent offile000667247480 Pear numerous cultivars grown for fruit production. From the University of Minnesota come the following recommendations for the Midwest home garden:

The varieties we purchase at the grocery store – ‘Bartlett,’ ‘Bosc,’ and the pricey Asian pears – are not hardy here. The good news, however, is that the main differences between grocery store pears and those we can grow here are size and fresh fruit keeping ability.


…’Gourmet’ produces medium-sized fruit in mid- to late September that are juicy and sweet with a firm, crisp texture somewhat reminiscent of an Asian pear. It is somewhat resistant to fire blight.


… ‘Luscious’ bears medium to medium-small fruits in mid to late September with a flavor similar to ‘Bartlett,’ but more intense. Texture is firm but melting. Like ‘Gourmet,’ ‘Luscious’ reportedly is somewhat resistant to fire blight.


An older University of Minnesota release (1934), ‘Parker’ produces fruit similar in size, flavor and texture to ‘Bartlett.’ Somewhat less hardy than other varieties listed here, it may not grow well north of the Twin Cities. Harvest mid-September.


Originally from Iowa, ‘Patten,’ like ‘Parker,’ produces fruit comparable in character to ‘Bartlett.’ Hardiness is slightly better than ‘Parker.’ … Harvest mid- to late September.


…’Summercrisp’ produces medium-sized, red-blushed fruit that is mild and sweet with a crisp texture strongly reminiscent of an Asian pear. Hardy in most of Minnesota and moderately resistant to fire blight. An early variety – harvest in mid-August.

IMG_4653 Herb MarjoramAs a final consideration Sweet Marjoram, Origanum majorana, can be planted around the base of a Marian statue, it symbolizes the Mother of God.

Marjoram is one of my favorite herbs blending well in soups, on meats, and goes well with eggs or mushrooms. I always use a touch of it dried in fresh fruit salads (those that do not have melons mixed in!), adding some finely diced celery to the mix.

Marjoram is a Mediterranean herb intolerant of freezing temperatures and usually grown as an annual. It can be grown indoors but requires a lot of direct sunlight. It is a sprawling 12-15” and a wonderful edging plant. It likes to be kept moist and like most herbs needs good drainage. Fertilize it about every three to four weeks with an all-purpose organic fertilizer. Cut stems back early and often to encourage branching, and shear down by two-thirds when harvesting—a second cutting should be ready before frost.

(All images courtesy

Don’t forget to enter the gardener’s gift basket give away!


Gardening Gift Basket Give-away as Spring Begins

A Catholic Gardner's Spiritual AlmanacIts here! It’s the official first day of spring and the launch of my newest book A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac: Cultivating your Faith throughout the Year.

It has been a joy to create this book and work with the folks at Ave Maria Press. I would like to share that joy with you by offering a special gift.

I’ve put together a basket that includes several of my favorite things for the garden—tools, books, seeds, and more! Look below…What do you think? Would you like it?

So let’s get started! Fill out the entries for a chance to win.

Then on social media use #catholicgarden and post a picture of you, kids, or friends in your favorite Catholic garden—home, parish, monastery, etc.—or future site for a prayer/liturgical garden (be sure to tag me!). I’m especially eager to see locations of future prayer gardens and to read about what you have planned.

Spring is here and its time to return to the garden, and to draw closer to the Creator through his creation! I’m looking forward to seeing what you love in the garden.

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How to Grow a Garden with Fortitude, 3 of the Best Plants!

Christians can express their faith in nearly limitless ways in a garden setting. Continuing with the theme of A Virtuous Garden, here are some of the aspects of the third cardinal virtue—fortitude. You can find the other columns for prudence here, and justice here.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1808:

Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause.

The word is defined as mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously. To have mettle as one’s disposition or temperament, as a Christian, is to do one’s utmost, always, in the name of Jesus.

shutterstock_113189206 Pine treeWe can see how this sentiment applies to the pine tree. In the language of flowers it indicates a request, to remain strong for me. The Pinus genus has nearly 200 varieties and found throughout the world. Pines are long lived, anywhere from 100-1000 years, being a sturdy tree adapted to the environment in which it grows. A fun fact, the longest-lived is the Pinus longaeva, known as the Great Basin bristlecone pine. An individual of this species is one of the world’s oldest living organisms at around 4,600 years and can be found in the White Mountains of California.

There is a lovely story in our Catholic tradition of when the Holy Family was fleeing into Egypt took refuge under the boughs of a pine tree to avoid detection by pursing soldiers. You can read the rest of that story in my new book A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac.

The Magnolia tree is another hardwood that is symbolic of fortitude, signifying be not discouraged, better days are coming. Fossilshutterstock_68022604 Magnolia specimens date back nearly 20 million years. It is such a lovely tree, that, maybe God planted one in the Garden of Eden! The flowers were often given after the birth of a child symbolizing future good health and well being of the child and the mother.

One of the more beloved pink and white magnolias is the Saucer Magnolia, Magnolia x soulangeana, seen in this picture. My favorite is the yellow flowering Magnolia x brooklynensis ‘Yellow Bird’. Its buds form later in the spring and for this reason the flowers are rarely lost to hard frosts.  To choose one for your own garden, check out the Magnolia Society International site.

shutterstock_149412281 ChamomileI love the low-growing herb German chamomile in the garden, especially when used to edge a sunny garden path. On a warm day its delicate fragrance smells of apples.

The two most commonly grown is the German chamomile Matricaria recutita, and the Roman Chamaemelum nobile. This herb has been used medicinally for centuries, so it is not surprising that it symbolizes energy in adversity, and to not despair.

Chamomile plants are very distinct in their growing conditions. The Roman species is a perennial plant, grows close to the ground and has very small flowers—tending to be bitter when used for teas. On the other hand the German chamomile is an annual growing up to three feet high, has larger blossoms, and is sweeter for teas—being the preferred for farm production. DISCLAIMER: because it does have medicinal affects, don’t consume this herb until you’ve done your homework. I’m not responsible…

For more Catholic garden ideas, my latest book, A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac, will offer inspiration. To learn how to build a prayer garden, my first books, A Garden of Visible Prayer, will lead you through the process one step at a time.

(All images courtesy, by artists, in order of images: pine, Taftin; magnolia, Aceshot1; chamomile, Maria Komar.)

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Laetare Sunday and Hard Rocks

rocksWe’ve passed Laetare Sunday, the fourth week of Lent, and still I’ve not been able to adhere to its disciplines: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. My usual prayer and abstinence routines are securely in place. It is the extras, so important to this spiritual season of faith, that are lacking.

The other morning after Lauds and a rosary, rising from my chair, I stood at the home altar. Drawing the sanctuary light that hung from the wall towards me, I blew out the candle. The holy images that would draw me into prayer hung above and were hidden behind purple cloths. Their hidden faces echoed the distance I felt from the observance Lent.

I touched the arrangement of objects placed on the altar. On a wood box covered by linens was an eight inch rock with angular surfaces of pink and black, on which set three square-cut iron spikes.

The book Way of the Cross, by Pope Benedict, was propped open to the image of the eighth station—Jesus meets the women. Here the suffering Christ was concerned with the weakness of those women. I shuddered remembering his words, “…weep for yourselves and your children…” It is chilling to know that his suffering brought to us in ours would be our only comfort. I wondered if those women, like me, focus on the gentleness of God and minimized the mystery of evil and pain in our world.

On the altar is a path of fourteen stones, representative of each step of the Passion. I picked one up, smooth and cold in my palm, and rubbed my thumb over its surface. These rocks suggest the austere realities of the life of Christ, and moments of our own: The hardness some paths take, the coldness of the journey, that every path has a beginning and an end.

Flat and dark, each stone has its own weight. As do each of our challenges, as do the Stations-of-the-Cross. All are hard and, depending on our frame of mind, can halt our progression under the burden.

I turn and look out the window. Laetare Sunday has passed. It marks a time to rejoice in the middle of Lent, a time to see the joy to come as the Pascal Mystery lives out.

The stone in my hand has warmed. It, along with the thirteen others, holds many silent prayers. The little path of stones is like a Lenten rosary. Each stone passes through the hand, and a memory through the heart. The images may be brutal and sad, but each is softened with gratitude. Had Christ not suffered, I would have no way to God. Had my life not been demanding, my soul would not have sought Our Lord.

It was the hardness of life that had brought me to joy. I look to the rock in my hand and rejoice.

(Originally ran 2/2014)

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

What 3 plants to grow for Justice

There is so much more to spiritually uplifting gardens than a statue of a saint or a cross strategically placed in the yard with a few petunias coloring up the base. Catholic gardeners can express their faith in nearly limitless ways in a garden setting.

This is the second in a series of blog posts focusing on a landscape theme of virtues. As I wrote in the previous column, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us there are four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. There are also three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity.

I will continue with the virtues theme until all have been presented. Today, the second cardinal virtue is justice.

According to the CCC:

Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Sacred Scriptures, is distinguished by habitual right thinking and the uprightness of his conduct toward his neighbor.

shutterstock_120965728 chestnutThe Chestnut tree represents a personal intercession for justice, a desire for the common good for others and one’s self. The tree itself connotes “to do justice,” and the flowers are indicative of seeking it. The tree in paintings alludes to the Resurrection, to justify all mankind; trees that are grown for their wood can be cut nearly to the ground every few years—a  practice called coppicing—and results in vigorous regrowth (a resurrection if you will) of numerous long straight shoots.

Chestnut trees are easy to grow, provide abundant and dense shade, have a striking flora display, and burr-covered fruit—hazardous to lawn mowers—containing edible nuts. Charlie Nardozzi on his web Edible Landscaping offers several cultivars resistant to chestnut blight suitable for the landscape.

Beautiful still life paintings of flowers have long been associated with the notion that both life and beauty are short lived. Lovely images of glorious bouquets, especially during the 17th century, included flowers in wilt with petals often scattered about the vase. A reminder the virtues must always be kept in mind as we progress to our final destination.

shutterstock_76990651 coltsfootA small bouquet of yellow coltsfoot—looking much like dandelion flowers—was offered as a sentiment that “justice shall be done.” This is presumed to come from the fact that their leaves and flowers do not develop at the same time.

A small, though some consider weedy plant, is the Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara. It is an herb that had been used medicinally for coughs; its use is now in question when its toxic effects on the liver were discovered. Coltsfoot is a perennial plant that spreads by seeds and rhizomatous roots. It is often found in colonies, patches of dozens of plants. The flowers appear in early spring with leaves, which resemble a colt’s foot not appearing usually until after the seeds set. Thus, the flowers appear on stems with no apparent leaves, and the later leaves appear then die during the season without seeming to set flowers.

shutterstock_251490718 RudbeckiaRudbeckia, commonly known as the black-eyed susan, gloriosa daisy, or yellow ox-eye daisy connotes justice. Rudbeckiain the language of flowers stands firm in justice, its flowers once cut will last for nearly two weeks in water. The native plant also has deep roots—one of many plants known as clay-busters—and like justice grows deep and secure in life.

An easily grown perennial or biennial that flowers in late summer in to autumn, it has a wide range of cultivars for the sunny garden.

For more Catholic garden ideas, my latest book, A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac, will offer inspiration. To learn how to build a prayer garden, my first books, A Garden of Visible Prayer, will lead you through the process one step at a time.

(All images courtesy, by artists, in order of images: Chestnut, Mayovskyy Andrew, Coltsfoot, MarkMirror, Rudbeckia, Vahan Abrahamyan)


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