I’ve never been much for growing roses. My gardens had always been more cottage style with plants growing close together in a riot of color, texture, and form. Roses simply didn’t work in my design. Besides, there were all those thorns to contend with, and I hate getting pricked in the garden (you may have read about that annoyance in Cultivating God’s Garden through Lent).
It’s no secret that with an arthritic spine my gardening days had come to an end. I retired from coordinating the St. Francis Retreat Center Garden Society after ten-plus years working the grounds. Over the past two summers my gardens of twenty-five years were dug out by friends. Those days of kneeling on soil were over—or so I thought.
You, readers of my new book, A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac, want pictures of my gardens. Reasonable it would seem; a garden writer with pretty gardens. Even the publisher asked.
With a yard now mostly lawn, a small shade garden in the north-west corner, and the tiniest of vegetable patches, I figured to meet your requests I would need to learn how to garden with limited abilities. I’m not going all horticultural therapy here; I’ll leave that to the professionals. I’ll be writing on and off about the techniques learned (and learning) on keeping gardening tasks simple.
My first endeavor will be a Marian rose garden that incorporates the representative colors of each mystery of the rosary. This will be a full installation, from sod to trellis and mulch, shared each step of the way. So we begin again…
Roses need lots of air movement, food, sunlight, and water. Tea roses can be tough to grow in northern climates—I’m in mid-Michigan—unless they’re Week’s Roses. These cultivars are designed to take the cold. Having worked as a grower, they were my and the customers’ favorites.
In a Marian garden themed on the rosary there are four traditional colors (newer interpretations are in the book). They are Joyful Mysteries: white, Sorrowful Mysteries: red, Glorious Mysteries: yellow and Luminous Mysteries: purple.
Usually I recommend establishing your garden space first and then purchasing plants. Because the roses I want are specific, its spring, and Mother’s Day is just around the corner I’ll purchase them while the selection is still good. A favorite greenhouse, Beck’s Flowers in Jackson, MI (I worked there for several years) carries the brand I want.
When selecting a rose bush look for multiple sturdy stems branching from the graft, shiny leaves—depending on cultivars they can be bright green to red new growth, and of course free of disease and pests.
The roses I chose, besides being hardy and fragrant, were to have some symbolism with their name. The ones selected were:
White: Full Sail, hybrid tea. Mother Mary is also called The Star of the Sea, Stella Maris, and guides seafaring people—and aren’t we all—to Jesus. The Church is the ship of Christianity, from Latin, navis, and the central gathering place in a church is called the nave.
Red: Lasting Love, hybrid tea. Yeah, well this seems fairly obvious.
Yellow: Gold Medal, grandiflora. The Ark of the Covenant was pure gold, and holy. Mary was the Ark of the New Covenant, and she too was pure and holy. And then there are the Bible verses about running the race and earning the prize, so double win here!
Purple: Intrigue, floribunda. The luminous mysteries arouse our interest in the enlightening events of the Jesus’ life.
The spacing for roses depends on the type: tea, grandiflora, floribunda, shrub, miniature, groundcover or climbers. With the selections I’ve made, each bush will need a five foot span. With four rose bushes being planted, that’s a sizeable bed!
With the potted roses lined on the north side of the fence, to prevent scorching their tender greenhouse-grown leaves until hardened off, I mark off the area for Mother Mary’s new garden. Standing on the drive looking at the size of the space needed I am overwhelmed. Part of me does not want to reawaken what was loved and laid to rest—a life of working among gardens. I doubt my ability, stamina, and strength. I want to take the roses back.
I look to the small statue of Mother Mary at the back of the yard, and whisper “Hail Mary” and know she is near—she always is when we call. I tell her my heart’s still in it, though my spine is not. While waiting for peace to return, I realized that that was exactly what I needed to do—wait.
The first lesson in gardening with limitations: allow time between tasks. There is only so much energy and strength for many of us with physical or mental limitations. So, with the roses bought and hose laid out to mark the bed, I leave the backyard and head inside for tea and prayer.
St. Benedict writes in the Rule that always we begin again. And so I will, tomorrow.
The next post, preparing to dig! I must be out of my mind…
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