Intimate Prayers in a Garden

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Gardening at home is a private thing; it’s when I look really bad and after a lot of it, smell even worse. It is something I have always done alone…for more than the obvious above-mentioned reasons. It feels similar to being in the Adoration chapel, and a time of intimate conversation with God. In the garden I feel as if I can touch Him, lay my hands upon His very skin. I find it to be a very personal and sensory connection with the Creator. I remember getting goose-bumps the first time I read this verse by Edna St. Vincent Millay, “God, I can push the grass apart and lay my finger on thy heart.” I still get all bubbly inside when I read it.

Working in the gardens at the retreat center with volunteers is different, like going to Mass; it is a public gathering as community. We present ourselves differently at church by our dress, interactions with one another, and our way of being present with God.

There is a willing vulnerability when praying alone with Our Lord, and like most private conversations, a freedom within that seclusion. I remember a close friend explaining his sense of being vulnerable when he married and knelt down to pray for the first time with his wife at his side. His hesitancy of being that exposed to another person, a nakedness of soul if you will, took some time to get over. I know I have boldness in private prayer that I would be hard pressed to reveal in the presence of another.

This boldness is present when I garden, too. The conversation is not a monologue either. I listen, or try to, for the whisper of insight.

I remember a time when that intimacy with God in my garden was about to change.

Three friends, volunteers from the gardening society at the retreat center, were coming to my gardens. They had become aware of my increasing physical limitations from an arthritic spine, and the loss of strength in my arms. I was grateful, humbled, humiliated, tearful, and awash with a whole lot of emotions. I was feeling exposed and opened to being judged by the state of my gardens. After all, I was the St. Francis Garden Society Coordinator and people had expectations of amazing landscape designs on the property of such a person. I was humbled that my prayers for help were answered, and so quickly, and surprised by the anxiety of what that answer involved.

I would have to let go of my hermetic tendencies and learn a way to be willing and accepting of others in my private life.  I would learn about receiving charity with the same joy in which I gave it. I had to disarm the shame I felt for being the one in need.

My friends came, they dug and cleared the mess in a dozen gardens. As they toiled in my yard I did what I could do, and made them fresh tomato soup from what was picked off the vines that grew among the weeds.

I worked hard too, to figure out how to manage the coexistence of anxiety and gratefulness that swirled in my heart. Answered prayers are sometimes disconcerting even while they are full of grace.

Image Pixabay.com, CCO, Creative Commons.

 

Flowers Symbolic of the Beatitudes for Catholic Gardens

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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 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.

In the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-11) we find a guide for our journey to a personal resurrection. 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

 

 

( 2/25/15)

(All images courtesy of morguefile.com)

 

 

A Garden Dedicated to the Precious Blood of Jesus

The month of July is dedicated to the Precious Blood of Jesus and brings home for me, as few other dedications do, the reality of Jesus’ humanity.

I often draw back emotionally when I realize what he endured in offering his very body and blood for my salvation. My tender heart cannot endure the reality of his horrific passion and am often reduced to tears by it all when I try to meditate on this truth. For this reason I am averse to attending Stations of the Cross, and Our Lord understands—after all he formed my inmost being in the womb (Ps 130:13).

Earlier in June I wrote about plants for a Catholic garden dedicated to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts. For July I’ve selected a few plants that would be symbolic for a garden dedicated to the Precious Blood of Jesus.

Blood Flower, Asclepias curassavica: a shrubby 2-3’ high tender perennial for the warmer climates, USDA Zone 9-11, and grown as an annual elsewhere. It is in the same family of Butterfly Weed and will attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. Its red-orange flowers, touched with yellow, grow on the terminus—ends of stalks. To have more blooms, pinch back the stems early-on to encourage branching (more stalks=more terminal ends=more flowering sites). It has a much longer flowering period than Butterfly Weed, blooming from mid-summer to October. This plant requires full sun, evenly moist soil, and will reseed readily (that means it can become weedy!).

Blood Root, Sanguinaria canadensis: a perennial wildflower native to Eastern and North America, in USDA Zones 3-8.  Lovely single palmate leaves with a bit of a blue-green tint that showcases a single 2”, 6-10 white petal flower in early spring (March-April). The flowers are nyctinastic, opening in the sun and closing at night. This plant grows best in evenly moist humus rich soil, in part to full shade; will form large colonies in woodland floors and along shady streams. The leaves will continue to grow until late summer when the plant goes dormant. All parts of the plant will ‘bleed’ a reddish-yellow sap if damaged.

Love Lies Bleeding, Amaranthus caudatus: a tender annual that looks amazing cascading over walls, and is often grown in hanging baskets. It has long lasting 12” red ‘tails’ of tiny blooms, called panicles. It is drought tolerant—but not like a cactus!—growing best in full sun to light afternoon shade in hotter climates. Easy to grow in well drained soil, but roots will rot if overwatered and when stressed attract aphids. So yeah, a good plant for those challenged to be gardeners!

 

Bleeding Heart, Dicentra spectabilis (mentioned in June post and repeated here): Grow in moist, humusy soil in part shade. Beautiful in a border or woodland garden. Spring-early summer interest. Can take full sun in reliably moist soil. Protect from wind. Foliage generally goes dormant in summer’s heat, so be sure to choose companion plants so there isn’t an empty space left in the garden. USDA Zones 3-9.

Images:

Blood Flower: Image by Roland zh, upload on 27. September 2009 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Blood Root: Image by Spencer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Love Lies Bleeding: Image by Wildfeuer [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], from Wikimedia Commons

Bleeding Heart: Image by Wildfeuer [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons

Persecution and the Checkered Fritillary Flower

Fritillaria meleagris, Pixabay.com, CCO Creative Commons

We are transformed through Christ’s love and given the opportunity of new life in him. In June we honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus, recognizing his willingness to endure persecution and the passion of the Cross for the sake of all. It is during this month that we give our hearts to him in return.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was a localized and private practice when it began in the eleventh century. But after the visions of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1675 it became universal. We honor the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the first Friday of June.

In giving our heart to him many were, and are still persecuted. In the initial growth of Christianity the campaign to exterminate followers had an adverse affect. The familiar quote by Tertullian gave words to the heart of Jesus’ followers:

We multiply whenever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed.

In the language of flowers, the Checkered Fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris, represents persecution, and when you see the nodding dark blood-red flower its moniker seems well suited. A spring flowering bulb, it can represent in your garden the persecution that revealed the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the many men and women martyred for our faith.

Fritillari, Pixabay.com, CCO Creative Commons

CULTURE:

Fritillaria meleagris, aka checkered lily, is a perennial that is native to flood plains in Europe where it is often seen growing in large colonies in early spring. Plants are somewhat dainty in appearance, featuring solitary drooping, 2” long, bell-shaped flowers that are checkered and veined with reddish-brown, solid purple, or white and gray atop slender stems growing 12-15” tall. Linear, lance-shaped, grass-like green leaves are widely spaced on the stems. In the right environment, it will live long and naturalize well.[i]

Easy to grow in organically rich well drained soil, needs average consistent moisture especially during growing season.

Grow in full sun to part shade—though it prefers sun-dappled or high, open shade.

Plant bulbs in clusters by digging an area 3” deep and randomly placing bulbs 3-4” apart.

Foliage should be allowed to die back naturally—usually done by late spring—as the bulbs go dormant. Companion planting is recommended to cover the bare spot left behind. Because of its shallow depth, I recommend leaving the yellowed leaves as markers and planting annuals in between.

It has no serious disease or insect problems.

USDA Hardiness Zone 3-8.

The genus name comes from the Latin word fritillus meaning ‘dice box’, referencing the checkerboard pattern on the petals. It also evokes the Bible verse of dice that were cast for Jesus’ garment.

[i] Missouri Botanical Gardens, Fritillaria meleagris, web accessed 6/9/18.

 

 

 

A Garden Dedicated to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts

The Saturday following the Corpus Christi is the memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the Friday preceding it dedicated to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. It’s hard to imagine all that Mary’s heart contained. What would Mary have thought and felt as the holy child grew in her womb, as her child marked by God grew into an independent adolescent, as her son walked away from her into the desert? Mary kept the word of God in her heart by thought and by obedience, and she allowed that word to transform her life. There is an unmistakable re-sounding between the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, one that that echoes through our lives as well.

I am fond of painting—as a beginner—those two hearts and the Chaste Heart of Joseph, and have included in those paintings plant symbolism from Christina art (Botanical Sacred Hearts).

Creating a garden dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and/or Immaculate Heart of Mary could include plants with symbolic meanings, or any plants of red, yellow, and orange flowers—annuals or perennials—to represent the burning flame of love that existed in both Mary and Jesus’ hearts. Be sure to choose plants by the USDA Hardiness Zone where you live[i].

Here are a few plant selections to get you started, from my book A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac:

Bleeding Heart, Pixabay.com, CCO, creative Commons

Bleeding Heart, Dicentra spectabilis; eternal love: Grow in moist, humusy soil in part shade. Beautiful in a border or woodland garden. Spring-early summer interest. Can take full sun in reliably moist soil. Prefers neutral or slightly alkaline pH. Protect from wind. Foliage generally goes dormant in summer’s heat, so be sure to choose companion plants so there isn’t an empty space left in the garden. USDA Zones 3-9.

Vinca Minor, Pixabay.com, CCO creative Common

Myrtle, Vinca minor; symbolic of love (and Hebrew symbol for marriage!): Ground cover with glossy evergreen leaves and small periwinkle flowers with a white throat, blooming in early summer. A perennial in USDA Zones 4-8, tolerates full sun to part shade, average soil, and average moisture. Don’t use this, or for that matter most groundcovers in a small, groomed garden space. Myrtle is lovely in a wide, contained edging leading to a garden, or the edge of a tree line.

Fuchsia begonia, Begonia fuchsioides rosea; Mary’s heart, Jesus’ heart: Considered an annual for most of us, it is USDA Zones 9-11, grows in sun to light shade, and repeats blooming uniquely branched drooping pink flowers all summer. Grow it in a container surrounded by Vinca minor, with an icon of the Hearts and your prayer garden is done! (I couldn’t locate an image that wasn’t copyrighted, but it’s easy enough to find  a picture by searching the web.)

Iris sp., Pixabay.com, CCO, Creative Commons

Iris, Iris spp., Mary’s sword of sorrows: Iris is a genus of about 300 species, so you’re sure to find one suited to your climate! Its name comes from the Greek word for rainbow—and when you look at the variations in bloom color you’ll know why. This was the first flower I fell in love with as a six-year-old, and when I retired from volunteering as a gardener at a retreat center they gave me a gift of a watercolor painting—unbeknownst to them—of the same irises from sixty-some years ago.

Harebell, Pixabay.com, CCO Creative Commons

Harebell, Campanula rotundiflolia; strongly associated with grief and connected to the fourth station of the cross when Jesus meets his mother, and the flame of love burns eternal: You can use any of the blue bell-shaped Campanula sp. interchangeably, here. The Harebell is a native wildflower in many Zones, which translates to, it will spread.

There are two things that must always be meditated on together in the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus: Christ’s heart of flesh and Christ’s love for us.

[i] USDA Hardiness Zone is defined as a geographically designated area in which a plant is capable of growing, as defined by climatic conditions, including its ability to withstand the minimum temperatures with a 50% kill-off and continue to grow the following season.