In Hope of Being Pruned

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I love to prune. It’s like art to me, a hope filled art. Each cut is intended to produce either a directional growth, to form and shape hardwoods for beauty, or to enhance the bearing of fruit.

Sometimes with ornamental trees a whole section of limb that rubs against another will need to be removed, allowing the stronger limb to develop more fully. At other times the interior has become so cluttered with unnecessary branches that they block the light from reaching deep inside. More often if pruning has been done regularly, it is a simple nip here or there to keep things growing as they should.

When doing light pruning I look at the bud that would be just behind the cut and estimate its future growth pattern. Will it grow backwards and into the interior? Does it face out and up toward the sun? I imagine and calculate the plant’s development before daring to trim it back.

I like to get an overall view of the condition and shape of a tree as I work. On more than one occasion the Groundskeeper at the retreat center where I had volunteered,  had lovingly chided me as I repeatedly circled my object of renovation. Maybe I do take too seriously the ramifications of my pruning efforts. But like other things in my life, I do not want to throw things off balance through carelessness or haste.

Back then, as now, I contemplate being pruned as I pruned or, of being cut to the ground and starting anew. As I have done, so God too rings-me-round, looking to balance growth.

My interior life had become overcrowded with things of this world hampering the light of God from shining in where needed. Other things needed to be completely removed so there would be more productive fruitfulness.

Drawing closer to God as I worked, I learn that in His pruning he too wants beneficial maturing, purposefully directed.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

A Sacred and Immaculate Hearts Garden

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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.

Feature image of Reiger begonia Valentino Pink, by Jürgen Köditz from Pixabay

[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.

Plants for a Glorious Rosary Garden for Ascension and Pentecost

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A month dedicated the Virgin Mary, the week of the Ascension and Pentecost?!

What better way to celebrate all three than to consider planting a rosary garden dedicated to the Glorious Mysteries?

In my book through Ave Maria Press,  A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac , is offered the following suggestions for a summer full of blooms:

Glorious Mysteries

Resurrection of Our Lord; Faith: Easter lily, Lilium longiflorum; Resurrection plant, Selaginella lepidophylla, comes back to life even though it appears dead. It is more often grown indoors as an oddity or specimen plant. Also any of the delphiniums, Delphinium spp. symbolic of our salvation.

Ascension into Heaven; Hope: Lilac, ascension flower, Syringa vulgaris cvs.; Snowdrops, Galanthus spp, signify the consolation that comes to those who are filled with hope; the sweet almond tree, Prunus dulcis cvs., symbolizes hope, watchfulness, and promise.

Descent of the Holy Spirit; Zeal: Columbine, Aquilegia spp., has petals shaped like a dove (columba is Latin for dove); Pentecost rose, peony, Paeonia officinalis cvs.

Assumption of Mary; Happy Death : The assumption lily, Hosta plantaginea, in most regions blooms around mid-August—and the bonus is its fragrance is similar to Easter lilies; Belladonna lily, Amaryllis belladonna, whose name literally means “beautiful lady,” leafs out in spring, dies back, and then sends up single stalks of flowers in mid-August.

Coronation of Mary; Love of Mary: Cornflower, Centaurea spp., Mary’s crown; Yellow flag iris, Iris pseudacorus, Mary as queen (be careful, this plant becomes invasive in some regions).

The plants mentioned above are only a few options. You could also section off the rosary garden by using colors to signify each mystery.

Begin by using all white flowers at the first Glorious Mystery the Resurrection of Our Lord; blue flowers at the second mystery for the Ascension into Heaven. Of course red is traditional for the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost which is the third mystery. For the forth Glorious Mystery of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, yellow suggests her luminous love of God and Jesus. For the fifth mystery, the Coronation of Mary, grow bright orange flowers for her crown.

Select hardwoods, annuals or perennials suitable to your Hardiness Zone and soil type. By planning for growing the right plant in the right place you will have a garden you can enjoy, and pray with, for years.

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay .

Shroud of Turin and its Flowers

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The Shroud of Turin was wrapped around the body of Jesus after it was taken down from the cross. Experts in the natural sciences began examining the shroud toward the end of the twentieth century. Botanical experts on the research team found the imprints of plants and grains of pollen that can serve as seasonal calendar and geographic indicators.

Four plants on the shroud are significant because, as researchers Danin and Baruch report, “…the assemblage…occurs in only one rather small spot on earth, this being the Judean mountains and the Judean Desert of Israel, in the vicinity of Jerusalem.”[1. Danin, et al. Flora of the Shroud of Turin, p. 18.]

Those experts succeeded in identifying thirty-six species of plants[2. More than thirty-six have been found on the shroud but await unequivocal species identification.] on the shroud. They discovered that almost all of the flower images remaining on the cloth and the highest concentration of pollens were where the head of the corpus would have been lying; plant parts and pollens were also located throughout the rest of the shroud. 

Plants Found on the Shroud of Turin:[3. Danin, et al. Flora of the Shroud of Turin, p. 12.]

Botanical Name

Common Name (English)

Anabasis aphylla

Anabasis

Acacia albida

Acacia

Artemisia herba-alba

White Wormwood

Atraphaxis spinosa

Atraphaxis

Capparis ovata

Caper

Carduus

Carduus Thistle

Cedrus libanoticus

Cedrus

Echinops glaberrimus

Echinops

Fagonia mollis

Fagonia

Gundelia tournefortii

Tumble Thistle

Haplophyllum tuberculatum

Haplophyllum

Hyoscyamus reticulatus

Henbane

Linum mucronatum

Armenian Flax

Paliurus spina-christi

Jerusalem Thorn, Garland Thorn, or Crown of Thorns

Prosopis farcta

Dwarf Mesquite, Syrian Mesquite

Reaumuria hirtella

Reaumuria

Ricinus communis

Castor Oil Plant

Scabiosa prolifera

Carmel Daisy

Scirpus

Scirpus

Secale

Rye

Suaeda

Seepweed

Tamarix

Salt Cedar

The botanists found several factors of particular interest to those studying, even doubting, the authenticity of the shroud. These are some of their findings: 

  1. All the plants are ones that grow in Israel. Of these, twenty are known to grow in Jerusalem itself and eight others grow in the vicinity in the Judean desert or the Dead Sea area. 
  2. Although some of these plants are found in Europe, fourteen plants grow only in the Middle East.
  3. Twenty-seven of the plants bloom in the springtime at the same time as the Jewish Passover. 
  4.  Zygophyllum dumosum, has both pollen as well as an image on the shroud and grows only in Israel, Jordan and the Sinai region. 
  5. Gundelia tournefortii (most frequent of the pollens found by the scientist on the shroud, and is indicative of season) was the plant material found where the Crown-of-Thorns was imprinted around the head on the cloth. 

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Danin, Avinoam, Whanger, Alan D., Baruch, Uri, Whanger, Mary. Flora of the Shroud of Turin. St. Louis, MO; Missouri Botanical Garden Press, 1999.

Image of Scabiosa prolifera by Hanay from Wikimedia

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.