The Damask Rose and Our Lady of Guadalupe


Of all the Catholic prayer gardens created in the home landscape, a Marian garden is the most popular. A garden dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe would include the Damask rose (culture information and link for these roses is at the bottom of this post).

Most of us know well the miracles associated with St. Juan Diego — a Chichimec peasant and convert — from Our Lady of Guadalupe. We know of her image imbedded on his tilma and the dark pink roses left growing on Tepeyac Hill for Juan after his vision.

The Holy Virgin sent him back to those who doubted with unquestionable proof that she had indeed made the request for a shrine to be built on that hillside: The roses that Juan carried, besides it being winter and the wrong time of year for them to be flowering, were not from that region at all, but from the bishop’s home town of Castille, Spain. That rose was the Castilian Rose or Damask Rose, Rosa damascena.

The Damask rose is known for its fine fragrance and their flowers are harvested for commercial use in oils and perfumes, and for cooking. The crusader Robert de Brie is often given credit for bringing this rose from Persia — the name refers to Damascus, Syria, a major city in the region — to Europe in the mid thirteenth century. Another story says the Romans brought the rose to England.

In an article by Jerry Haynes, History of Roses: Damask Rose,

For centuries, the Damascus rose (Rosa damascena) has been considered a symbol of beauty and love. The fragrance of the rose has been captured and preserved in the form of rose water by an ancient method that can be traced back to biblical times in the Middle East, and later to the Indian subcontinent. An Iranian doctor, Avicenna, is credited with the discovery of the process for extracting rose water from rose petals in the early 11th century. Damascus roses were introduced into England during the reign of Henry VIII and were frequently displayed and scattered at weddings and festivals.

Depending on what USDA Hardiness Zone you live in, the modern cultivars of this rose would make an excellent addition to a larger garden dedicated to Our lady of Guadalupe (for those in colder climates, consider hardier doubled dark pink roses with high petal counts and strong fragrance).

Rosa x damascena cultivars are hardy in USDA Zones 6-9 and are known for their size; 4-7’ tall, a sprawling large shrub rose.  Like most roses, they require a slightly acidic soil with good drainage, and full sun. In warmer Zones afternoon shade will help keep the blooms from fading. In areas with high humidity, be sure to allow for air movement to prevent fungal diseases. Watering is moderate, giving them a good deep drink once or twice a week depending on summer temperatures. Pruning is minimal and usually only to remove injured or diseased wood. Trying to train it to fit in to a small space is useless, being a shrub rose and all, so go with right-plant-right-place when adding it to your landscape.

On their web site, Heirloom Roses offer several cultivars.

Image by Emilian Robert Vicol from Pixabay .

The Mighty Oak, Symbol of Incorruptible Faith


The oak is a long lived tree, often exceeding 500 years. With a trunk and limbs that are thick and sturdy, it’s rarely damaged by storms—the leaves are marcescent in the north, not dropping until spring, and hold snow loads of impressive weights! Wind shears have been known to strip the tree bare, leaving the branches intact. About the only feat of nature to regularly damage an oak is lightning—of all the tree species struck by lightening, the oak is most frequently hit.

Because of its endurance this tree came to symbolize the profound and unyielding strength and steadfastness of Christians’ faith in the face of adversity. St. Sebastian is depicted as being lashed to an oak.


(San Sebastian, El Greco, image public domain)

With its nearly incorruptible wood it came to connote salvation, and is symbolic of physical and moral vigor. And this explains its association to the Virgin Mary.

Madonna of the Oaks Wikimedia(The Holy Family of the Oak Tree, Raphael Sanzio, image public domain)

According to legend, the Christianization of heathen druidic tribes in Germany by Saint Boniface was marked by his felling of an oak, where upon a fir tree immediately grew and whose triangular shape symbolizes the Trinity—more on the fir in another column.

In the Bible, Abram moved his tent and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are in Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD (Gen 13:18). Later we read that Joshua erects a large stone under an oak tree as the first covenant of the Lord (Josh. 24:26). In Isaiah 61, the prophet refers to the Israelites as “Oaks of Righteousness”.

And now you know that an image of a saint with an oak alludes to the saint’s firm incorruptible faith.


 (St. Paul the Hermit fed by the Raven, II Guercino, image public domain.)

Image by Rafixx from Pixabay


Persecution and the Checkered Fritillary Flower

Fritillaria meleagris,, 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,, CCO Creative Commons


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.




Chestnuts at Christmas, A Garden Catechism


Edible Sweet chestnuts or European chestnuts, Castanea sativa. Image by Clarita,

Those lovely, smooth, shiny-brown chestnuts we enjoy during the Christmas season are pretty rugged looking at the start.

The American chestnut tree, Castanea dentata, is native to eastern North America, and nearly died out in the early 1900s from an imported blight.

Its Latin name castanea is derived from the city Castanis in Asia Minor where the sweet chestnut, Castanea sativa, has been cultivated for centuries. It was introduced throughout Europe during Roman times and grown in many monastery gardens. It’s not unusual to find trees over 1000 years old in Great Britain.

Sweet chestnut or European chestnut, Castanea sativa. Image by Magnus Manske, (

Sweet chestnut or European chestnut, Castanea sativa. Image by Magnus Manske, (

The sweet chestnut tree produces large round thorny burrs that encase a single nut. It is this hull configuration, and regrowth habit, that earned it the moniker, God’s Fruit.

The thorny hull evokes the torment of Jesus. Also associated with its spiny hull are the concepts of chastity and purity, a fruit protected. The Latin name castanea contains the root word castus which means chaste and pure. And it is here that it alludes to the Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception—Mary though surrounded by original sin is immune to it.

The chestnut tree in paintings points to the Resurrection. Trees that are grown for their wood can be cut nearly to the ground every few years. The practice, called coppicing, results in vigorous regrowth of numerous long straight shoots.

Carlo Crivelli, The Madonna of the Little Candle, 1470 (image public domain).The brocade pattern on the cloth beneath Mary’s feet are chestnut leaves.

Carlo Crivelli, The Madonna of the Little Candle, 1470. The brocade pattern of the cloth beneath Mary's feet are chestnut leaves.

El Greco, right panel, Modena Triptych, 1568 (image public domain). Image found at Byzantine Historical Museum, The baptism of Jesus under chestnut tree.

El Greco Baptism Jesus

Filippino Lippi, The Adoration of the Child, 1480 (image public domain). The two chestnut trees in the background are thought to represent the Immaculate Conception and the Resurrection.

Madonna in ADoration Filippino

George Jacobus Johannes Van Os, Grapes Strawberries Chestnuts an Apple and Spring Flowers, c.1838 (Image found at APA,


Pomegranates, A Garden Catechism

A new offering on my blog is the Garden Catechism. In these posts we will look at the symbolism of plants in Christian art.

I’ll begin with one of my favorite fruits, the pomegranate.

When I was a kid I thought the pomegranate was popular in October because of its Halloweenish looks. Crack it open and its membrane looked like brains and the sarcotesta—a scary sounding word—the juicy part around the seed, was a bloody red!

The Pomegranate, Punica granatum, is native to Iran, found throughout the world, and fortunate for us, thrives in California and Arizona. It is called India’s (Indian) Apple, and from the French, grenade (yep, like the little hand bombs), comes the word for the beverage syrup, grenadine. In Latin we combine pomum, apple, and granatum, seeded.

In Judaism the seeds are said to symbolize sanctity, fertility, and abundance. One of the seven sacred varieties of plants mentioned in the Bible, the pomegranate is said to have 613 seeds which corresponds with the 613 mitzvot or commandments of the Torah. Depictions of the fruit have also been featured in Judaic architecture and design. They decorated the pillars of King Solomon’s temple and the robes of Jewish kings and priests. It is traditional to consume pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah because, with its numerous seeds, it symbolizes fruitfulness.

In the hands of the Christ child it is a symbol of the resurrection.

Placed in a still life alongside apples—the forbidden fruit of paradise—it symbolizes the Eucharist.

When the fruit is seen held by the hands of the child Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary it carries a twofold meaning of chastity and resurrection.

There are pomegranates on each side of the Chi Rho and depiction of Christ as an older child in the Hinton St. Mary Mosaic of Christ from the British Museum. Roman emperors thought it disgraceful to have the depiction of Jesus beneath ones feet, being disrespectful to walk or spill food on him, so banned and removed mosaic floors.

It can also indicate the church, the union of many under one authority.