To Change in Nature

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As we age we come to embrace on many levels the verse Jn 3:30, “He must increase; I must decrease.”

The gardens have become fewer and smaller as I’ve aged. The riot of color from spring’s thaw to late autumn’s freeze have given way to a simpler view of textures and shapes, under the boughs of trees.

I still work the gardens at a slower pace —ever careful of what could trip and cause a fall—and plan more for what is essential and when it really needs to be done. I’m growing comfortable with new normals and the minimizing of a once exuberant life.

I’ve become a reflection of my gardens—smaller and preferably off to the side in the shade.

The boldness of hosta leaves, the vibrancy of tree peony blooms, or the structure of an oak leaf hydrangea all have a life, but only in dappled light. Those plants, and many more, are not meant to be in the intense full sun. There are others better suited for that—to dance with the light and welcomed attention.

I think of shade gardens as a kind of whisper from the Creator calling me to be still, sit with him a while, and to look where his Light shines clearest. So, like many gray-haired types, I seek that distant shady spot from which to watch the busy freshness of life.

I’ve not felt that I’ve lost who I am, my identity as a gardener in this slow decline. Like my gardens I have transitioned and become more defined. My roots are still deep in the soil of faith, and nourished by the compost spread over time. Our Lord has whispered new ways to be all of whom this different ‘I am’ is, and I try to listen as best I can.

My attempts to write or create art are not done with the confidence of training—which at times is glaringly obvious. My approach is one of openness, more of a practice continued for God’s glory. It is he who prospers the works of my hands, and carries my efforts like dandelion fluff on a breeze.

I am content to still be his gardener spreading fewer seeds. We all have transmuted gifts, those that have changed in nature, though in essence we remained the same.

Image Pixabay.com. CCO Creative 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 of Delight

Pixabay.com, CCO

To renew our wearied heart, we often head outdoors to be in a garden or wander a woodland park. If we are fortunate enough to live near an arboretum or commercial greenhouse, we can experience, literally, a breath of fresh air from the oxygen emitted by the hot-house plants.

I’ve been in love with plants since childhood. My first memory is of lying on the grass nose-to-petal with yellow creeping buttercup. My four-year-old hands were trying to pluck a tiny budding stem when I discovered the ground a few inches away moved. Pulling and crawling along, I dug tiny fingers into the soil until I had several chains of little plants.

Father was not pleased by what my curiosity had done to the yard.

Through the fractured and hormonal times of adolescence, I would run to the quiet of nature. There I could find creation’s orderliness un-constricted. It was comforting to know that the trees would continue to grow and seeds continue to sprout.

The art and beauty of landscape architecture nourished in me a desire to create prayer and memorial gardens, places where drawing closer to God was available beyond the pew and allowed an opening for the Holy Spirit to move in the heart of someone longing for Jesus.

It doesn’t matter the season or the latitude we live in, in God’s creation we find an ever-present way to both refresh and ground our spirit.

Our Lord speaks to us in the Bible with parables of nature. It was in The Four Waters[1] that St. Teresa of Avila used gardening analogies and set forth stages of spiritual development by depicting the different stages or grades of a life in prayer in metaphorical terms taken from watering a garden. Her insightful description of spiritual development is that God plants the garden which is irrigated in different ways through prayer.

Pixabay.com, CCO

A favorite quote by St. Teresa offers a way we can attend to our soul. She wrote “A beginner must think of herself as one setting out to make a garden in which her Beloved Lord is to take his delight…[2]” Her words are the theme of this blog.

We read in Isaiah 66:1-2 the Lord asking, what can you build for me as a resting place—I made all things. We can build for Our Lord one thing, a resting place in our souls—a garden pleasing to the Lord.

In creating a garden of the soul, like earthly gardens, we pull out the weeds, keep things pruned, and remove old seed heads so that new flowers come forth. We remove the debris that makes it hard to know what is truly there, and in so doing we allow new seeds to sprout.

Many of the Bible parables speak of nature. There is a godly reason for that; we were created for a garden, we were created agrarian. The imagery is easy for us to understand; it is an experience of love, a memory of paradise.

There is a sense of homing with nature, a restoration of peace in remembering that first garden, created for our delight. I am refreshed often as I encounter the Holy in all the growing spaces; it is a greening, a growing of the soul.

What is encountered to create a garden in my soul, is what I will offer to you. From the seeds planted in the oratory, to their growth in the Adoration chapel, I pray my musings will bear some small fruit for God’s own profit. Here you will read stories and thoughts of finding the Creator in his creation, plants that can be used for spiritually themed gardens and how to grow them, and like a farmer’s almanac little bits of information unearthed from saints and seasons decades ago…and maybe a recipe or two (I love making soups!)

I hope you will visit again and thank you for stopping by.

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Speaking Engagements, 2015

Benedictine oblateI’ll be presenting at a diocesan event, a couple of times at a retreat center, and for a garden group. If you’re in the area, please consider attending and introduce yourself!

Would you like me to come to your town? The list of topics I offer is found on my speakers page. Below is where you can find me over the next few months. Hope to see you there.

 

July 22-24, Catholic Writers Guild Conference

Catholic Marketing Network, Somerset, NJ

A Franciscan, a Dominican, and a Benedictine Walked in to a Room: Perspective of Writing as a Lay Religious. I’ll be the moderator and part of the panel.

Fortitude: Composting Fear and Growing as a Writer; On Being Fruitful Beyond a Known Way.

Ave Maria Press will have a book signing event at their booth for new authors. If you’re at the trade show and conferences, be sure to stop over for a copy of A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac. I would love to meet you!

Catholic Non-fiction Panel, Moderated by Donna Marie Cooper O’Boyle.

September 8, MSU Master Gardener Association of Jackson County.

Rose of Sharron

Rose of Sharron

Ora et labora, Gardening and the Spirit (tentative topic)

Jackson District Library, Jackson, MI.

 

October 10, St. Benedict Monastery’s Oblates Retreat

Benedictines: Getting all the Dirt on the Soulful Gardener

St. Francis Retreat Center, DeWitt, MI

 

October 14, Kalamazoo Diocese Council of Catholic Women

Marian Gardens: They Didn’t Begin with that Bathtub!

St. Catherine Catholic Church, Kalamazoo, MI

 

Mary's GardenOctober 25-29, Catholic Writers Retreat

I will be hosting the Catholic Writers Guild’s five day retreat on a beautiful 95 acre site just outside of Lansing, MI. There will be a lot of time to write while enjoying the company of other Catholic writers and presenters. Of course, it includes the sacraments.

To register call 866-669-8321.

St. Francis Retreat Center, DeWitt, MI

Gifts from Mother Mary, the Morning Rose

'Lasting Love' rose, in full bloom perfumes the back yard.

‘Lasting Love’ rose, in full bloom perfumes all of the back yard.

The Marian rose garden was completed a little over three weeks ago. With my arthritis, I thought the days of kneeling on soil were over.  The plan was to be prayerful and attentive to whatever lessons were presented along the way, but at times I fell into an ego centered and willful urgency to complete the garden quickly.

At the beginning of May I blogged about starting a process that was filled with trepidation.

Standing on the drive looking at the outlined garden I am overwhelmed. Part of me does not want to reawaken what I’ve loved and laid to rest—a life of working among gardens. I doubt my ability, stamina, strength. I want to take the roses back to the garden center.

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 even 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 was patience. In learning to be patient with myself in this new-normal way of life, I found an ease in waiting for others—able bodied or not—to accomplish tasks or services that before would have had me clasping my pocket rosary to offer up frustration.

The next lesson was trusting providence. It seemed like a small thing, wanting to use bricks for the border, and ended as a lesson in blessed serendipity. I still smile at the thought that twenty-some years ago bricks had become hidden and, in the economy of God, resurfaced as a gift for his mother.

Working my way through the garden installation was slow and at the same time encouraging in that my experiences as a gardener had come full circle; how to work wisely using less physical effort. In the past few years I had come to see myself with limitations and the lesson that came in the third week was gentleness and letting go of expectations.

And then I faltered, and lost sight of ora et labora, and the offering of myself made in April to an appropriate pace. Instead, and foolishly, one morning…

 …I prayed to persevere and work steady at putting down the ground cloth, bricks, and the next day all of the mulch. Even though it is a small garden, I was laid low for days. That prayer has been acknowledged as pure pridefulness and lack of humility. Like patience, one should pray carefully and specifically about fortitude. The lesson of ignoring moderation cost me time in bed… I encourage others with physical limitations to not be as rash. The gaining of patience is learned through trials. Gaining the grace to persevere is learned by a steady pace through difficulty, not by a bull-headed charge to the other side!

I don’t want to say it was a hard lesson—for there had been others more difficult—but rather an emphatic one. We often practice humility in the acts of knowing what we can do. Humility is also learned in accepting gracefully what cannot be done.

When the location for the garden was selected it was because that was the only place in the yard where it could be situated, and it would be lovely too look at from the back porch. In the past few weeks I’ve discovered the comforting view of the statue from the oratory windows, the kitchen, and even through the stockade fence when I pull in the drive.

I’ve enjoyed how reassuring it is to see the little statue in the sunlight and be reminded that Our Holy Mother is always that close. At times when I’ve walked past I’ve brushed my hand over the top of its head and leaned against it, as if being sweet with a small child.

I had not anticipated the joy I would find after having moved the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary from the shaded back of the yard into the light. So it seems that is the final lesson in creating the Marian garden.

Keep our Holy Mother ever before us and the comfort of her nearness will always bring peace. Lean into her love and the love of her Son will unfold us with no less beauty than the blossom of a rose, and we will become the fragrance of heaven on earth.

Thanks mom.

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