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 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.

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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Sod of Love Spared from Eden

burgundy roseI stooped at the waist to pull a few weeds. A twinge in my back caused me to stagger a bit so I lowered to kneeling and moved closer the flowers—a familiar intimacy.

The rose next to me was Tuscany, a maroon heirloom rose, its richly perfumed center was fluffy with gold pollen. The base of the dark velvety petals were tipped with white where the keel connected to the calyx. It gave the illusion of light radiating from its center. ‘Tuscany Superb’ is a polite shrub rose that remains relatively compact, at about four feet high and wide, and its stems are covered in hairy prickles rather than the usual woody thorns.

I worked my way a little farther down the garden bed, scooching along to where the Oriental lilies ‘Pink Pearl’ grew. The oversized anther pads floated on fine pale green filaments above the white edged petals. A humming bird zoomed in, took a couple quick sips from the lily’s trumpet and darted off.

The roses and the lilies, the fragrances known in July, rustled enough of me into the moment that the anxieties of the past few weeks eased.

I had been nearly consumed by worries, what were perceived as potential threats. A ghost from decades ago had returned to haunt, and fear bit hard like a hungry dog on grizzled bone.

I’d become terribly upset and thrown off balance, losing the comfortable peace so well known in my days. I attempted to regain perspective through regimented worship: intercessory praying, rosary, Liturgy of the Hours, Mass and Adoration. Tentatively I reached out for prayer and shared the situation with a group of peers. They acknowledged my fears and began their own intercessions on my behalf.

In all this, it wasn’t until I lowered myself to the ground did the tension seep away.

To kneel on soil—instead of on padded wood—is to join oneself intimately with the Creator, to lean into, and on to, God. To arch the back and offer ones hands to toil with joy or tears, distract, alone, loved or not is to embroider the earth with prayer.

We are placed upon this sod of love spared from the Garden of Eden. For as low as our lives are from the heavens, we are, always, the humus of the earth—from it and to it, nourished and nourishing, full circle in the created affections of God. We scratch upon it. And not all scratching is fruitful and not all seeding sprouts.

It is the effort to draw closer to God that brings us to our knees. And every prayer waters the ground that rears us to our sainthood.

(Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obls OSB. All rights reserved.)

(Originally appeared July 2014)