Of Lavender and Maple Leaves

The Lavender plant and its flower represent love and devotion. Lavender flowers are also associated with purity, silence, and caution. The leaves from a Maple tree symbolize “to be reserved.”

Many of our saints were filled with those qualities. What a lovely reminder of their lives, spoken in the language of flowers, as we approach the celebrations of All Saints and All Souls.

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl OSB. All rights reserved.

Evergreens and their Christian Symbolism

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Its Christmas time and I love how the fragrance and beauty of evergreens adds to celebrating this holy season. Many of us add Christmas trees, wreaths or garlands to our homes. Collectively, evergreens for early Christians symbolized everlasting life because their boughs stay green all year.

A while back at CatholicMom.com I wrote about the origin of the most popular decoration, the Christmas tree, aka Paradise Tree. The next most popular decoration is the wreath.

A wreath, being a circle, has no beginning or end and symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life found in Christ. The wreath, when decorated with evergreens, which are symbolic of life itself, points to God’s gift of life even as the world grows dark and plants die back with the lessening of sunlight hours.

Many kinds of evergreens are used in the wreaths, swags and garlands that decorate our churches and homes. Each type of evergreen has its own meaning in the language of flowers.

The most commonly used evergreen for wreaths is balsam and it has the symbolic meaning of eager anticipation; a familiar emotion associated with Advent.


Frequently used in garlands as well as wreaths and swags are fir boughs, symbolizing a lifting up…

 

…and pine that conveys the meaning of eternal life.

 

Spruce boughs represent hope in adversity, and isn’t that a lovely sentiment when we think of what Mother Mary faced before the birth of Jesus.

 

Cedar is one of the more fragrant and longer lasting evergreens and indicates incorruptibility and healing, and so it is associated with eternal life through Christ.

 

Juniper symbolizes protection, and that they do well!  If you’ve ever had to trim juniper branches you know how prickly and harsh they can be. (A great shrub to plant under windows to ward off intruders!)

 

Holly carries a few different symbolisms. In the language of flowers it means to foresee as in to understand in such a way as to predict, to prophecy. Holly is also used as a reminder of where Jesus’ birth and life will lead; its prickly leaves are reminiscent of the Crown of Thorns and the red berries of the blood He shed upon the Cross.

There are other non-evergreen plants often used in Christmas decorations. Bay laurel symbolizes a just reward, a victory over death. The delicate white-berry mistletoe is said to represent overcoming difficulties. And the unpresumptuous ivy holds one of the dearest images; that of clinging to God. It also symbolizes protection, joy and fidelity…all consistent with ‘to whom we cling’.

Any cones, nuts, or seedpods used in decorations symbolize new life and resurrection, pointing Christians toward Easter.

So now, when you look at your decorated tree, the wreath on your door, or the lovely evergreen arrangement on your table, you know they say more to you and your guests than Merry Christmas.

All image Pixabay.com, CCO, Creative Commons.

How to Grow a Garden with Fortitude, 3 of the Best Plants!

Christians can express their faith in nearly limitless ways in a garden setting. Continuing with the theme of A Virtuous Garden, here are some of the aspects of the third cardinal virtue—fortitude. You can find the other columns for prudence here, and justice here.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1808:

Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause.

The word is defined as mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously. To have mettle as one’s disposition or temperament, as a Christian, is to do one’s utmost, always, in the name of Jesus.

shutterstock_113189206 Pine treeWe can see how this sentiment applies to the pine tree. In the language of flowers it indicates a request, to remain strong for me. The Pinus genus has nearly 200 varieties and found throughout the world. Pines are long lived, anywhere from 100-1000 years, being a sturdy tree adapted to the environment in which it grows. A fun fact, the longest-lived is the Pinus longaeva, known as the Great Basin bristlecone pine. An individual of this species is one of the world’s oldest living organisms at around 4,600 years and can be found in the White Mountains of California.

There is a lovely story in our Catholic tradition of when the Holy Family was fleeing into Egypt took refuge under the boughs of a pine tree to avoid detection by pursing soldiers. You can read the rest of that story in my new book A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac.

The Magnolia tree is another hardwood that is symbolic of fortitude, signifying be not discouraged, better days are coming. Fossilshutterstock_68022604 Magnolia specimens date back nearly 20 million years. It is such a lovely tree, that, maybe God planted one in the Garden of Eden! The flowers were often given after the birth of a child symbolizing future good health and well being of the child and the mother.

One of the more beloved pink and white magnolias is the Saucer Magnolia, Magnolia x soulangeana, seen in this picture. My favorite is the yellow flowering Magnolia x brooklynensis ‘Yellow Bird’. Its buds form later in the spring and for this reason the flowers are rarely lost to hard frosts.  To choose one for your own garden, check out the Magnolia Society International site.

shutterstock_149412281 ChamomileI love the low-growing herb German chamomile in the garden, especially when used to edge a sunny garden path. On a warm day its delicate fragrance smells of apples.

The two most commonly grown is the German chamomile Matricaria recutita, and the Roman Chamaemelum nobile. This herb has been used medicinally for centuries, so it is not surprising that it symbolizes energy in adversity, and to not despair.

Chamomile plants are very distinct in their growing conditions. The Roman species is a perennial plant, grows close to the ground and has very small flowers—tending to be bitter when used for teas. On the other hand the German chamomile is an annual growing up to three feet high, has larger blossoms, and is sweeter for teas—being the preferred for farm production. DISCLAIMER: because it does have medicinal affects, don’t consume this herb until you’ve done your homework. I’m not responsible…

For more Catholic garden ideas, my latest book, A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac, will offer inspiration. To learn how to build a prayer garden, my first books, A Garden of Visible Prayer, will lead you through the process one step at a time.

(All images courtesy shutterstock.com, by artists, in order of images: pine, Taftin; magnolia, Aceshot1; chamomile, Maria Komar.)

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Christmas Greens and Their Symbolism

door wreaths

Last week’s post on the herb, rosemary, brought requests about other symbolisms of plants in our Christian traditions. The meanings of evergreens in the language of flowers will be new to some of you, and familiar to others who may have read this column before.

During the Christmas holidays I love how the fragrance and beauty of evergreens adds to celebrating this holy season. Many of us add Christmas trees (originally called the Paradise tree), wreaths, or garlands to our homes. Collectively, evergreens for early Christians symbolized everlasting life because their boughs stay green all year.

A wreath, being a circle, has no beginning or end and symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life found in Christ. The wreath, when decorated with evergreens, which are symbolic of life itself, points to God’s gift of life even as the world grows dark and plants die back with the lessening of sunlight hours.

Many kinds of evergreens are used in the wreaths, swags, and garlands that decorate our churches and homes. Each type of evergreen has its own meaning in the language of flowers.

The most commonly used evergreen for wreaths is balsam and it has the symbolic meaning of eager anticipation–a familiar emotion associated with Advent.

Frequently used in garlands as well as wreaths and swags are fir boughs, symbolizing a lifting up, and pine that conveys the meaning of eternal life.

Spruce boughs represent hope in adversity, and isn’t that a lovely sentiment when we think of what Mother Mary faced before the birth of Jesus.

Cedar is one of the more fragrant and longer lasting evergreens and indicates incorruptibility and healing, and so it is associated with eternal life through Christ.

Juniper symbolizes protection, and that they do well!  If you’ve ever had to trim juniper branches you know how prickly and harsh they can be. (A great shrub to plant under windows to ward off intruders!)

Holly carries a few different symbolisms. In the language of flowers it means to foresee as in to understand in such a way as to predict, to prophesize. Holly is also used as a reminder of where Jesus’ birth and life will lead; its prickly leaves are reminiscent of the Crown of Thorns and the red berries of the blood He shed upon the Cross.

There are other non-evergreen plants often used in Christmas decorations. Bay laurel symbolizes a just reward, a victory over death. The delicate white-berry mistletoe is said to represent overcoming difficulties. And the unpresumptuous ivy holds one of the dearest images; that of clinging to God. It also symbolizes protection, joy and fidelity…all consistent with “to whom we cling.”

Any cones, nuts, or seedpods used in decorations symbolize new life and resurrection, pointing Christians toward Easter.

So now, when you look at your decorated tree, the wreath on your door, or the lovely evergreen arrangement on your table, you know they say more to you and your guests than Merry Christmas.

Symbolism of Christmas Evergreens

Image from morguefile.com.

Its Christmas time and I love how the fragrance and beauty of evergreens adds to celebrating this holy season. Many of us add Christmas trees, wreaths or garlands to our homes. Collectively, evergreens for early Christians symbolized everlasting life because their boughs stay green all year.

Two weeks ago at CatholicMom.com I wrote about the origin of the most popular decoration, the Christmas tree, aka Paradise Tree. The next most popular decoration is the wreath.

A wreath, being a circle, has no beginning or end and symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life found in Christ. The wreath, when decorated with evergreens, which are symbolic of life itself, points to God’s gift of life even as the world grows dark and plants die back with the lessening of sunlight hours.

Many kinds of evergreens are used in the wreaths, swags and garlands that decorate our churches and homes. Each type of evergreen has its own meaning in the language of flowers.

The most commonly used evergreen for wreaths is balsam and it has the symbolic meaning of eager anticipation; a familiar emotion associated with Advent.

Frequently used in garlands as well as wreaths and swags are fir boughs, symbolizing a lifting up, and pine that conveys the meaning of eternal life.

Spruce boughs represent hope in adversity, and isn’t that a lovely sentiment when we think of what Mother Mary faced before the birth of Jesus.

Cedar is one of the more fragrant and longer lasting evergreens and indicates incorruptibility and healing, and so it is associated with eternal life through Christ.

Juniper symbolizes protection, and that they do well!  If you’ve ever had to trim juniper branches you know how prickly and harsh they can be. (A great shrub to plant under windows to ward off intruders!)

Holly carries a few different symbolisms. In the language of flowers it means to foresee as in to understand in such a way as to predict, to prophecy. Holly is also used as a reminder of where Jesus’ birth and life will lead; its prickly leaves are reminiscent of the Crown of Thorns and the red berries of the blood He shed upon the Cross.

There are other non-evergreen plants often used in Christmas decorations. Bay laurel symbolizes a just reward, a victory over death. The delicate white-berry mistletoe is said to represent overcoming difficulties. And the unpresumptuous ivy holds one of the dearest images; that of clinging to God. It also symbolizes protection, joy and fidelity…all consistent with ‘to whom we cling’.

Any cones, nuts, or seedpods used in decorations symbolize new life and resurrection, pointing Christians toward Easter.

So now, when you look at your decorated tree, the wreath on your door, or the lovely evergreen arrangement on your table, you know they say more to you and your guests than Merry Christmas.