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 .

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.




Mother of Roses

Image by vdaiga,

Image by vdaiga,

I’ve never been much for growing roses. My gardens had always been more cottage style with plants growing close together in a riot of color, texture, and form. Roses simply didn’t work in my design. Besides, there were all those thorns to contend with, and I hate getting pricked in the garden (you may have read about that annoyance in Cultivating God’s Garden through Lent).

It’s no secret that with an arthritic spine my gardening days had come to an end. I retired from coordinating the St. Francis Retreat Center Garden Society after ten-plus years working the grounds. Over the past two summers my gardens of twenty-five years were dug out by friends. Those days of kneeling on soil were over—or so I thought.

You, readers of my new book, A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac, want pictures of my gardens. Reasonable it would seem; a garden writer with pretty gardens. Even the publisher asked.

With a yard now mostly lawn, a small shade garden in the north-west corner, and the tiniest of vegetable patches, I figured to meet your requests I would need to learn how to garden with limited abilities. I’m not going all horticultural therapy here; I’ll leave that to the professionals. I’ll be writing on and off about the techniques learned (and learning) on keeping gardening tasks simple.

My first endeavor will be a Marian rose garden that incorporates the representative colors of each mystery of the rosary. This will be a full installation, from sod to trellis and mulch, shared each step of the way. So we begin again…

Roses need lots of air movement, food, sunlight, and water. Tea roses can be tough to grow in northern climates—I’m in mid-Michigan—unless they’re Week’s Roses. These cultivars are designed to take the cold. Having worked as a grower, they were my and the customers’ favorites.

In a Marian garden themed on the rosary there are four traditional colors (newer interpretations are in the book). They are Joyful Mysteries: white, Sorrowful Mysteries: red, Glorious Mysteries: yellow and Luminous Mysteries: purple.

Yep, that's Gary Beck!

Yep, that’s Gary Beck!

Usually I recommend establishing your garden space first and then purchasing plants. Because the roses I want are specific, its spring, and Mother’s Day is just around the corner I’ll purchase them while the selection is still good. A favorite greenhouse, Beck’s Flowers in Jackson, MI (I worked there for several years) carries the brand I want.

When selecting a rose bush look for multiple sturdy stems branching from the graft, shiny leaves—depending on cultivars they can be bright green to red new growth, and of course free of disease and pests.Rose Graft

The roses I chose, besides being hardy and fragrant, were to have some symbolism with their name. The ones selected were:

White: Full Sail, hybrid tea. Mother Mary is also called The Star of the Sea, Stella Maris, and guides seafaring people—and aren’t we all—to Jesus. The Church is the ship of Christianity, from Latin, navis, and the central gathering place in a church is called the nave.

Red: Lasting Love, hybrid tea. Yeah, well this seems fairly obvious.

Yellow: Gold Medal, grandiflora. The Ark of the Covenant was pure gold, and holy. Mary was the Ark of the New Covenant, and she too was pure and holy. And then there are the Bible verses about running the race and earning the prize, so double win here!

Purple: Intrigue, floribunda. The luminous mysteries arouse our interest in the enlightening events of the Jesus’ life.

The spacing for roses depends on the type: tea, grandiflora, floribunda, shrub, miniature, groundcover or climbers. With the selections I’ve made, each bush will need a five foot span. With four rose bushes being planted, that’s a sizeable bed!

With the potted roses lined on the north side of the fence, to prevent scorching their tender greenhouse-grown leaves until hardened off, I mark off the area for Mother Mary’s new garden. Standing on the drive looking at the size of the space needed I am overwhelmed. Part of me does not want to reawaken what was loved and laid to rest—a life of working among gardens. I doubt my ability, stamina, and strength. I want to take the roses back.

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, 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 in gardening with limitations: allow time between tasks. There is only so much energy and strength for many of us with physical or mental limitations. So, with the roses bought and hose laid out to mark the bed, I leave the backyard and head inside for tea and prayer.

St. Benedict writes in the Rule that always we begin again. And so I will, tomorrow.

The next post, preparing to dig! I must be out of my mind…

rose hose