Jump Start Your Garden by Direct Seeding, Practical Gardening

shutterstock_138850070 Planting SeedsMost of us want our gardens to come back to life as soon as the snow is melted. Once the soil is thawed, you may be tempted to buy plants and get them in the ground, but resist the urge. For those of us in USDA Zone 5, we can still anticipate a hard frost, or freeze, until mid-May.

Another option to consider for your garden is direct seeding cold-hardy vegetables, herbs, annuals, and perennials. Many of these plants will do much better when the air and soil temperatures are cooler. And the costs of seeds are a lot less than flats of plants if you are on a tight budget.

Make sure your garden is not too wet to be worked. If you pick up a clump of soil and squeeze it and find it remains in a tight ball, or water drips out, it is too wet to be worked, so wait awhile. The soil is best worked when the clump of soil falls slightly apart after it is squeezed. Working a garden that is too wet will compact the soil and damage roots of existing plants.

As you prepare to plant, work in compost or peat moss. Lightly fertilize the soil where you plan to grow annuals and vegetables.

Direct seeding is easy. My technique is to scratch up a patch of soil to the depth as indicated on the seed packet, and sprinkle the seeds over top. I then take a handful of the soil and sprinkle this over the seeds and water lightly. To water lightly, use a misting head or fine sprinkler on the end of your hose. A spray bottle works well for small areas. I have found that a watering can with a sprinkling head often pours too harshly and the soil washes off, exposing the seeds.

If you want to plant in rows, make a shallow straight trench to the depth indicated on the seed packet—pile the soil to one side of the trench. Space the seeds as directed, and then push the piled soil over the seeds. Again, water lightly.

For seeds planted less than an inch deep, do not pat down the soil, as some gardeners do, I prefer to let the water settle the soil against the seeds instead.

Vegetables to plant by mid-April would include potatoes, onions, and garlic. You can now seed peas, plants in the cabbage family, Swiss chard, spinach, carrots, lettuce and arugula, radishes, beets, turnips and rutabaga.

It is also the time to direct seed perennial herbs such as chives, oregano, and sage.

Though still too early to plant for Zone 5, come May you can direct seed annual herbs parsley and dill. The annuals that can be direct seeded are snap dragons, petunias, calendula (some consider this an herb), stock, sunflowers and alyssum.

When it comes to perennial seeds, there are a lot to choose from. Some of the easiest to direct seed are blanket flower, black-eyed Susan, forget-me-nots (careful, these can become weedy), lupine, columbine, tickseed, coneflowers, and candytuft.

If you are someone who uses weed-inhibiting chemicals, such as Preen, remember that this product prevents any seed from taking root—including those you want to grow. Be sure to wait until after your seedlings have become well-rooted and sturdy-stemmed to spread the weed inhibitor.

It won’t be long until you see the seedlings pushing through the soil to become part of the joy you find in the garden.

(Image: Gardening – Pea Seeds by Space Monkey Pics, at shutterstock.com.)


A Walk through the Garden

For those of you taking your daily walk through the beautiful prayer garden that is Margaret Realy’s blog post, you may notice a different gardener today. As Margaret is on retreat for a few weeks, she has very kindly allowed me to help tend to her garden while she is away.

In the garden

Image courtesy Marty Rymarz.

As an Oblate novice at the same monastery as Margaret, I have been blessed to become friends with her and see her daily blogs. For me, reading her daily post is not unlike taking a leisurely stroll through my local greenhouse in the spring. There, I see many beautiful flowers starting to bloom, waiting to be taken home and planted where they will grow and flower further. Margaret’s daily prayers are inspired flowers of thought that I take with me each day and allow them to germinate in my mind and flower in my soul. Like the lilies and petunias in the greenhouse, some of Margaret’s prayers are perennials and some are annuals. Some will stick with me year after year while others flower brilliantly for a time and may fade away with the season.

It is the loving embrace of God’s light and warmth that allows these flowers to blossom and our prayers to bloom to their full beauty.  A little seed that looks insignificant and gets tenderly planted in the soil may eventually blossom into a beautiful flower. Another type of seed may produce the vegetables that feed us. Though unseen, these seeds are quietly but faithfully striving upwards, ever upwards, towards heaven, until one day, they burst forth from the earth, straining towards the sky and the sustaining power of the Son.

So it is with God’s word and the prayers of others for us. These start as a little seed in our soul that can be covered for a time in the dirt of our concupiscence. Our daily prayers and contemplation give these seeds of our soul the water and warmth they need to grow.  They may manifest themselves, flowerlike, as a beautiful smile that we share with a stranger or a helping hand that we lend to those in need. They may also bloom as succulent fruit and healthy vegetables to feed our own spiritual needs when we minister to those in need. Our job, as gardeners of Jesus, is to cultivate these seeds, while pulling the daily weeds that can so easily sprout, until these seeds grow and others may appreciate the beauty of them as they are reflected not only in our words, but more importantly, in our actions.

So on this day, as we have taken the time to walk through this prayer garden, do we also take time to gaze in childlike awe at the beauty of God’s creation in both this garden and in the beauty of each other’s souls? Do we truly strive to see Jesus in everyone we encounter? For if we did, if we sought to see Christ in both our friends and those who challenge us, we would truly be living in a modern day Garden of Eden. And that garden, my friends, would not be a bad place to live until we reach that final destination that we know, as Christians, is the loving eternal communion with our Father in heaven.

Darkness and Light, Catholic Photo Challenge

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

The Catholic Photo Challenge this week is about darkness and light.

Most living things experience a passage from darkness to light. Whether it is in the womb of the body or the womb of the earth, germination takes place in the absence of light. A seed is planted in the dark soil, and with minimal effort on our part, it grows.

It is awe-inspiring when we realize that God chose the things of the earth to express Himself to us. From the simplest thing of a garden, the seed, comes the greatest revelation. It is from the grain of wheat and the seed of grapes that we receive bread and wine, bread to nourish and wine to gladden (Ps. 104:14-15).  Both are essential: the bread of life and fruit of the vine, the Body and Blood of Christ—Eucharist. From that tiny light in a seed to the startling Light of God at Communion, we hear at every Mass “light from light.”

The Divine Seed, Jesus, like most seeds, germinated in the dark. He germinated in the darkness of Mary’s womb, and grew a religion from a blackened tomb in the earth.

We understand darkness. We were born from a place without light, and our earth was formed out of darkness. Much like the seed to which the absence of light is essential to set root and grow, we too have an inner need for darkness. Without the experience of darkness we would not recognize light. Our roots of belief grow in the fact that Jesus rose from the darkness of his Passion. He rose from an earthen tomb. We sprout and develop faith, our light drawn to His light. We bear fruit by being nourished and fed by that which came from the earth—wheat and grapes, bread and wine. And with seeds from the Fruits of the Spirit we plant kernels of goodness and pray that these seeds too will germinate and take root.


(Excerpt from Cultivating God’s Garden through Lent, Holy Thursday)

Blooms of Mary’s Sword

Artist, Cindy Evans, “Power and Strength,” 2013

I remember as a child the sweet fragrance and stunning colors of the species Iris germanica, commonly known as bearded iris or Mary’s Sword. I can still recall my first encounter with them. Walking home from kindergarten, I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, inhaled a wave of fragrance, and, sniffing the air, followed my nose.

Just a few houses up grew a garden filled with fans of blue-green leaves topped with a rainbow of sturdy flowering stalks. The surprised woman, whose garden I’d just invaded, told me they were bearded iris and showed me the fluffy beard on the petals. She then gave me a stalk—almost as long as I was tall—of deep purple blooms that smelled like grape bubblegum. I was hooked!

The hook was not only for irises, but gardens as well. Our family’s business was greenhousing, having an acre under glass. Not until that day did it occur to me that the plants that grew on the benches made their way into gardens. The seed of realization took root and I grew up with a love of plants.

For over 50 years the things of life were experienced in a garden. Joys and sorrows, growth and decline, prosperity or lean were all worked through with pant legs wet and hands muddied. The years included creating gardens for others, and since 2003 I’d worked the grounds at St. Francis Retreat Center.

This week my efforts as a gardener there drew to a close and I retired as the Garden Society Coordinator. I was drawn to this facility in response to God’s call to build gardens of visible prayer—not something one does alone. I had to come out of my private world, and once out, lead others to follow the vision. I told God I would do my part if he did his, and of course he did.

With the hands of those friends, thirteen gardens of prayer and memorial were built. Eventually the society moved from creating gardens into the phase of maintenance. And I had moved into decline—becoming more disabled by trauma-induced spinal arthritis. The effort to heft a thirty-five pound bag of fertilizer was now matched to a gallon of milk.

Resignation is never easy when giving up something you love. It was hard to walk away, but it was time to let it go into the competent hands of another gardener following God’s call, Anne Davich.

The other night at dinner—surrounded in prayers that I remain at peace and not get all weepy—I said good-bye. At table I sat near the groundskeeper, Tim Simon, who had shared the vision of gardens and beside whom I had worked for eleven years. He didn’t seem to mind that throughout the dinner I would pat his arm—it kept me calm and affirmed what we had accomplished.

After Fr.Larry Delaney thanked me, I stood and thanked the volunteers for helping to bring souls to God through our gardens. I had not seen the artist of our society, Cindy Evans, leave the table, but I did see her return with a large framed painting. I knew immediately what they all had gifted—her iris painting!

It was one of her cruci-florals paintings (in which a cross is incorporated in the image of the flowers).  I’d seen its beginning in the basement studio at the retreat center. It was from a tied and tea-stained canvas that Cindy saw irises emerging: three flowers reminiscent of the Trinity, lance shaped leaves representing the swords of sorrow that pierced Mary’s heart, and the purple stalks of blooms representing power and strength—and title of her watercolor. I gasped in delight when I first saw the tan mottled canvas with pencil traced outlines of the blooms. We agreed that I would be the first one offered to buy it once completed. There at the party was her finished work, a gift from all.

The painting Power and Strength is hung in my oratory to the right of the altar and Divine Mercy image. I don’t know what God’s plans are for me as his gardener, but in the words of St. Faustina, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

It was the Iris that ignited gardening in my heart, and here they were again, at the end of my journey. What a perfect gift to conclude a gardening life spent on knees, touching earth.





(Pssst…go to my earlier post, if you want to know how to grow them!)

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

Quote, Equus Passage 7/30

The following quote just about sums up who I am as I strive toward my eternity; to be centered in God as I experience Him in His creations and to be a small light that offers the same to others. (Its from my first book.)


We hunger to return to our place of origin with God, back to the garden, to rediscover that spiritual dimension of centering peace.

I will be at the Catholic Writers Guild conference that is part of the  Catholic Marketing Network trade show in Somerset, NJ. With all that this entails, I will take a short break for about two weeks from my routine of blogging….there may be a picture or two of the journey.


(Why Equus Passage)