Gardening for the Theotokos: Plans for an Outdoor Shrine
Well ladies, I've just sat down here for a few moments with my cup of something delicious...but today its "iced" coffee. It's in the 90's here now and I picked today, of all days, to weed the gardens and flower beds. (Why???...) I have fewer beds to weed than usual this year, though due to some unplanned maintenance that had to be done on a garden wall that had fallen down during the last rainstorm, but there's still plenty to keep me busy. When the wall is finished, I'll have the opportunity to put in a whole collection of new plants and that's what I wanted to talk about today!
Cassy wrote to me last week (hi, Cassy!) and asked if I knew anything about an eastern version of the Mary Garden that so many people create in their own outdoor space as a place to plant flowers specifically honoring the Theotokos. These are things like marigolds (Mary's gold), roses, rosemary, all with names that make them symbols of Our Blessed Mother, and they're fine ideas...but we were brainstorming a bit, trying to think of plants that would be of specific interest to us Byzantine gardeners. Here are some of the ideas we came up with.
On Sept. 14, it is customary in some eastern Churches to bless basil because of the legend that says that it was the scent of basil growing on the site of the buried relics of the Cross of Our Lord that drew St. Helena to find the site. In our family we try to make something with it that night for dinner, like pesto. How great would it be to grow this in our own gardens in honor of the Cross!
Strawberries, Blueberry bushes, Gooseberries, Elderberries, Raspberries, Blackberries and grapes are all able to be cultivated in most gardens and can be brought to church to be blessed on the feast of the Transfiguration on August 6.
Every year I place the cuttings of the willows that were blessed on Palm/Flowery Sunday into a jar of water and watch as the roots begin to sprout and the cuttings bloom with green leaves! These can be planted in your own garden or yard to ensure that there will always be shoots for cutting each and every Palm Sunday!
This is a joy to have for use in your Pascha basket, if you have the space. It can be quite invasive, but if you use it regularly and dig up the roots often, it can be a great addition to your garden.
Flowers, Flowers, Flowers!
We love to have enough flowers for cutting so that on August 15th we can bring them for blessing for the Dormition Feast. We have some beautiful blue hydrangeas that always show up on time for that, but there are so many cutting flowers to chose from! the best and most comprehensive list I've found for these Marian flowers is from Fisheaters...https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.fisheaters.com%2Fmarygardens.html&h=AT38IrQlmudjEGEZN9M-j_ArR60OqCYqGsXDoBon0EUHqj_qyxrENCLGS3N3U-bXzSQOjRK6dOXZXiDB7xmUmEkAub683pJ7ov6AWcIjU-R1l4ZMVHdTazMkG5uxwLxeCZ5BmZ79Qik
Now that's what we thought of for planting, but then there's foraging!
St. John's Wort
Don't forget about the St. John's Wort that we are collecting now! These little yellow flowers make the best healing oil and in a few weeks, when the oil turns a really bright red, we'll make it into salve for use on dry skin during the coming winter
Mushroom hunting is a really fun part of our family's heritage and I believe it's a significant cultural past time in most Slavic households. Every fall, we would hunt for the beloved popinki, or honey mushrooms, so that we would be able to have them on the table for Holy Supper on Christmas Eve. A package would be prepared and frozen for that purpose first, then any remaining harvest could be enjoyed by the family.
A note of caution: never harvest or eat anything unless you are 100% sure of it's identification!!! Many species are poisonous and an improper identification could prove to be deadly.
That said, its not to hard to learn how to identify them and once you do, its a lot of fun to pick and eat them. There are many edible species to enjoy and once you learn them, your Christmas Eve table will won't be the same without them.
Then there's the crowning glory...someday soon I'd like one of the men in my household to build me a simple little shrine (or I may just order this one that I found on pinterest!) so that I might place a weather-proof icon of the Theotokos in the garden, amidst those pretty flowers and herbs! What a great place it would be for a chair and my prayer rope! ...a girl can dream.
Ok, so now the family is looking for me and I must go. So much weeding, so little time.
Comment below and let me know if you can think of anything we can add to the list of useful ByziPlants. ;)