Saturday, October 22, 2011

Autumn's Abounding Love

The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
(Psalm 145:8 ESV)

The life is in the leaf. Let me clarify: "To the tree, the life is in the leaf." After the flood, the dove returned to Noah with an olive leaf in its beak. From this, Noah knew there was life somewhere, but he could not yet see it.

When Jesus placed a curse upon the fig tree, the disciples knew the tree had died because the leaves had withered. The life was no longer in the leaf, symbolizing death.

Autumn is a season of hope and a time of faith. There are annuals, and there are perennials. Annuals live for a season, but perennials endure the cycle of life. Annuals depend on their seeds to reproduce themselves, for when their leaves are gone, so is the plant. Perennials shed their leaves with the confidence that the season that they are about to endure is only temporary, for there is hope in something that is not yet seen. Either way, it is a time to say that the old is ending, but there is hope.

I invite you to step into your garden or yard, picking an abundant sample of leaves. Some large, some small; some complicated, some simple; some green, some changing color. What do you see?

I then invite you to take a walk or drive, just looking at the leaves. Again, what do you see: the variation of colors, the bending of leaves to the breeze, the distinctions between top and bottom, or the magnificent selection of type, shape and elegance?

I am fascinated with how thin a leaf can be. A cactus is thick for it stores its water in the leaf. But the leaves of a broadly reaching maple tree, turning yellow or orange or red in the autumn, are really very thin. The needles of a hemlock or pine tree, though not truly leaves, can also be very thin.

How does God get the water into all the extremities of the leaf? Do you remember how your biology teacher explained the process of photosynthesis, where water is combined with sunlight and carbon dioxide to give off oxygen and carbohydrates? My biology teacher was never able to explain how God got the water into that leaf, as thin as it is, so that the miracle of photosynthesis would appear before our eyes.

As you touch the leaf, sense how it bends. God has somehow made a way for the minutest portions of water to be delivered to every part of that leaf. As thin as the leaf may be, you know there is water in there, for if the water was gone, the leaf would not gently bend.

Somehow God gets the water into the leaf, and somehow he gets Christ inside a believer. To me, this is the one of his greatest miracles: putting a believer in Christ and Christ in a believer. "I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me" (John 17:23). The life is in the believer, the source of all hope.

To the tree, the life is in the leaf. To the Christian believer, the life is within and abounding in steadfast love.

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End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Chameleon Plants: Choose the Right Location

I particularly enjoy a 9" tall groundcover named chameleon plant with beautiful green leaves, adorned with red, pink and yellow highlights. The colors are most vibrant along the edge of a shaded area where they will get more sun. Otherwise in fuller shade, the leaves are green with occasional blotches of cream.

Yet to many, they can feel as if a curse was upon them when they purchased the chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon'). The positive side of this extremely aggressive groundcover is that it will quickly fill in spots under trees, choking out most other weeds and plant life. The negative side is that it will also spread to other places in the garden if precautions are not properly taken, and it is nearly impossible to get remove. The plant also has a somewhat pungent fragrance, meaning it is best left for show.

As with most plants, you should be familiar with its growing habits before purchasing them. A sunflower should not be positioned under a tree with low branches, and a cactus should not be planted in the muck of a swamp. An old-time landscaper once told me that a beautiful rose in a corn field is nothing more than a weed.

We have a large area in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden where Austrian pines grow as an established border to the landscaped area. Lawn surrounds the trees on all sides, so I am not concerned about the aggressive nature. The chameleon plant spreads by its roots, so keeping the lawn mowed should restrict the plants boundaries.

We have just finished developing this new bed for the chameleon groundcover. Several weeks ago, I sprayed Round-Up on the grass in the shape of the new bed, approximately 1,500 sq. ft. We had extra soil from another area at the church where a retention pond was being built, so we brought about 10 yards of this virgin soil to a location adjacent to the new bed.

The day before the scheduled planting, I dug up a 6' x 12' bed of chameleon plant that grows vibrantly under the deck at our house. It was nearly impossible to remove all of the roots and that was not a concern – I know that the plant will be fully reestablished in two years. I dug just the roots, leaving all of the soil under the deck.

On the day of the planting, the plan was to simply spread the roots onto the now dead grass and then throw the soil on top. It sounded so easy! Yet I had not anticipated how wet the rich clay had become.

If we had used sifted topsoil, the plan would have worked wonderfully. Instead, we had to throw the heavy clay over the general area, let it dry, and then rake it several days later until it was finally level. The bare roots of the chameleon plant were then pressed into the still moist soil.

My expectation is that the chameleon plant will be fully established in this extended bed within two or three years. At that point, weeds should become a minimal problem. In the meantime, we will have to weed extensively because we are not adding mulch.

In the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus spoke about a field where good grain seed had been intermixed with weeds. When the servants questioned why there were weeds, the master replied 'An enemy has done this.' That is how many feel about the weeds that grow up with the chameleon plant – an enemy did it. With wisdom and patience, I believe that the beauty of this plant can be enjoyed for many years without having to gather all the weeds in bundles to be burned.

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End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

In Review: 2011 in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden

While it may seem early to be writing a "How Did We Do For The Year?" review in the September / October time frame, to the caretaker of a public garden, it makes perfect sense to write this now. By December, flowers have long faded and the interest is more tuned to the next day's snowfall.
The Gethsemane Prayer Garden at Faith Chapel in Syracuse is a one-acre landscaped garden for people to enjoy the beauty of God our Creator and to rest in His presence. The garden is open to the public and there is no admission fee.

The hope at Faith Chapel is that people would visit this small but intimate garden, seeing it as an outdoor sanctuary and a place to experience God and His love. There are fifty perennial flower varieties and several hundred shrubs and trees, intended to usher in God’s peace. Benches are available for a quiet time with the Lord.
The Volunteer Force
The main purpose of this garden is plants for people, not plants in themselves. May was very wet and July was very hot. While the stress of extreme weather affects the plants, it also affects the garden workers. Some days in the garden were very challenging this year, but each year has some difficult days – this year it seemed that there were more.

We had forty-one volunteers this year which is down from fifty-two in 2010. The volunteer hours spent in the garden dropped 40 percent. Our typical church attendance is around 300 people on any given Sunday, of which nearly half are in their twenties or thirties – as caretaker, I personally am satisfied with the support shown by the older ones of our congregation. By the end of 2011, my own hours will have dropped 20 percent for the year, averaging just seven hours per week.

Garden Quality
Despite the reduced hours, the garden quality has not significantly suffered. Heavy mulching in late May was a significant factor in helping to control the weeds. The volunteers have developed good sensitivity for keeping the quality at a high level and they seem very interested in learning how to maintain a garden environment.

Much attention has been given to the wooden benches last year and again this year. A much-appreciated volunteer has spent an inordinate amount of time improving the quality of our benches and it shows. In a certain way, the quality of the garden is reflected in the quality of the benches, just as the polish on a man's shoe is a reflection of his opinion of himself.

The roses require the greatest amount of time in this garden, but these lusciously sweet flowers are well worth the effort. With the heat of July, we essentially had no blossoms for nearly one month. We lost them again in early September because we did not prune them often enough in August. (Remember the lesson on pruning from John 15). Yet while they were in blossom, the roses looked great as they have matured.

Garden Visitors
While the Gethsemane Prayer Garden is oftentimes without any visitors, we have seen more visitors this year than any previous year. On Monday and Tuesday evenings, my joy has been to see a small group of African refugees spend an hour or so in the garden. Each one takes his or her own bench and has a quite time with the Lord, some singing, some praying, some reading Scriptures, and one watching the two small children. At the end, they gather around the stone altar for a time of corporate prayer and singing. It is so sweet to see – whereas our suburban church folk may not know how to use this garden, the Lord has brought a group from a another continent to teach us by example!

We have also witnessed an increased number of visitors on Sunday mornings and at various times during the week. Articles in Syracuse's Good News paper and in the internet's Ruby for Women have helped this. We had two Garden Tours but they were not well promoted and therefore not well attended – hopefully we can do a better job with promotion next year.

Garden Expansion
This fall we have begun and should finish developing two areas:
  • A large rock was "planted" near the northern entrance to the garden, and landscaping will be added around it. We will plant flowers around this rock which will hopefully be more inviting to those that see this area for the first time.
  • The garden area in the south-west corner is being cleared. Plant debris near the stream is being removed and truckloads of soil have been brought in. Ground cover is being added around some of the evergreens in this area. The effect should be better integration of this area into the garden and will permit another location where people can seek the Lord.

Thoughts for Next Year
One of the struggles we had in April was overcoming the heavy deer damage from the previous winter. One ornamental pine tree had to be removed and several arborvitae were severely chewed. Later this fall, we should protect more of the evergreens and do this effort in mid-November before the snow starts flying. The fencing around a large cluster of evergreens looks ugly, but without it the deer would devastate them.

The lawn surrounding the garden will hopefully be mowed more often next year. The weather has been a major factor in this because too much rain and too much heat are significant inhibitors to regular lawn maintenance.

April and May are by far the most labor intensive periods in this garden. Hopefully in 2012 we will have much more volunteer participation during this time. As more people start discovering this garden, it will be important to get the garden in shape much earlier in the season.

We have had to put off the construction of the gazebo for another year. Hopefully the funds for this wedding location and center for small gatherings will be come to fruition in 2012.

Submitted in faith,
Tom Clarke

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End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.
Caretaker of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Gethsemane Prayer Garden from Google Earth

I was so surprised this week to discover that Google Earth has updated its images for Syracuse, NY and in particular the vicinity of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden. Have you tried Google Earth? In many ways it is similar to the image portion of Google Maps, but it allows you to re-position your view in a more powerful way.

Here is the view from Google Maps:
Gethsemane Prayer Garden from Google Maps

In this view, you can see the general shape of the garden, although the shaded area near the stream is covered by the canopy of willows, ash and black walnut trees. At the very center of the garden is a bed of roses with a second bed that is less visible to the left. Between the garden and the driveway are three berms – raised beds where trees and shrubs have been planted to separate the garden from the church area.

By using Google Earth, still another view is possible:
Gethsemane Prayer Garden from Google Earth

Google Earth identifies the date of this satellite image as June 3, 2011. With this software, it is possible to gain a much better perspective of the garden as well as see some vertical dimensions. Google Earth allows you to zoom left or right, up or down, in or out, or rotate around a 360 degree perspective. Pretty nifty!

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End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Blossoms of September in the Prayer Garden

I took the time last night to leisurely stroll through the Gethsemane Prayer Garden where I am the Caretaker. Normally I am busy working in the garden and much too oblivious to the nuances of God's creation around me – it was a refreshing time as well as a time for reflection. Possibly it is a little like the woman that prepares a meal for the company to enjoy but is never able to enjoy it herself.

I was struggling with the direction that I am pursuing regarding the development and maintenance of the garden, as well as my own writing career. Alone in this garden, I asked God some hard questions that all surrounded the thought, "Why?". His response came as an image, and the interpretation was clear and simple, "Allow me to lead in this dance." This was not the response that I expected, but I thank God that the Holy Spirit revealed this image to me.

Many people are not familiar with the gaura, but what a joy it is! Some are taller and white, such as those placed near the main entrance to the garden. Other varieties are deep pink; my favorites are those with a delicate mix of white and pink blossoms. All varieties start to flower in mid-June and will continue in profusion through the first heavy frost. Gaura

The gaura has been aptly given the English name "wand flower" because each flower cluster sits on top of a long wand-like stem. The stems are so long and so thin that God seems to have created these flowers so we can enjoy how they dance in the breeze. Even on windless days, days where the air is so incredibly still, the flower heads gently move in response to the heat rising from the ground – dancing in the breeze.

In the Bible, the Hebrew word ruwach can be translated as both Holy Spirit and wind. As this flower dances, the gaura reminds us of the wind, the ruwach, the presence of the Holy Spirit. We may feel spiritually parched as we enter the garden – the gaura is there as a reminder of the refreshing and renewing that God wants to give us.

By September, the precious roses which sometimes go through a dry spell in mid-summer have now come back as the soil gathers more moisture and the evenings get cooler. We have a number of lusciously attractive pink 'Bonica' roses which are complemented by two varieties of 'Knock Out' roses. The roses will continue to bloom through November.

Another of my fall favorites is the false ageratum which blossoms until the first frost. These short bright-blue flowers, with a hint of fuchsia coloring, add an interesting contrast to the red, orange and rust tones that are typically seen in the autumn.

The Russian sage continues blossoming in September although their color can fade to more of a soft blue-gray tone. The broccoli-shaped autumn joy sedum comes alive with fresh, pinkish flowers that eventually change tones many times to eventually become an autumn rust color. Chrysanthemum, blanket flower (also known as Gaillardia), Japanese anemone all blossom in September, as well as some flowers that typically are found in the early summer but God decides to show their beauty one more time before the colder weather sets in.

I hope you take time to visit and use this prayer garden. As a recent visitor wrote to Faith Chapel, "What a sweet place the gardens were. So peaceful, so beautiful, and I can walk the paths easily. Yes, I was thoroughly blessed and hope to make many more visits. It’s a wonderful place to come and be quiet with the Lord."

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End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Blossoms of August in the Prayer Garden

I enjoy the cooler evenings as fall approaches – the evening dew seems heavier this time of year as it settles on the soft and delicate flowers and leaves. I also enjoy watching parents as they bring their young children down by the stream to catch a frog, possibly the same one that another child delightfully caught just the day before. And I enjoy the rainbows of August, totally unscheduled events that catch the promising rays of the sun as a sudden shower leaves the area.

Most of the flowers in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden are perennials yet there is one annual, the cosmos, whose self-seeding effect gives the appearance of a perennial. The profusion of pure white, soft pink, ruby red and deep crimson blossoms peak in August, although many first opened in late June or sometime in July. If you sit quietly, you may see a brightly colored yellow goldfinch hop from branch to branch of the cosmos, eating a few seeds and scattering the rest.

I also enjoy showing the garden visitor the purple-blue anise hyssop flowers as they reach out with an invitation to smell its refreshing fragrance. "Crush the leaves as you breathe it in," I suggest. "See if you can identify what it smells like."

We also have a large collection of Russian sage in this garden, bluish-purple flowers with sprays and sprays of color. Again I encourage the garden visitor to squeeze a few leaves as we then move on to other plants such as lavender, cat mint and thyme.

To me, the Japanese anemone is the August show-stopper in the garden. Hundreds and hundreds of softly-hued pinkish-lavender blossoms prolifically fill one larger area. Although most people cannot detect a fragrance from these elegant flowers, the honey bees may be seen enthusiastically flitting from blossom to blossom, totally oblivious to people nearby.

Japanese anemone

Purple coneflowers continue their simple yet multitudinous blossoming in many areas throughout the garden in August. By the end of August, many will have lost their color so we clip off the old dead heads to prevent many new plants from sprouting.

This garden is heavily dependent on a large force of volunteers – some years we have more than others. When we have enough people, we try to trim the spirea so that they can get a second or even a third period of flowering. We have a dozen or so in the garden ranging from white to soft pink to vibrant red, and they are truly beautiful while in blossom.

For more information, see Photo gallery of Gethsemane Prayer Garden: August's blossoms

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End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mulching a Flower Garden to Promote Its Beauty

With nearly 10,000 square feet of flowered gardens, the application of mulch is essential for us. Like much of the USA this month, the intense heat and lack of rain has been a significant problem. Many gardens have suffered as flowers open but quickly fade, not able to withstand the heavy stress that this hot and dry spell has challenged us with.

The Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY is in many respects no different. The intensely beautiful garden phlox, for example, normally turn to seed after more than a month of profuse flowering. This year, because we don't water most of the garden, the upper portions of the flower clusters have turned brown and have faded after only a few weeks. Other flowers don't show the stress that abruptly, but the lack of rain certainly has affected their longevity. Without the mulch, much of the garden would look discouragingly drained.

While we water the roses on a weekly basis, we rely on the mulch to do its work in the remainder of the garden. The garden is located across the driveway from the church building, so to lug the hoses into the garden and then roll them up afterwards is a significant chore in itself. And we don't have the luxury of being able to leave sprinklers running for long periods of time because none of our volunteers live near the church – someone would have to come back to the church to periodically relocate the sprinkler and then wind up the hose at the end of the day.

A thick layer of mulch is therefore essential for us to maintain the garden's beauty, allowing God to water the garden when He thinks it is ready. Mulch keeps the roots cooler during these hot days, protecting the soil from the hot sun. Mulch also helps slow down the evaporation process: somehow through a process that only God could design, the roots find some water that has been enriched by minerals and other nutrients, and sends it on its way to nourish the parched leaves and petals.

Mulching also dramatically helps cut down on the weeding when done correctly. In our location, we start working the garden in April, cleaning up the large amount of fallen debris from the previous growing season and winter. Early May is typically our time for the mulching process. Before the three inches of mulch can be applied, we do as good of a job as we can to remove even the smallest weeds; otherwise, we see the weeds later only this time as more mature plants. Therefore we weed extensively before mulching – we must have done a better job this year because there really has not been very much weeding necessary.

Spreading the mulch is a very arduous process involving many volunteers. If the mulch can be spread before many of the flowers start to pop their heads above the ground, the process takes considerably less time. Otherwise we have to get on our knees to ensure that the mulch is placed right up to the plant.

We buy hardwood mulch by the truck load, normally 10 yards at a time. This year we spread 30 yards over a little more than half of the garden, and then next year we will alternate the process by applying 20 yards to the remainder of the garden. Each year we do one or the other, primarily for cost and labor saving reasons. In the second year after the mulching, the weed control is much more of a problem as the previous years mulch has started to decompose.

This garden is now in its eighth year which means we have gone through the mulching cycle for several cycles, particularly in the older flower beds. The soil has dramatically improved in these areas because the rotted mulch provides a very nice nutrient base for the plants. This richer soil is also much looser than our native clay soil which means that the roots can extend themselves further in the search for moisture. We do not use a landscaping fabric between the old soil and the mulch – the fabric becomes a barrier that prevents the roots from finding the newer and richer soil.

Newly delivered mulch is typically very hot as it has been rapidly decomposing in the stockyard. If not treated properly, the heat will burn the flowers and trees that it touches. We have the truck dump the mulch on the lawn near the area we will be mulching, and this too can burn the lawn if not treated properly. The trick is to quickly spread the mulch on the lawn, moving it from a four foot pile to a twelve to eighteen-inch high pile. In this way, the heat is quickly dissipated into the air and the mulch quickly returns to a more normal temperature. Then it is ready to be transported into the garden. There may be a small amount of lawn burning but we find it is quickly resolved when the lawn is cut the next time.

So why mulch? To reduce the need for watering, to improve the beauty of the plants, to help with the weed control, and to promote a better soil for the plants to grow in. It simply provides a better environment for the beauty of God's wonderful creation to be exemplified. In flowers it is especially seen how God has placed His wonderful creation, and the mulch enhances that.

In the Gethsemane Prayer Garden, we face challenges such as drought, lack of water nearby, and few if any workers that can devote their time to the regular upkeep of the garden. The mulch compensates by promoting the glory of the garden. It is the same for us.

Please allow me to ask a question: "What is the mulch in your life that will best encourage that creation, allowing the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed despite the adversities and difficulties that challenge you? What will best help promote that beauty?"

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End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Be Still, and Know That I AM LORD!

Upon a tree on the other side of the curvaceous stream, a shadow moved in a rhythmic motion, darkened one moment and then much brighter the next in no regular form. Immediately I recognized the familiar pattern of the reflected early morning sun, catching the top of the water, sparkling as it danced its refracted rays onto the trunk of the large willow tree. No doubt a frog had spontaneously changed its location at the edge of the still water; soon the patterns became calm again, that is until the little creature chased after whatever it saw next.

As I look back on this early Friday morning time in the Prayer Garden, I think of how God revealed himself once again. I am in semi-retirement now, giving myself the freedom to follow some of my own pursuits on Thursdays and Fridays; this day I chose to photograph more of God's beautiful flowers in the garden. Sometimes I rest near the stream, and this day I was particularly pulled to do so for a more extended period of time.

While the Gethsemane Prayer Garden is not overly large, it does have a long shaded area with tall willow, ash and walnut trees creating a lovely canopy for the plant and animal life below. I sat on a bench that overlooks this semi-naturalized area with its assortment of transplanted flowers and green ferns. Not too far away, a lovely collection of astilbe with variations of pink, white and red plumes stood softly and gently as they suggested quiet, calm and rest.


"Be still, and know that I am Lord." (Psalm 46:10)

Immediately a rustling sound appeared ahead of me, startling the quiet of the moment. My eye quickly tracked the intrusion, but all I saw were the shiny green leaves of the myrtle plant as they bent with the movement of something briskly moving beneath them. Then it appeared – a chipmunk, chasing after a nut or root as it hid its way to cleverly protect itself from me the intruder.

I sat for a seemingly long period of time as the chipmunks began appearing. One dashed to the right and then stopped, looked, saw something else and then off it ran across the heavily mulched area. Another showed up a few moments later, rapidly going now in another totally random direction, halting only long enough to catch its bearings. Over on the grass which had been mowed just the day before, another chipmunk chose to hop like a bunny as it went from one soft grass area to another. "Why not run?" I thought, but this one almost leaped to get where it was going. This family of young "munks" became my source of entertainment as they gleefully pursued their next destiny.

In that time that morning, I contemplated many things. Nothing heavy or earth shattering, just thoughts of a different pace and a different agenda. I dreamed peaceful thoughts, transposed out of the hectic world that I am so accustomed to. Precious was that time, and precious is my Lord.

Thank you Lord for that peaceful time of rest and enjoyment. Thank you for taking care of all the little details that I never would have been able to manage. And thank you Lord for arranging the place, the joy, the rest and the satisfaction – that precious time with you.

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End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Maintaining Beautiful Bonica Roses

I have written about the tremendously beautiful 'Bonica' roses in the past (such as my blog entitled Beautiful Bonica Roses) and will no doubt write about them again. Today I feel led to write some tips about maintaining these roses to their luscious optimum.

'Bonica' rose
Let me first say that I find the 'Bonica' to be both easy and temperamental to maintain. To me, when I see these deeply intense pink buds just beginning to open, unfolding to the softer pink exterior petals, my thoughts of frustration are quickly pacified.

Instead of seeing the hours and hours of pruning and tender care that they require, I see beauty, God's glorious beauty represented in these most lovely flowers. And I'm not alone – in 1997, it was awarded the prize as the world's favorite hedge rose.

We currently have twenty-three roses in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden – sixteen are 'Bonica'. Our base soil is moderate to heavy clay which is ideal for roses, and we supplement that with lots of mulch over the years. The beds have been raised so that there is positive drainage away from the plants in the winter. Our location is somewhere between Zones 4 and 5, and we can receive very strong winds as the garden is located near the top of Onondaga Hill above Syracuse.

Pruning
We try to clip the roses twice per week and we are fairly aggressive with the pruning. Because the garden is located at a church that holds services on Sunday, we attempt to optimize their color so that they peak that day. Weather permitting, this means we do our heavier pruning on Tuesday or Wednesday, and then a lighter pruning on Friday or Saturday. For purposes of photography, I like to take my photos exactly two days after the last pruning.

"How much should I prune?" you ask. If you are at all familiar with the 'Bonica', you know that the deeper pink tones quickly fade to an almost pure white, and then they fall to the ground. When I train our volunteers on how to cut the roses, they are generally astonished that I would take a rose that still has some color and cut it off. I explain, "You want to both catch the petals before they fall, and you want to optimize the color of the plant." I suggest that they look at the stamen at the center of the flower head – if it has turned or is turning brown, I propose that is the time to cut it.

Our 'Bonica' roses are very prone to Black Spot which is a fungus that is easily spread from plant to plant. Therefore, we do not trim them when the plants have any moisture on their leaves or petals. This makes it harder to get the work done because ours is a suburban church with members from many miles around; most of our volunteers simply do not live nearby.

The flowers of the 'Bonica' open in delicious clusters with seven or ten or even more buds on each cluster. Gardening books often dwell on how to trim the roses (on a diagonal so that water does not sit on the freshly cut stem) and about ¼-½" above the branch; when the last flower in the cluster has faded, then the entire cluster is cut to the second branch of leaves. I certainly agree with those recommendations, but will also say that mistakes will happen – I find these roses to be extremely resilient. It is certainly preferable that you enjoy your work.

The first roses blossom in our area of Upstate New York in mid-June. At first, the buds are most prolific which means lots of clipping for the first two or three times. After that, they require less work – typically we spend four hours per week clipping our twenty-three roses.

Watering
Roses optimally should receive one-inch of water per week for peak performance. If substantially less that, the plants will not produce new branches that carry the next group of rose buds. If substantially more than that, the petals yellow prematurely and quickly drop to the ground. For us, that often means we must supplement the rainfall that we receive because the summer months often have strong heavy rains that run off quickly rather than longer soaking rains that help keep the roots cooler.

For years, I used a sprinkler to fan the water onto two of the rose beds. I was mystified why the Black Spot spread so quickly when I did this. Last year, the Lord prompted me to add "soaker hoses" to the roses, which are placed underneath the two inches of natural hardwood mulch. Now, when I turn on the faucet, I am assured that all of the water is being dispersed onto the roots and is not spreading that ugly black fungus from one plant to another.

Plant Disease
'Bonica' rose Our two major problems with the 'Bonica' are Japanese beetles and the Black Spot fungus. This rose is relatively free from other forms of blight and mildew that is common with other roses – we also have a small collection of 'Knock-Out' roses that are much easier care but not nearly as lovely.

I must confess that I am not as good with disease control as I could be. If you look at the bottom of the adjacent photograph, you will see some yellow leaves with small black blotches – that is Black Spot. Optimally I should spray the leaves before the roses first blossom with a fungicide, but that is such a phenomenally busy time for me in most years that I don't get to it. Some years I forget the fungicide entirely, and then come to regret that decision, and some years I end up applying the fungicide after the leaves have already developed the problem which of course is too late.

The Japanese beetles are also a huge pain. We use fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides in other areas of the garden, which rules out the use of Milky Spore powder. I use Milky Spore at my house because I prefer not to use these commercial chemicals; it has had incredible results at eliminating the Japanese beetle problem. In the Gethsemane Prayer Garden, we have used insecticides such as Ortho's Rose Pride Disease Control and their Max Home Defense Garden Insect Killer with moderate success. If the temperatures are more moderate that particular summer, I will simply pinch all those nasty little beetles but it often has discouraging results.

Winter Protection
So far, we have not had to replace any roses at the end of the winter. Thank God! Initially I was protecting the 'Bonica' in the same way as tea roses are treated, meaning cutting them back severely and mounding mulch around their base to protect them from the bitterly cold winds. Last year, at the advice of a well-known garden shop that is nearby, I did nothing to protect them and they did fine. We had some branches that died back but the plant did extremely well – that dead growth was pruned back at about the time that the forsythia bushes came in bloom.

Conclusion
I truly hope you enjoy the 'Bonica' roses with their lightly scented fragrance and their lusciously intense pink flowers. In our area, they bloom from June to November, well beyond the first frost. We stop our regular maintenance of these beauties at the end of September or early October; the few flowers that remain into November are long lasting but not with the same passion as in the summer.

I recognize that for some, this amount of maintenance is simply too much, particularly the elderly. To those of us that still have some energy, the treat is ours. "A person will be satisfied with good from the fruit of his words, and the work of his hands will be rendered to him" (Proverbs 12:14).
Enjoy!

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End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Magnificent Honeysuckle Vine

In my opinion, the honeysuckle vine is one of the world's prettiest flowers. This week, this beautiful and relatively unknown flower species opened in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden. As a result, I felt led to share this writing about this most ornate flower, as taken from my book A Garden of Love.


Peace

Outstanding! I am so captivated by this most intricate and lovely vine. Do you see the little two-inch long pink trumpets? I can imagine hearing them boldly declare their warmest greeting, "Enter, for the Lord is in this place, offering peace to you!" As Paul wrote many times in his epistles, "May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace" (Ephesians 1:2).

Honeysuckle Vine

One of the loveliest of the newer plants to be introduced in many years is the ornate trumpet honeysuckle vine, hybridized with other twining honeysuckles to create a flower of immense beauty. Elongated tubes of either rosy-pink or pastel-orange are offset with a soft cream colored throat, more intricate than any glass blower could prepare. The stamen protrudes in an extended form from the trumpet-shaped throat in hopes of luring a passing insect as an open invitation for pollination. The many trumpets seem to be calling out to both the insect and the garden visitor, "Come and enter in, welcome to a special place, a place of new beginnings, a place of satisfaction and peace."

All of the varieties of honeysuckle vines grow tall, often up to twenty or twenty-five feet, as they search for full sun on a strong supporting structure. Some vines are more fragrant than others – the European honeysuckle is considered the sweetest. The hummingbirds with their long needle-like beak seem to particularly enjoy the nectar from all the twining honeysuckles vines, darting from flower to flower, from cluster to cluster.

If the honeysuckle vine is positioned at the entrance to the garden, the trumpet-shaped flowers seem to herald the visitor, "You are about to enter a most special place." In some ways this is reminiscent of the armies of angels at the birth of Jesus, "praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased'" (Luke 2:13, 14). The peace and presence of our Lord is in the garden.

Garden Entrance

Jesus came to earth to give a gift of peace, and his expectation was and is that the gift would be used. "I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid" (John 14:27). Then, only a few days later, that gift was received.

"'Peace be with you,' he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! Again he said,'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.' Then he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (John 20:19-22).

These verses indicate that the gift of the Holy Spirit is a gift of peace. Many times the Scriptures associate the Holy Spirit with power – the power of supernatural healing, for example. Here, however, the peace that the Holy Spirit brings is peace of mind and heart in oneness with God – this deep fellowship is one that is immersed in love.

"Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you" (2 Corinthians 13:11).


Copyright © 2009 Bible Discernments. Excerpt from A Garden of Love by Thomas B. Clarke, a gift book about love for anyone that enjoys flowers.A Garden of Love is available on Amazon as well as at www.agardenoflove.com.

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End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Lovely Wood Hyacinth: Joy or Disappointment?

I was surprised as I walked into the Gethsemane Prayer Garden – Tuesday had been a hot, sweltering day and now the temperatures had just begun to drop. On the south side of the garden, a small but lusciously harmonic collection of wood hyacinth had been in full bloom on Saturday, and I had intended to show our volunteer staff their beauty.

My surprise was what happened from Saturday until Tuesday. The temperatures had soared into the 90's, which for late May in our area is not common. The National Weather Service announced that record temperatures were recorded in several of the surrounding cities, and the humidity was very oppressive. My shock was that the flowers had expired. Gone! A tiny bit of light blue on a couple of the stalks, but pretty much all of them had gone to seed.

That was two weeks ago; a similar event happened this week as the temperatures again reached into the 90's. The deep purple columbine had been in full blossom at the end of May, as described in my previous blog about Contentment. The stress of this latest heat-spell had caused many of these beauties to look far less than content, as many of their petals had dropped onto the dark brown mulch.

One lady expressed her disappointment that the heat would cause such a sudden change in the garden, so I attempted to console her. Our beautiful 'Bonica' roses usually do not open until around Father's Day, about ten days away. This year, by the end of this surge of heat and humidity, these exhilarating pink blossoms will begin to reveal the fullness of their beauty. Likewise, the deep purple bellflower (many call them Campanula) will open early this year with their soft and gentle blossoms. I explained to her that the intense heat brings both its disappointments and its joys.

Stress in the garden brings about change, having both negative and positive effects. Stress in life also brings about change. Sometimes in life we dwell on those things that we are giving up; the wood hyacinth flowers no longer blossom or our last child moves out of the home for a new season in his or her life. It is often hard to give up those things that we love and have become so accustomed to. Very hard. Stress also has its positive aspects but we often can't deal with it because we don't want to give up our past.

Our spouse disappoints us (again); our work situation suddenly ends; a parent or other family member dies; a tragedy hits our home. Sometimes all hope seems to be gone and we cannot endure any further.

The daffodils and tulips in the garden would not be possible without the stress of winter. The yellow, orange and red foliage in the fall only comes after the stress of cooler nights and shorter days. Soon after the fall leaves hit the ground, the barrenness can be thought of as either the beauty that was lost or the colors that will come.

pin oak I can't change the weather and neither can you. I can't make the drought have thirst quenching rain. I can't cause the damaging effects of a hailstorm to go away. I have to accept them and to hope for something positive to come out of the trials.

All of us have a little bit of 'Elijah syndrome' within us, wanting to call out to God for a change in the weather. He spoke the word and there was no dew or rain for four years; he spoke the word again and a great rain fell on the land (I Kings 17-18). Remember, it was God, not Elijah, that brought the drought and then brought the drenching rain; Elijah only spoke what he prophetically saw. Elijah did not command the stress, but his word was reliable because of his relationship with God. It was God that was using the stress of the weather to bring about a change in Israel.

Our responsibility? Give up and let God.

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End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Columbine's Contentment

"Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity," (Ecclesiastes 1:2 ESV).

I have been challenged by Ecclesiastes for the last two weeks. Why do I work so hard? In the next verse, Solomon asks the very pointed question, "What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?"

The answer, I believe, comes in the form of contentment. Possibly you can relate to this same struggle.

I have strong work-alcoholic tendencies, finding myself buried in all sorts of busyness. No longer do I work long hours at my professional job – I've moved into semi-retirement, working there on Monday through Wednesday – and yet I very much fill my days and evenings. I am also the caretaker of our church's prayer garden, and the author/publisher of three books with more on the way. I'm trying to learn Hebrew, several challenging software products, and keep up with work at home. I wake up early and go to bed late, do not waste my time with television because I am far too interested in other things. And then there is my marriage – we need to spend more time together.

Possibly you know someone who has similar tendencies. Possibly this is, to some extent, a profile of yourself.

Solomon had tremendous wisdom and wealth, and yet he basically said, "So what?" Why have all this wisdom and yet have it wasted? What good was all the wealth that he accumulated? And he was right because his legacy was wasted on kings that spoiled what he created.

I mentioned that I am the caretaker of my church's prayer garden. While we have a volunteer staff that helps with this work, primary responsibility falls on me when work has to be done and some people do not show up. There was a wedding last Saturday in the garden, requiring all the preparation work to be done in a quality manner. What bride would want weeds to symbolize the partnership that she is stepping into? The work had to be finished.

There is an abundance of deep-purple columbine that are currently flowering in this garden. The marriage ceremony was conducted adjacent to a large grouping of them. Over the years, I have scattered the columbine seeds in various areas to promote an exhilarating richness over several of the flower beds. The effect is both breath-taking and relaxing.

In my book A Garden of Love, I associated these beautiful columbine with "Kindness", but I think I should have chosen "Contentment" instead. Here, in the depth of a garden where I toil for others to enjoy, I found a peace that too often alludes me. Solomon, after writing his famous monologue about "A time to be born, and a time to die, … " (Eccl 3:2-8), went back to his question about toil. "I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil – that is God's gift to man." (Eccl 3:12, 13)

The columbine flowers point downwards, not looking at the sky as many flowers tend to do, content to show their beauty to those that will find the time to discover them. More than masses of purple royalty, I had to get on the ground to enjoy them. I had to put aside my other agenda, to take the time to appreciate my toil. I had to be shown this gift that came from God; I only scattered the seed.

Why do I toil as I do? I believe God is saying to me, "To experience, to take time to enjoy, to hold dear and precious, to allow love to touch my heart and then to share that touch with others." This is my contentment.

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End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Spring in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden

Have you ever visited a prayer garden? In Syracuse, New York, a garden is open to the public based on the words from Matthew 11:28, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." We have named it Gethsemane Prayer Garden based on the location in Jerusalem where Jesus modeled his personal prayer.

Nearly an acre in size, this garden is maintained by the congregation of Faith Chapel as an outdoor sanctuary and a place to experience God and His love. There are 50 perennial flower varieties and several hundred shrubs and trees; benches are available for a quiet time with the Lord.

As caretaker of this garden, I extend my personal invitation to you to visit this garden. Syracuse is located at the crossroads of I-90 and I-81, so if you are traveling from the mid-west to New England, Syracuse is a good stopping place. And if you live in Pennsylvania or Maryland and are traveling towards Montreal, please pay us a visit.

A review of each month's flowers with photos is available at www.prayergardeners.com/gethsemane/index.html. Here is the excerpt for May:

While April was predominantly a display of yellow-flowered beauties, May turns the hue to a wonderful display of blue tones. Some of the yellow daffodils can hang on for the earlier part of the month, but soon the lusciously sweet and delicate forget-me-not blooms begin filling the garden. The dark blue grape hyacinth display their colors for a few weeks, and a few straglers may be found in unexpected places around the garden.

By mid-May, the columbine begin opening – we have selected a dark blue variety that self-seeds beautifully. And then towards the end of the month, Jacob's ladder again repeats the blue theme as it appears near the center of the garden.

Also in May, the marsh marigolds continue their display for the first two weeks; they are a native plant in this part of the country, and we have relocated many from downstream locations where they were hidden from view. Georgeous pink, red and white bleeding hearts appear for too short of a time.

The leaves on the trees typically open in May, with their soft green colors that will turn more robust by mid-summer. The dappled willow is a special treat, unexpectedly demonstrating a soft pink or light orange color in late May and early June. And the weeping copper beech can be found hovering over the garden in all of its majesty – this tall, slender and weeping beauty symbolizes both our strength in Christ and the humility and grace clothed in this purple clad tree.


We hope to see you this year.

Tom Clarke, Caretaker of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden
and author of "A Garden of Love" www.agardenoflove.com, a look at love as based on the flowers in this garden

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End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spring: A Season of Contrasts

Maybe not so much in southern climates of the USA, but in the north, spring is a time of dramatic change. The weather, changing from slushy days and left-over snow to golf cart days and opening swimming pools, is just one contrast. Temperatures can sore one day to the 70's or low 80's, and then plummet to wet and rainy and even a blustery cold snow-filled days in just a few hours. All this necessary for our Lord to usher us from the bitter winter winds to the dog days of summer.

Iris Godfrey, director of Psalm 19 Ministries, correctly points out that God's plans are not linear but cyclical. The linear view, which many subscribe to, suggests a theme of creation to finality with a bunch of stuff in between; rather, our God takes us cyclically through a helix that is ever-moving forward – like a "Slinky" that is stretched out. The earth rotates every 24 hours, morning to night and then night to morning in a cyclical way, never able to return to where it was. In the same way, the earth rotates around the sun on a slightly tipped axis so that the southern hemisphere has summer while the north freezes, and then six months later it is all reversed.

As I worked last night in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden with two volunteer friends, Bill and Cindy, the contrast was most apparent. Our goal was to clean-up the largest of the nine flower beds in preparation for the new spring growth. The Russian sage with rambling silver-colored branches were cut at ground level. Likewise, the lily, iris, daisy, cat mint, ornamental grass and other flowers were cut back so that the emerging new growth would appear. It was a time of contrasts: last year's growth had all died and needed to be removed so that the beauty of this year's new growth could begin. The flowered area, now cleaned up, looked tremendously different.

In this flower bed, a number of arborvitae had been planted that would eventually grow and become part of a visual screen that protects the garden from the parking lot. Some of the arborvitae had been protected with bird netting, the same type that is used on fruit trees to keep the birds away; and some were unprotected. Again the contrast was most apparent: what had been protected was beautiful when unwrapped, but what had been devoured by the deer had to be either cut back severely or removed. It was like a transformation right before our eyes: the bed had looked damaged and uninviting, but now it is a fresh welcome to the garden visitor.

As gardener and writer Alan Lacy states, our purpose should be to create "An Inviting Garden". There is still much to do in the garden, but last night's efforts made a significant headway as we head into a season of God's beauty beheld in His magnificent flowers and His love.

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End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Early Spring in the Prayer Garden

It was a sunny but cool day in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden today. This was my first chance to work in the garden since the sudden snows arrived on December 3rd. And if you are from this area, you know that the snows never left until mid-March.

The garden looked good as the primrose were just starting to blossom and the daffodils were peaking their little green tips, possibly two or four inches high. Its hard to identify the plants this time of year unless you know what is planted where. I found some pretty reddish-purple tips of the bellflower just where they had mostly died off in previous years. I'm encouraged that they're coming back – in time, they will grow stems and leaf out, but for now they are just barely visible to the eye.

The biggest struggle this winter was the deer. Other years, we have never had deer in the garden over the winter; the sudden heavy snow in December caught us by surprise so we did not have time to wrap some of the trees and shrubs. By the time we got out to protect them on December 31st, some of the arborvitae and a real nice columnar pine were chewed right down. We also had damage to some hemlocks which I did not expect at all.

There are several hundred shrubs and trees in the garden and most of them did not get touched by the deer. Our predominate evergreens are junipers of all sorts which the deer did not devour. I enjoy the many various shapes and colors of junipers, some tall and upright, some low and spreading, and many assorted shapes in between. We use them to provide screening from the parking lot which can be busy at times, and to provide private areas within the garden for speaking with God.

The soft stone-dust pathways were a mess when I got there today. The deer had been generous in eating on one side of their body and dropping the digested portions out the other side. Also, plant debris from trees and flowers had blown onto the path so it really looked rough. It always amazes me how much better the garden looks when the walkways are raked this way – inviting us to walk where we want and enjoy our time with the Lord.

As Jesus said to his disciples, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you" (John 20:21).

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End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.