Thursday, December 12, 2013

What Does a Flower Mean to You?

How do flowers take on a special meaning? How did the rose first become associated with 'love'? Or who selected the white carnation to represent 'remembrance'? Or the black-eyed Susan to symbolize 'encouragement'?

The rose is barely even mentioned in the Bible – if the rose was in the Garden of Eden, certainly it went to extinction by the flood during Noah's time. The bride in the Song of Songs states she is Sharon's rose (S of S 2:1), but that is the only reference to the rose.

Throughout the western hemisphere and perhaps around the world, the rose seems to be the most popular flower. Perhaps it began something like this fictional account:
One day the queen's granddaughter found a lovely little flower along a multicolored path of pinks, red, and white blossoms. She picked one for the queen as an expression of her love for this elegant woman. Soon the king picked one for her as well, as did all the queen's attendants. Within a matter of days, the rose went viral within the palace – everyone was selecting a gorgeous rose as an expression of their adoration of this gracious woman. Even palace visitors picked up on this beautiful representation of love.
I believe that the beauty of flowers is in the eye of the beholder. When I gave my ex-wife a large bouquet of chrysanthemums immediately following the court's ruling on the divorce, I suspect it had a different meaning than you might suggest (the bunch of flowers were not in a vase and were not discovered for several days). To me the chrysanthemums will always represent reconciliation which in this case never happened; I am now happily remarried.

In my book A Garden of Love, I attempt to describe the symbolic meaning that the Holy Spirit inspired me to see, using thirty spectacular flowers. This is an endearing gift book and devotional that Christian women greatly enjoy. Written from my perspective as a gardener, the flowers provide a symbolic look at what it means to be a Christian that loves.

On a related note, have you seen that I moved those blog articles not related to flowers to a new blog named Bible Discernments? If you particularly enjoyed one of the Bible-related articles that do not discuss flowers or gardening, you will find them there – you may also enroll in an eMail subscription at that site. My article today is entitled What Would You Do?

The flower that is shown as a background on the Bible Discernments blog is the gaura. In my personal life and my writings, I often use the gaura to symbolize wisdom. In the A Garden of Love book, I associate the gaura with how The Holy Spirit Helps Us Love. As a Christian author that thoroughly enjoys gardening, the association of flowers to Biblical truths seem somehow only too natural to me.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Installing Deer Protection Around Arborvitae

Normally each fall, sometime in late November or early December, we place protective devices around the arborvitae in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden. We use protective netting on the smaller plants and metal fencing around the larger ones – both have done an excellent job over the last 10 years. Historically the deer have walked through this two-acre garden every winter day yet did not damage any of the arbs.

The protective netting is a thin black plastic that orchards often use to keep birds away. These are tied to metal fence posts and wrapped around the smaller plants which retains their shape and aesthetic beauty – from a distance, it is hard to see that the netting is there.

For a large cluster of arborvitae, we install fencing that does not have the same aesthetic beauty:

Photo from January 2013

Today, with six inches of snow on the ground and temperature in the 20's, I attempted to install that thin black netting. It was too cold – after an hour, I gave up with frozen fingers as I thought, "Why didn't I listen to the voice of God?"

Last week, when there was no snow on the ground and temperatures were in the low 40's, I had time to put it up. That Friday morning I knew the Lord was nudging me to get out there, but instead worked on some other things at home that I thought were also important. Wrong again – I was able to spend an hour that Friday afternoon, but distraction again kept me away from the deer protection work. When will I ever learn?

God does speak and it is always for the good. I, like others, need to be more consistent about listening and then obeying our Lord.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Oak Tree: A Place for God's Redemptive Process

Have you ever tried to prune the bottom branches of an oak tree? If you have, you know how each branch twists and turns in seemingly unpredictable ways. My clothes, and most particularly my hat if I am wearing one, always seems to somehow get caught in these branches. Later in this article is a description of how the oak tree caught me in a different way.

Absalom in the Bible had the same problem. The story in 2 Samuel 18 describes how he was pursued by David's army, was caught "under the thick branches of a great oak" (2 Sam 18:9). The verse continues by explaining that his head was "caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on."

If you are familiar with this story, you will recall that his father David wanted the army to be gentle with his highly rebellious son. When a soldier found him, he protected Absalom from harm – Joab then was informed, offered no mercy, and had him killed. When David was eventually told Absalom's fate, he cried, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2 Sam 18:33).

The vivid imagery in this story helps us put it into a New Testament perspective – a perspective of God's grace and His redemptive process. Absalom was the rebel; he did not pursue God in any way but attempted to persuade Israel to follow him as king instead of his father David. Absalom is a typological picture of who we are before coming to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

David is a picture of Christ in this story. He wanted mercy for his son but none was given. In a chiastic sense, David wailed in grief over his son, "Would I had died instead of you" (v33). Just as David would have substituted himself in death for his son, so Christ gave himself in death for the world. (See my article What is a chiasm? if you don't understand the chiastic structure).

The oak tree, that very gnarly yet tall and strong plant, represents the place of change. Remember how Absalom was "suspended between heaven and earth" (v9)? The oak is the place of truth: he either lived or he died. The wicked Absalom no longer had any say about his fate, for that was left in the hands of others. He would either receive grace or get what he deserved. Joab, representing the executioner, gave him what he deserved.

In 1996, I met my oak tree. It was Easter Sunday and I had just returned my daughter Becky to her mother, for we were now separated from each other. I had not been the husband or the father that I should have been, and it was pay-up time. My blue Honda Accord suddenly died about 30 miles from her house; I had the car towed to a service station and then took a motel room where I could wait until morning. I had come to the oak tree.

In that motel room, I opened my Bible to 2 Samuel where I had been reading. I read many chapters that evening; one that I particularly remember was the story of David and Bathsheba which was followed by the prophet Nathan's rebuke. Another that I recall was the one described above where David would have died for his son Absalom. In each of the many stories that evening, I was confronted with who I had become. I made a decision, a very conscious and personal vow, that I needed to get my act together.

Like Absalom, I found myself "suspended between heaven and earth". Absalom did not have a choice that day but I did – I choose life and I'm so very glad I did. The Promise Keepers event was later that same year which gave added reinforcement to this new way of living. My wife unfortunately either did not see or did not believe the change, so we were divorced that fall.

I am now a new man in Christ, thank God. I am remarried and I trust in the salvation that I have received. Life is a process and the life with Jesus is well worth it. Amen.

If you enjoyed this analysis of 2 Samuel 18, you should also appreciate the many Biblical insights in my book Joshua's Spiritual Warfare: Understanding the Chiasms of Joshua. You can also see this book on Amazon.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Preparing a Rose Bed for Winter in Zones 4 and 5

It has been a disappointing year for the roses in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden. The 'Bonica' roses opened in mid-June as usual but the blossoms were not nearly as abundant as previous years. From the second week in July until the beginning of October, there were only a few buds on these normally gorgeous pink-flowered plants. The red 'Knockout' roses which are intermixed with the 'Bonica' in the center two beds were also fairly sparse. Only the yellow 'Knockout' roses in another flower bed were very prolific and wonderfully fragrant.

The difference I believe between the two pink and red rose beds and the yellow bed is the previous winter's treatment. In recent years I have not been protecting the roses from the winter elements, and last year the deer found the first two rose beds. The deer did not find the yellow bed of roses so they abundantly flourished. The deer first ate the leaves on the pink and red roses, and then progressed down the plants to where only 6" stubs were left.

Ten years ago when we first planted the roses, they were pruned in November to 12-18" and then heavily mulched so that only a few stems were visible. This worked well to keep out the deer, but in the third and fourth years, the voles (I thought they were moles but have since been corrected) girdled some of the plants. Also the plants did not reach their maximum potential size – the 'Bonica' roses were never taller than twenty-four inches tall.

On the advice of a local nursery, we stopped pruning and mulching the roses; they suggested that the shrub roses did not require the same finicky care that tea and floribunda roses demand. The damage from the voles was much less and the deer that regularly pass through the garden had for some reason stayed away. But not last winter!

Today I came across an article prepared by a member of the American Rose Society named Jack Falker. His blog entry offers hope that these tiny Pacman-style creatures will be brought under control while using traditional pruning and mulching techniques. He recommends a treatment of castor oil on the roses! I'll be giving that a try. (Jack also offers a blog article on winter protection: Based on Jack's advice and my previous experience, we will cut the roses back to 12-18" when the first hard freeze arrives (usually in November) and then mound them with mulch.

There is some debate as to when to stop dead heading: some years we stopped in September and other years we stopped in late October. My sense is that if we are cutting the roses back to 12-18", then we can continue to optimize flower production; but if the drastic pruning was not part of our plans, we should have stopped our pruning much earlier so that the plant naturally prepares itself for winter.

This summer, rather than the normally prolific 'Bonica' and 'Knockout' roses, we had a vigorous production of "blind shoots." A blind shoot is a cane that produces lots of leaves but no flower buds – hence it is blind. I had been attributing the blind shoots to the very unusual weather patterns: sometimes very rainy and sometimes very hot. I also suspected that we may have over-fertilized the plants which released too much nitrogen. Possibly both of these reasons contributed, yet that does not explain why the yellow 'Knockout' roses were so vigorous.

I now suspect that the blind shoot problem had three contributing factors: the deer from last winter, the extra application of fertilizer to compensate for the severe damage, and the irregular weather. I pruned the canes in September that had no buds, finding the first branch with five leaves. Now we finally are getting some gorgeous flowers once again.

And Lord willing, we hope to have better results next year.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The 'Pool of Siloam' is a Place to Reflect on What Our Lord Has Done

This is a follow-up to my earlier blog entry from August 13th entitled Jehovah Jireh: The Lord Will Provide, and He Did. At that time, the Pool of Siloam was under construction in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden. The pond is now complete.

9/14/2013 photo of the Pool of Siloam in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden, Syracuse, NY

Since the above photograph was taken, some rockery around the dam has been added and the soil around the pond was planted with grass seed.

Why the name 'Pool of Siloam'? While it is true that the Pool of Siloam is located in the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem, not too far from the Garden of Gethsemane, that is not the reason. Rather, it is because of the encounter that the blind man had with Jesus at that location, based on John 9:1-39.

This should be a familiar story to many: after Jesus miraculously gave eyesight to a man who had been blind since birth, the man told the Pharisees during a series of questioning, "One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see" (John 9:25 NASB). On one level, this brief story is an example of how Jesus is the healer. Many people today seem to be looking for a healing – I hope they do not wash themselves in these waters with the hope that they will receive a healing.

9/14/2013 photo of the pool's reflective qualities

In several different ways, the man told the Pharisees that Jesus opened his blind eyes. However, the man was not able to state the authority that Jesus manifested for he did not know him. He had received a significant healing, he was able to state who performed the miracle, but he could not reflect on where that power came from – he had not received a personal encounter with Christ.

Jesus asked the man, "Do you believe in the Son of God?", to which the man stated, "Who is he?" Jesus then explained that he is that Son of God, to which the man's spiritual eyes were opened. "Lord, I believe," he exclaimed.

When asked by the Pharisees, the man had been unable to identify the source of the miraculous power. After his encounter with Christ, the man was able to reflect properly. By itself, healing does not lead to knowledge of Christ – it takes an awakening or revelation to begin that personal relationship.

Therefore, the Pool of Siloam is dedicated as a place of reflection: what Christ has done, is doing, and is going to do.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Mountain Laurel: Planting With Care

I suppose that planting a Mountain Laurel ('Kalmia latifolia') should be similar to putting any other shrub in the ground. With care, I selected the site in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden, prepared the ground, removed and replaced the soil, installed a drainage system, placed the plant in the ground, watered it, and covered the soil with mulch. But that is only part of the story.

In July of this year, I wrote a blog article entitled Becky Lynn Daylily and Mountain Laurel: Pictures of God's Restorative Process. I stated in that article:
My first daughter's name is Laurel; I named her after the soft-pink Mountain Laurel, the state flower of Pennsylvania. On many occasions I told young Laurel how that plant is the prettiest flower in the whole wide world. Of course there are many gorgeous flowers in the world and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But that is how she was to me when she was born, the prettiest little girl in the whole wide world. For some reason, I have not been able to locate a Mountain Laurel to plant in that garden – possibly there continues to be a spiritual blockage that is yet unresolved.

Mountain Laurel Kalmia latifolia from

That article was about my two adult daughters that have been estranged from me for far too long.

The Abiding Love Prayer Room in the garden had been carefully redesigned in May to accommodate the Mountain Laurel: adjacent to the gorgeous 'Bonica' roses. To me, this prayer room is often an encounter with Christ's agape love; it symbolically states my love for Laurel.

I recently found this well-grown plant specimen at a wholesale nursery – I was overjoyed because repeated phone calls and conversations in June and July indicated I may not be able to find one in Central New York. I was hopeful because that meant to me that possibly the spiritual blockage was being removed.

I have learned to check the internet before planting to see what others recommend about growing plants that I have not grown before. One very good site is the Missouri Botanical Garden: Kalmia Latifolia. From this, I knew that the native heavy clay soil had to be removed and replaced. We have a large area where two truckloads of sand had covered a difficult area, so I knew I could use that as a resource. I wanted the best growing conditions for this little gem.

The Mountain Laurel blooms in May; autumn's beauty is the bright shiny leaves on this two-foot round shrub.

It took me two days to plant what would normally take just a few hours – the many recollections of our wonderful times together were both thrilling to recall but left me pondering, "What should I have done better?" Realistically there may be no true answer to the many diverse thoughts for those times are now gone. I made many, many mistakes and I had really spoiled that little girl for she was so very special to me.

As I sat on the bench near the new plant location, I realized once again that the time of restoration of our relationship may soon be at hand. What is God doing? What is Laurel doing? Does she have children? Is she still married and, if so, how is that marriage going? Is she happy? Is she sad? What does she look like?

Harry Chapin's song The Cat's in the Cradle has been running through my mind for the last six or seven days. "And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me, he'd grown up just like me, my boy was just like me." What is she like? Is she in some way like me? I wonder.

No one has said anything to me, but I believe this restoration will happen very soon.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

John 15:2 - Pruning Produced Better Grapes

The Bible once again is shown to be correct: pruned grape vines produce better fruit. The Scripture is based on John 15:2 which states,
"Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit." (John 15:2 NKJV)
In December 2012, I wrote a blog article entitled Grape Trellis Based on John 15:2. We had just finished building a two-trellis grape structure in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden. The intent was to prune the vines on one trellis and not prune the other trellis. It was our expectation that the ones that were pruned would "bear more fruit."

We planted four vines: two under the to-be-pruned trellis, and two under the not-to-be-pruned trellis. Otherwise, the vines were treated in an identical fashion.

The vines were too small to prune in January so I waited until May. I more aggressively pruned the vine on the left but the vine on the right was pruned less heavily: there were four small branches – I removed one of the four but unfortunately left another because it had some flowers.

The vine on the left was pruned more than the other

Conversely the vines that were not pruned are much smaller and one appears sickly:

These two vines were not pruned

To me, the real proof is in the size of the fruit:

The two on the left are from the pruned vines,
while the two on the right are from the not-pruned

The most heavily pruned vine produced large and very robust fruit. All of the other vines, including the one that was partially pruned, have small and weak appearing fruit:

Fruit from the most heavily pruned vine

Is the experiment conclusive? Well no, it is only indicative. We intend to repeat this experiment each year. Yet we already know the results for the Bible is always true: better fruit is produced when vine branches are pruned.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jehovah Jireh: The Lord Will Provide, and He Did

As caretaker of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden at Faith Chapel, I have again seen where the Lord's promise, that He will provide, was today fulfilled.

In the Bible when Isaac asked Abraham, "Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?", Abraham replied these famous words, "The Lord will provide." The Hebrew for these words is in both Genesis 22:8 and 22:14 – transliterated as 'Elohiym jireh and then YHWH jireh. The King James Version renders Genesis 22:14 as Jehovah-Jireh, but it really means The Lord will provide.

We have been digging a small pond that we have named 'Pool of Siloam' as an extension of the small stream on the edge of the garden. The pond is surrounded by three very large willows which should have been a clue: lots and lots of roots. In any case, three of us were attempting to dig this 15' by 25' oval pond using just shovels. The digging portion of the farmer's backhoe that we normally use has been broken for over a year with no prospect that it will be fixed soon. We were very, very discouraged because the Lord had provided the vision for the pond.

Last night, in an email to a friend, I wrote "So far we are digging it by hand, but I am sure praying for some equipment to move that digging along." More pointedly, today at noon I asked one of the workers to join me in prayer that Dave Delaney who owns the farm adjacent to the church would provide the equipment that we need within the next 24 hours. I was really expecting a Jehovah Jireh experience.

Twenty minutes later, as I pulled out onto the main road from the church to pick up a lunch, I found myself behind Dave's pickup truck. I knew the Lord had arranged this – I followed him past my lunch spot to his roadside farm stand where he sells the most delicious corn. Dave met me as I got out of the car. "Are you digging that pond by hand?", he asked; I affirmed, "Yes." He told me how he stopped by last night and recognized the many shovel imprints, stating that is a mammoth project. I told him about the complications with the other farmer's backhoe.

The Lord then instructed me to buy some corn. (Earlier I had decided not to buy corn this year because my wife has been directed by her doctor not to eat corn.) I bought 6 ears; as I returned to my car, Dave was standing where I left him. He said, "I'll tell you what. If you are available, I'll bring my backhoe over tonight at 7pm – I can dig that in an hour where it will take you several days." He really meant weeks but he was being kind.

Dave showed up at 7pm as promised. He dug the pool in 45 minutes as his machine aggressively cut through the extensive mass of willow roots. I had no idea how difficult this would have been by hand. But God knew and that is why He provided. He fulfilled the prayer petition and promise within seven hours of it being spoken. Jehovah Jireh!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Purple Smokebush: Cloud-like, great for prayer gardens

I see the purple smokebush as a stunning shrub with a kingly sense of royalty, a great plant for a prayer garden. We planted four purple smokebushes 'Cotinus Coggygria Attropurpurea' in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in May, 2013. Also known as smoketrees, those familiar with them know that their small size (currently four-feet tall) will someday be far larger and will sprawl over a wide area. I have seen some as large as twenty feet tall and wide; ours will be pruned to ten or twelve feet to maintain a full effect.

Purple smokebush planted this year

Mature 15' tall purple smokebush in a neighbor's yard

The four purple smokebushes are part of a larger planting based on Exodus 33:7-34:35. Located near the cross in the Grace Prayer Room, these royal purple smokebushes are complimented by seven flame-shaped upright junipers, five stiff upright junipers, two pieces of stone, a round boulder, a prostrate blue spruce, and a brilliant red-flowering weigela. Together these objects portray a pictorial representation of the encounter that Moses had with the Lord while in the cleft of the rock.

The purpose of this blog entry is to explain how the smokebush fits the role of the cloud from the Bible. Future blog entries are intended to focus on other portions of this Exodus story. But for now, the question becomes, "What is the purpose of the cloud as seen in Exodus and other books of the Bible?"

Whenever this cloud was mentioned in the Bible, God was present. For example:
  • When the Israelites left Egypt, God's presence was there in the cloud by day
  • When Moses went up the mountain, God was there in the cloud
  • When the cloud shifted location in the wilderness, God was directing them to pick up camp and move to another place
  • When Moses went in the tent of meeting to meet with God, the pillar of cloud stood outside the tent
  • When the High Priest went into the Most Holy of Holies in the tabernacle, the cloud was there and God was in the midst
  • When the temple was dedicated by Solomon, he recalled the Lord's proclamation that He would dwell in the cloud (1 Kings 8:12)
  • When Jesus went up the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, John, and James to meet with Moses and Elijah, God spoke out of the cloud
"Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle." Exodus 40:34-35 NKJV
The purple leaves of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden's smokebush indicate royalty – the presence of God.

From outside the cloud, it is very difficult if not impossible to see through it; from within the cloud, objects may be seen. We have planted the smokebush as a visual screen between those praying within the garden and those "outside the camp."

Purple smokebush flower
The heavy amount of moisture in a cloud restricts the ability to see into it. To the Israelites at the base of the mountain in Exodus 19, they knew God was in the cloud but they could not see Him. They were looking towards God from a distance.

Moses could not initially see the Lord in the cloud while on top of Mount Sinai, yet from within the cloud, he saw the Lord pass by (Exodus 34). In Revelation 14:14-16, John beheld One like the Son of Man from within the cloud.

The cloud is formed by loosely coupled masses, much like the flowers of the smokebush. Within this eight-inch blossom, there are little dots which are the seeds for next year's plants. It is striking how much space remains between the tiny branches and seeds, yet the massive effect of the efflorescence prevents seeing through the plant.

As the Egyptian army pursued the Israelites, the pillar of cloud protected His people by providing darkness between the two groups. As the cloud later moved them from place to place, the Lord was both directing and protecting them in their journey across the wilderness. The purple smokebushes are planted as a reminder of the Lord's protection over us.

The Voice of the Lord
The Lord spoke to Moses out of the cloud as a man speaks to a friend. About Himself, the Lord stated He is,
"Merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation." Exodus 34:6-7 NKJV

The purple smokebush, planted near the cross in the Grace Prayer Room, is a reminder that we can hear His voice. We do not have to turn to the smokebush to hear it, but it is a reminder, a picture if you will, of how God speaks to us. He is speaking no matter where we are.

Therefore, the purple smokebush is placed in this quiet and restful place to help us know His royal presence, seek His face, understand His protection, and hear His voice.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Becky Lynn Daylily: A Picture of God's Restorative Process

This is a true story, a story of hope and a story of how our loving God restores what the devil has taken. It is a story about my two adult daughters that have been estranged from me for far too long. It is a story about love.

* * * * * * *
NOTE from October 22, 2014: See Becky Lynn Daylily: A Sequel for a follow-up article.
* * * * * * *

Daylily 'Becky Lynn'

This daylily is named 'Becky Lynn'; the flower was named several years before my second daughter was born. Her married name is Becky Lynn Hanusa. As caretaker of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden, I planted seven Becky Lynn's in the hope and promise of God's restoration process. Sometimes all you can do is hope and pray, and that is the case with me.

My first daughter's name is Laurel; I named her after the soft-pink Mountain Laurel, the state flower of Pennsylvania. On many occasions I told young Laurel how that plant is the prettiest flower in the whole wide world. Of course there are many gorgeous flowers in the world and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But that is how she was to me when she was born, the prettiest little girl in the whole wide world. For some reason, I have not been able to locate a Mountain Laurel to plant in that garden – possibly there continues to be a spiritual blockage that is yet unresolved. [See update from 09-26-2013: Mountain Laurel: Planting with care].

Mountain Laurel Kalmia latifolia from

Laurel's married name is Laurel Babcock and I have not seen her in years. The devil stole what was rightfully ours and I played into his hand.

My hope and my confidence is that what the locusts have eaten, the Lord will restore. I certainly forgive my daughters for their part in choosing to be distant. Many things were said and done over the years; it is extremely difficult for young tender ears to understand it all. Even as adults, it can be most challenging to reconcile the messages of love that parents can portray with messages of anger and bitterness. Divorce is such a hard thing on everyone, but God did not want it that way.

Will today be the day that the process begins turning around? I hope so. If not, life still goes on.

I have also pondered how I will react when we first meet again. Will I cry? I don't know, although I can easily do so at emotional settings. I am so very confident about God's restorative process that I may not cry. It might even be today.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sea Holly: You Will Recognize Them By Their Fruit

The Sea Holly (Eryngium planum) is an amazingly showy thistle-like plant – adorned with steel-blue stems and petals from June to September, this 30" tall plant can quickly become a main conversation piece in most any garden. It is truly stunning to look at; in a different sense, it is also stunning to touch.

Jesus compared the thistle to a false prophet in his Sermon on the Mount. I find that the Sea Holly with its thistle-like appearance is an excellent example of this metaphor:
15 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.
18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.
19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits." (Matthew 7:15-20 ESV)

This brilliant blue color is rarely found in the landscape; that is why I purchased them for the Gethsemane Prayer Garden. They are just like false prophets, for deception is one of their the main characteristics.

Look closely at the fruit!

This fruit must be very carefully touched. All over the plant are very sharp needles that have only one purpose: to hurt. Even the deer stay away all year long, for this "tree" bears bad fruit.

Adjacent to the Sea Holly in the prayer garden is a beech tree which can be seen with its soft fur-covered nuts. These are good fruit for they come from a good tree. I believe Jesus would have called the Sea Holly "a bad tree" because it bears bad fruit.

Please allow me to ask a question: "According to the above Bible text, how do you recognize a false prophet?" I must admit that the answer to that question, based on these verses from Matthew, broadened my understanding of what a false prophet is. Inwardly they are like ravenous wolves; outwardly they produce bad fruit.

But also understand the implications: if a child is not showing evidence of being good fruit, that does not mean that either the child or the parent is going to be thrown in the fire. The factor of time also plays a part as does the power of prayer and the power of appropriate parenting. The value of the fruit may turn out good as it moves towards maturity.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Removing the Showy Primrose Plantings

While I very much enjoy the showy primrose (Oenothera speciosa), I have removed most of them from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden. I wrote in my 2009 book A Garden of Love,

The showy primrose, with their mass effect of soft pink, are aptly named “showy.” In late spring, the flowers become a carpet of delicate pink with a subtle yellow touch in the center. Slowly, the flowers fade with the heat of the summer, only to reveal brilliant dots of blood-red leaves, as if an artist stroke each individual leaf. By the peak of autumn, the flowers that are left are soft accents to each leaf's variegated red and green effect.

Yet despite my enthusiasm for the rich colors and gorgeous effect of this plant, this spring I repeatedly sprayed Round Up on the three main beds where the showy primrose was located. Only a small portion near the entrance to the garden remains untouched. "Why?" you ask. Because of its invasive nature and its co-habitation with short weeds that are very difficult to remove.

Sitting under this exhilarating collection of buds and flowers was a mass of chickweed, ground ivy, and various other weeds that were very difficult to remove. Before the showy primrose opened or after the color reached its peak, the abundance of these weeds was readily apparent. I decided that they must go as I prepared the garden for a wedding last summer; I spent several hours hand-pulling the yellow-flowered black clover and still did not remove it all.

It took four applications of Round Up over a two-month period to remove the showy primrose. Now the three beds are planted with other flowers: sedum 'Autumn Joy' in one, daylilies in another, and a white-flowering viburnum with Japanese maple in a third.

Warning: do not attempt to simply dig the bed to remove these invasive flowers. You will find that it will be just a waste of time because the root system is so thick. You should be much more satisfied if you use chemicals instead.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Catmint Is Great for the Garden Border

We find that the catmint delivers a high impact color in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden for a low cost.

We purchased five of these lavender blue plants in 2004, placing them in a highly visible location near the center of the garden. These five developed four children over the next two years; the children were moved to fill in some holes between taller evergreens. In the spring of 2009, it was time to move them again.

The catmint is vibrant in color while blooming from late May through early July, but slowly the flowers fade away. Even when we cut them back in mid-summer to strive for a second bloom, the plants did not warrant their prominent center-of-the-garden location. So in 2009 we transplanted them to the border location where they now thrill our visitors – by dividing them with the sharp push of a shovel, our five initial plants had become twenty-two.

The purple tones of the common catmint are great for providing contrast to neighboring plants. Their colors can pop when combined with a bright pink such as found in petunias. We intersperse them between dark green Austrian pines which are planted near the driveway at the front of the garden. Eventually the Austrian pines will grow into a full screen protection so people cannot see into that portion of the garden. For now, the catmint provides the visual distraction so that people see the bright purples without focusing on the garden interior.

Our catmints are large, typically growing five to eight feet across; they appear to enjoy the heavily mulched hillside of the berm. The second blossoming in August through October is somewhat smaller, possibly four to six feet wide. Between the two flowering seasons, we aggressively cut them back to eighteen inches.

The result is nearly five months of prolific blossoms. I am sure that the bees, if they could talk, would be actively thanking us. Hopefully our church visitors feel invited as well – a fully flowered prayer garden is on the other side of that berm.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Design Garden Prayer Rooms With Inviting Paths

A prayer garden should create an atmosphere where peaceful serenity can be found while at the same time stimulating communication with our Heavenly Father. One way we attempt to accomplish that in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden is by creating prayer rooms with inviting garden paths.

Click on any photo to see them all in full-screen.

As with a room in a home, we place a curvaceous path in the middle of the prayer room that invites the eye and softens the heart. The benches, flowers, and shrubs become like the home's furniture and decoration. The end of the path should bend quickly, providing a sense of mystery and intrigue.

Each path's vista then defines a prayer room with a sense of privacy and seclusion from the next room. The design should include landscaped hallways that lead to the next room.

Tall shrubs can create boundaries between the rooms and act like doors that gently open into the next.

The prayer rooms may be large or small. Each room should have one or possibly several benches for lingering, and all benches should be positioned for privacy.

Large rocks can serve as impromptu sitting locations.

A shrub placed adjacent to the path can add curiosity by breaking up the larger prayer rooms.

The Joyous Celebration Prayer Room has a stone pad for a table and chairs. Smaller groups can use these larger prayer rooms.

This bird bath is inscribed with a poem, yet man-made statuary is minimized in this garden.

Mixtures of colors and textures should encourage one to linger in a prayer room. The dark-blue columbine flowers add continuity between rooms.

Small hills (berms) with tight plantings may be necessary. We use shrubs and trees to prevent people in the parking lot from seeing into any room. This view into a room is available from the back side of the garden.

The plantings, whether in a prayer room or along a path hallway, can also take on symbolic meanings which also invite people to the garden. The Wooden Cross Prayer Room, for example, portrays the story from Exodus 33,34 where Moses watched the Lord pass by him. We encourage those that have a smart phone to go to to read or hopefully someday soon listen to these Scriptural interpretations.

There are eight prayer rooms in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.

Proverbs 3:13-17 (NASB):
13 How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding.
14 For her profit is better than the profit of silver and her gain better than fine gold.
15 She is more precious than jewels; and nothing you desire compares with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.
17 Her ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are peace.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Mayapple is Like a Hidden Treasure (Proverbs 2:1-5)

Proverbs 2:1-5 (NASB):
1 My son, if you will receive my words and treasure my commandments within you,
2 Make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding;
3 For if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding;
4 If you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures;
5 Then you will discern the fear of the LORD and discover the knowledge of God.

The search for wisdom is like the search for hidden treasure. It is like the sudden discovery of the treasures of the Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), a plant of the forest that looks somewhat like an umbrella. Many will pass this beauty by, and some will find the secret it beholds.

In our Gethsemane Prayer Garden, we have a section of Mayapple that grows under the tall canopy of some black willow trees. Other flowers such as astilbe, vinca minor, hosta, and bush clover are also planted in this area. It is a refreshing and relaxing spot, somewhat secluded from the rest of the garden. This location was selected to preserve the May apples that have been growing there many years before this prayer garden was ever conceived.

Sitting above this peaceful area is a wooden bench where one's mind can wander away from the fast activity of life. The Scripture above states, "Make your ear attentive", and "incline your heart", and "cry for discernment", and "lift your voice", and "seek … and search", then you will "discern … and discover".

Most people do not know the flower is there although some will hear about it from someone else. We do not normally find it because we are not looking for it. Yet an attitude of diligently seeking allows us to uncover hidden treasures such as the Mayapple. It is an attitude that says, "Lord, I want all you have for me."

I believe that the wisdom described in Proverbs 2:1-5 is supernatural wisdom. To me, it is not what is generated from the intelligence of our minds, but rather it is what is given by our Lord. It is a gift from our most generous and loving God.

Many people have heard about the gifts of the Holy Spirit; some reject it with steadfast authority, some seek it but do not discern anything unusual or different, and some receive it as the hidden treasure that God intended.

I am convinced that finding and then opening this gift is because of the attitude we have in approaching the Holy Spirit. Yes there is certainly the aspect that it is hidden, but there is also the aspect of sudden discovery that is far more beautiful, wonderful, and powerful than one would have expected.

Proverbs 2:6-11 (NASB):
6 For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
7 He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
8 Guarding the paths of justice, and He preserves the way of His godly ones.
9 Then you will discern righteousness and justice and equity and every good course.
10 For wisdom will enter your heart and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
11 Discretion will guard you, understanding will watch over you.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Cushion Spurge Sings Praise to Yahweh (Psalm 113)

When I initially look at the cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma), the brilliant yellow clusters remind me of the sun in its fullness. Even though this photo was taken in the early morning, the abundance of golden hues fill the spectrum. Contrasted to the browns and greens that provide a backdrop to any landscape, these bright groupings draw attention to themselves.

Beyond the initial look, a closer look at the clusters reveal a more fascinating aspect of this flower: many are in groups of five. Not all have five, but many.

For those that look into the meaning of numbers in the Scriptures, five is the number of grace. That is why Psalm 113 was selected for this flower. Yahweh raises the poor and lifts the needy; He gives help to the childless woman. Positions are changed, not because we deserve it, but because He is Yahweh!

Psalm 113:1-9 (HCSB):
1 Hallelujah! Give praise, servants of Yahweh; praise the name of Yahweh.
2 Let the name of Yahweh be praised both now and forever.
3 From the rising of the sun to its setting, let the name of Yahweh be praised.
4 Yahweh is exalted above all the nations, His glory above the heavens.
5 Who is like Yahweh our God — the One enthroned on high,
6 who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?
7 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the garbage pile
8 in order to seat them with nobles — with the nobles of His people.
9 He gives the childless woman a household, making her the joyful mother of children.

This Psalm points to our need – without Yahweh, we are all needy. Yahweh is the grace giver, not because we are entitled to it, but because of who He is.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Primrose Symbolizes Humility (James 4:6,7)

As the Scriptures say, 'God opposes the proud but favors the humble.' So humble yourselves before God (James 4:6,7 NLT)

As the snow begins to recede in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden each spring, the first flower to show itself is the primrose. Their splashes of color sends a joyous message which continues from late March through June. Consistently people stop me to speak in some way about the brilliant colors yet their very short 6-inch height. To me, it reminds me of the favor that the Lord grants to those that exhibit humility.

We have a small but vibrant area dedicated to our Pacific Giant Primroses. The names of our individual cultivars were never recorded – it is the bold red, violet, yellow, pink, blue, and white pigmentation with brilliant yellow centers that brought us to the decision to purchase each one.

Primrose (Primula X polyantha) generally prefer a shady location. We grow ours in the full sun until July when a large cluster of Russian sage adds considerable shade to the primrose bed. At that point, most visitors never see the primrose as it is hidden by the much larger Russian sage. That is the way of humility, is it not?

Every four or five years we have to replenish our inventory of primroses. Possibly some get pulled by the naive volunteer that is zealous to weed. Recently we discovered that spider mites may be attacking the primrose, possibly causing the weaker ones to die off. We will spray – I do not believe that humility means we allow ourselves to be eaten alive.