Whether you're a pro gardener, a beginner, or someone who would like to start gardening but is not sure how, you can successfully align your gardening with the liturgical seasons, turning it into hands-on learning for your children or a prayerful experience for yourself. Let's look at how!
A lot of things we will talk about today focus on the timing of your gardening activities. Timing is something that varies widely depending on where you live and what you want to plant. If you're new at this, make sure you check for your last and first frost dates (among other things) to properly schedule your garden. Below are some dates in the liturgical calendar that will align beautifully with some of your gardening activities. If you have children, these would be great things to talk about while you are working, and great ways to reinforce the lesson of whatever is happening in the Church's cycle. If you don't have children, gardening is a lot of work with your hands where your mind has lots of time to think—these would be great subjects to meditate on while you work!
When: Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the first Sunday of Lent
What It Means: One of the several functions of these days is to pray and do penance for a good spring crop. Although things have changed substantially from when this first began, it's still important to remember, because it reminds us that everything is dependent on God for growth and prosperity. The other functions, praying for priests and vocations, fertility and pregnant women, have come out of this idea of praying for fertile soil and a rich harvest.
Activity: This is a great time to start seedlings. Depending on when it falls and where you live, you could probably find something to start, either indoors or outdoors. This year I was able to direct sow some early spring, frost-resistant, cool-weather crops, and start some of my spring garden vegetables indoors. If you are able to plant some seeds (sorry my Northern friends—it might still be too early for you!), it would be great to meditate on how we can give all of the right ingredients to our little seeds, but God is the one that makes them grow. This is a great meditation with powerful ramifications—like our total dependence on God—that should be profitable whether you are working alone or guiding children through the process.
When: Sometime between March 22 and April 25.
What It Means: Easter is when we celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord, His triumph over death, and our new life and hopeful salvation.
Activity: Flowers are the perfect way to decorate your home and newly-unveiled saint statues for Easter, so it would be a great idea to go and cut some in celebration! To make sure you have some for Easter, you will have to look at your area, pick the right flower, and plant it in time to be blooming for Easter. Since this is before the last frost date for a lot of people, perennials like daffodils or tulips might work really well!
When: April 25 and the three days before Ascension Thursday
What It Means: To quote the always wonderful Fish Eaters, "Rogation Days are days during which we seek to ask God's mercy, appease His anger, avert the chastisements He makes manifest through natural disasters, and ask for His blessings, particularly with regard to farming, gardening, and other agricultural pursuits. They are set aside to remind us how radically dependent we are on God through His creation, and how prayer can help protect us from nature's often cruel ways."
Activity: Like Ember days, these are great days to sow seeds, especially if you were too far north to take advantage of the Lenten Embertide. Even if all you do is weeding and watering, it's a great day to remember how much we depend on God for things of nature to go smoothly.
The Month of May
When: The entire month of May
What It Means: May is dedicated to Our Lady. As Pope Paul VI said in his encyclical on the month of May, "During this month Christians, both in church and in the privacy of the home, offer up to Mary from their hearts an especially fervent and loving homage of prayer and veneration. In this month, too, the benefits of God's mercy come down to us from her throne in greater abundance."
Activity: A great thing to do this month is to plan, plant, and care for your Mary garden! Spring is a good time to plant some perennials or annuals, depending on what you want your garden and its upkeep to look like. A personally am planning mine with perennials that all bloom at different times, so that I have flowers blooming for as long as possible. If you have roses or other flowers blooming around this time, it's a really fun idea to put together a crown of flowers for your statue of Our Lady and do a May Crowning, involving the whole family.
When: Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after Pentecost
What It Means: This serves the same function as the Lenten Embertide, only it is for the summer, not the spring.
Activity: Hopefully all your hard work has been paying off and you are getting ready to or are actually harvesting some vegetables! This could be a good time to teach your children how to use the harvest God gives us, and to thank Him for it, by never wasting it—and doing things like canning or even just freezing. If you are getting some yield, you could also have your children (or just you) gather up some harvest and distribute it to those in need while you partake in the fasting and abstinence that comes with Ember days.
Feast of the Visitation
When: July 2
What It Means: The Visitation is when we celebrate Our Lady's long journey and subsequent stay with St. Elizabeth, who was elderly and (miraculously) pregnant with St. John the Baptist.
Activity: This is a great time to go and serve a pregnant woman! There are lots of things you could do, from watching her children to cleaning her house, but, if you want to do something gardening related (assuming your schedule allows it), you could make her a homemade meal from your garden. Maybe your grapes or blueberries are ready now, and you can make some homemade jam. Maybe its a yummy tomato salad with some corn on the cob. The possibilities are endless!
Feast of the Assumption
When: August 15
What It Means: Today we celebrate when God assumed Our Lady, body and soul, into heaven after her death. Tradition has it that when the Apostles opened her tomb at the request of St. Thomas, not only did it not contain her body, but it was filled with lillies and roses. There is another legend that says it was also filled with herbs, and that this was the first time God granted herbs the healing and remedial powers that they possess. Whatever the story, there is a special blessing on herbs and fruits today, so it's tradition to bring them to church on this feast day.
Activity: Harvest some or all of your herbs and fruit (if you have some), put it in a basket, and bring it to church to be blessed. If you have medicinal herbs, definitely bring those, as part of the blessing includes, "to pour forth upon their natural power already given by Thee the grace of Thy new blessing; that when used by men and beasts who apply them in Thy name, they may provide protection against all disease and adversity." Once you get home, prepare a cool summer drink, like a herbal fruit punch, using your newly blessed harvest.
When: Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the third Sunday in September
What It Means: This is the same concept as the previously mentioned Embertides, only it occurs in the Fall.
Activity: Some of you might have nothing going on in the garden this time of year, but hopefully enough of you can find something to do, especially if you missed out on the other Embertides. You could be harvesting the last of a late summer garden, or maybe you could be starting or taking care of a winter garden. For me, I will hopefully be harvesting some broccoli and brussels sprouts around this time.
Hopefully now you have a few ideas to time some of your gardening activities with the Church cycle (which, by the way, was definitely made with the growing season in mind!). Or maybe you are now motivated to try your hand at a plant or to, by yourself or with children, just to bring some of those lessons of the Church home. Either way, let us know how it goes, and any other dates we missed! If you like keeping up with the Church cycle and customs, you might be interested in our email service, Liturgical Look-Aheads—we'll send you an email once a month about what's coming up in the Church and how to celebrate it. Check it out here. We also have lots of inexpensive products in our shop that might help—from digital calendars to coloring calendars and lots in between—so be sure to check that out today!