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God's Garden

St. Francis's statue was vandalized a few days after this photo was taken, broken in three pieces. But John O'Keefe of the parish put him back together and Frank Shannon of Nativity parish did the burnishing work to make the bronze statue look as good as new and he will soon be back in place.

The grounds at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Seffner did fine without me for many years, and even now I only work on two small beds. I've always counted on God to help me with my garden, but this is the first time I've helped Him with His.

It started with poinsettias two years ago. Outdoors they have to be planted where they get sun in the daytime, no extra artificial light after dark, and ample water. Sometimes they are in such poor shape after being forced in a greenhouse, spending a long time indoors in the dark, and then sitting out in the cold, that they hardly have a chance. Those were my excuses when they all died.

No doubt Father Fitz did not realize the completeness of that failure when he suggested I plant out the Easter lilies. That meant finding good spots and then digging 30 big holes, with the chance of Easter lilies surviving the summer about one in three. I planted some of them, but not all.

Right after that I began to see some successful lily plantings in other people's gardens. God, who has a great sense of humor, was trying to tell me something. I tried to listen. I did plant all of the lavender chrysanthemums that had wilted very quickly on the altar. They quite redeemed themselves in the little bed along the front of the church building between the parking lot and the door. They didn't bloom until fall, but by then, they had spread and bloomed abundantly for weeks. Also, by then, I had somehow inherited that bed.

I brought in some begonias and salvias that did fairly well among the Lorapetalum shrubs. I was just wondering what to use to fill in after the mums when last year's poinsettias came off the altar in excellent shape. I quickly sunk the pots in the ground to keep them from drying out. Twice I had to pull them up and take them in on cold nights, but for most of the time from January through May, they continued to bloom and give excellent color.

Easter lilies tend to look better, certainly fuller, on the altar than in Florida gardens.

In the meantime, two small plants of ornamental sweet potato, the chartreuse Margurite and the deep red Blackie, were spreading over the space. These have taken a while to start for me, but once they do, stand back. Suddenly, they are the most dominate plants in the bed and I now have to cut them back often so they don't grow across the walk. They even have some small blooms at church that I've never seen in my yard.

The ones I have at home are often made holey by slugs and snails, but the ones at church have so far been spared--more of God's little jokes. Best of all, Father Fitz really likes these. There are some spilling out of the Blessed Mother's garden by the rectory, too. But they crowded out the poinsettias, which suffered from a fungus and died out over the summer. Someone planted a single yellow gerbera daisy near the door. I have never had any luck with these at home, but this one is thriving. God is smiling.

By late spring, I was planting the bed beyond the door with periwinkles because they bloom so long with so little work. There are also two pink pentas there that have grown from cuttings to bushes and bloom constantly.

One morning in May, Lloyd Fleegle asked if I'd noticed the bloom on the ponytail palm around the far side. Most of us had never seen one close up. God keeps making it all more and more interesting and fun.

Bud Doege's crepe myrtle is the only one I've ever seen blooming in the winter.

There is a white crepe myrtle in the circle, planted in memory of our late custodian Bud Doege, that is still blooming now and one year bloomed quite a bit on Christmas, even those these are only supposed to bloom in the summer.

For the most part, I have spent very little time on these gardens. I water and deadhead before or after morning Mass while my altar server husband is lighting the candles inside. We go to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every Thursday. Sometimes, I spend some of that hour working in the garden while David prays inside. One day I was sweeping the walk when a friend, Pat Thomas, came by and asked, "Are you doing penance?" I had just gone to confession, but Father hadn't sent me out to sweep.

It has been great working on God's garden with His unexpected surprises.

Left:   Annual salvias in purple and white, pink begonias, jewels of Opar, and caladiums in May of 2005.

Right:   Poinsettias were still blooming in May and the ornamental sweet potatoes were creeping and getting ready to leap. A few of those lilies did bloom and blue and red salvias bloom in back left.