Home Page
Order Books
Featured Plants
Seasonal Advice
News Columns
Other Work

Book Signings and Lectures
by Monica Brandies


Would you like to be notified of new books or website updates?
Join our Mailing List.
It is completely confidential and voluntary. You may Subscribe or Unsubscribe at any time.



Monastery Gardens and Groves

Welcome to St. Leo Abbey says the sign by the Gift Shop.

Since this is Holy Week, it seems a good time to tell you about some special gardens.

"If you die first, I'm going to move to St. Leo and go to Mass with the monks every day and play golf across the road," said David. He was very impressed with the beauty and peacefulness of the gardens and groves after a Saturday retreat at the Abbey and couldn't wait to take me to see the place.

So one weekday in late February we headed north on I-75 to exit 285 (San Antonio, St. Leo), then took SR 52 four miles east to St. Leo University and the Benedictine Abbey beside it among the rolling hills, working farms, and orange groves of rural Pasco County. It was about a 45 minute trip for us even though it was raining that day. There is a Mass every weekday at 11:45 am and Sunday at 10 am.

Trees in side garden are large and lovely. Camellias were also blooming in the side garden near the Martin House. Along the road beside the church are more plantings. Azaleas were still in bloom when we were there.

There is also a community of Benedictine nuns just down the road and you'll see their buildings first.

You don't have to be Catholic to visit St. Leo Abbey , go into the church or the annex where there is a museum to the right on the first floor, walk around the gardens or visit the gift shop. Everyone is welcome.

The museum dates back to the time when St. Leo University and the Abbey were connected, for the monks started the university. You'll see scrapbooks, photos, and such, including those about Hollywood actor Lee Marvin, perhaps the most prominent among the alumni.

The Abbey was started in 1881. The large Church of the Holy Cross seems very old, but actually it was only completed in 1946. The sun was out by the time Mass was over and David took me around to the annex and showed me the museum and the conference room where they had their talks during the retreat.

We passed by rooms where visitors stay for overnight retreats that will resume once they get the roof repaired. No one seemed to mind or question our presence. Then we went outdoors and walked among the lovely trees and gardens that surround the church and the nearby Pilgrim Gift Shop, where we could have parked much closer. We walked down the hill beside the church so David could show me the orange groves that border a lake and provides some of the Abbey's income. No doubt the lake itself gives protection against cold.

The Gift Shop offers free information and a pleasant place to rest. Sometimes they have plants for sale.

Then we went back to the Gift Shop and browsed. Official business hours are from 1:30- to 4:00 pm Tuesday through Sunday, also from 8:30 am to 11:00 am on Friday and Saturday and after Mass on Sunday morning. We were too early, but the doors were open and we could pick up the pamphlets, admire the houseplants and the statues, or sit in the comfortable chairs and wait. There was even coffee and a filled cookie jar on the table. Besides books, cards, religious medals and rosaries, sometimes there are plants grown at the abbey's greenhouse by Father Damian DuQuesney for sale.

Outside there were bags of oranges and grapefruit for sale on the honor system with prices so low we bought a bag of juice oranges to add some different flavors to our own citrus at the next squeezing.

The monastery is a quiet, peaceful, holy place. We felt welcome, nodded to a few people, but everyone else was busy and we spoke only to each other. As we left, David pointed out the golf course across the road and we stopped in the center of the small town of San Antonio at a very busy Mexican restaurant for lunch. I think it is a place we are going to visit often. There is an outdoor Way of the Cross that I didn't get to see yet.

For more information you can check their website: www.saintleoabbey.org. Or if you don't have a computer, you can call for more information, the abbey at 352-588-8183 or me at 654-1969.

Oranges and grapefruits from their groves are for sale on the honor system during citrus harvesting times.