Drawing up a plan for a garden space helps can help alleviate stress since it eliminates the need for spontaneous decision making. (Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel)
Drawing up a plan for a garden space helps can help alleviate stress since it eliminates the need for spontaneous decision making. (Sarah Wolf/Catholic Sentinel)

I only know a little about gardening, but I do love gardens and I do love learning about plants. One of my goals when my husband and I bought a house with a yard was to create a prayer garden. This spring I decided to make that goal a reality. In this article, I’ll walk you through the steps I took to create my garden.

1) Settle on a theme — Prayer gardens can have any variety of themes, but it seems safe to say most Catholic prayer gardens have a statue in them. Mary holds a special place in my heart, so I decided on a Marian prayer garden. Thus in my garden, I placed a statue of Mary.

2) Decide a location — Initially, I narrowed down a list of locations for my prayer garden to three areas in my yard. I had to discuss the location with my husband and we talked about which location would have what we wanted in a prayer garden — serenity and privacy. We decided on a spot in our back yard that was under a group of trees, which is often in shade but is both serene and mostly private.

3) Determine plants — Because I would be planting a Marian garden, I wanted to plant things that had a special connection to Mary. If I could have planted Castilian roses, those present in the miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I would have. Alas, I knew I would be planting almost entirely in the shade. So, I would need shade tolerant plants. I also wanted to make sure that my garden had year round interest and structure. To throw another hitch in the plan, my husband wanted the plants to be native. So my goal was to find shade tolerant, historically Marian plants that were native to the Pacific Northwest. At this point, I did some serious Googling. I found a list of Marian plants, many of which would not be shade tolerant. I did, however buy bleeding hearts, or Hearts of Mary, and irises, or Mary as Queen, both of which have a native variety and can tolerate shade. I bought deer ferns and one (non-native) autumn fern to add structure and year round interest to the garden. Ferns are also associated with Mary, sometimes referred to as Mary’s Hair.

4) Draw up a plan — Next up, I went down to my space, measured it and began imagining what I wanted it to look like. I figured out roughly where I wanted the statue to go and where I needed to plant the flowers so that they would get the sun they needed. I grabbed a sheet of paper and created a sketch of how I wanted the garden to look. I drew a path shaped like a cross with four small borders for plants. Drawing a plan made creating the garden much easier as I wasn’t trying to make decisions spontaneously.

5) Clear the space — This is when the real work began. My yard is covered with English ivy. So tearing the ivy out of the space was critical to putting anything else there. This step actually took the longest of all the steps in the project.

6) Lay out hardscaping — I didn’t actually have much hardscaping, as I was using bark nuggets to create my path, but I laid that out first anyway. I laid my path in the form of a cross with a small brick stand to hold my statue of Mary at the top and a log (for a seat) at the bottom. This allowed me to have the foundation I wanted before doing any planting.

7) Place plants — I took all of the plants I had bought for the project and laid them around the borders, moving them around until I was happy with the locations. I made sure to plant larger plants, like the ferns, in the back with the smaller plants in the front. The area also already had several Oregon grape plants, which I left in place to tie my prayer garden into the rest of my aspiring native backyard. I’ve always heard to plant things in odd numbers, and that is what I did for this project. The idea is to make the garden seem more natural. Once I was happy with the plant locations, I grabbed my shovel and planted them.

8) Add mulch — I finished off my garden by laying down mulch in the borders to keep down weeds and add nutrients to the plants. The mulch also just makes the garden look nicer.

Overall, the project was a lot of work but it has provided a peaceful place for my family and me to be able to pray and mediate. I don’t have any illusions that I will never change the garden. In fact I’ve already thought of another plant to add, but my gardens are constantly evolving.

I’d encourage you all to add a prayer garden to your dwelling place. It need not be large, only quiet and prayerful.

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org