Welcome to episode 24 of the Behind the Catholic Counter Podcast. I’m Ian Rutherford, President of Aquinasnandmore.com. I interview Catholic authors, publishers and manufacturers to give you the latest news about great new Catholic books and gifts. You can listen to this and past episodes at aquinasandmore.com/podcast.
This week, I interviewed Margaret Realy, an oblate of Saint Benedict, an avid gardener and the author of the new book, A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac. We have some great giveways and a special pre-release sale that we’ll talk about at the end of the show.
A few news notes in the Catholic retailing world.
If you have children going through First Communion prep, you probably need to make a banner. Instead of agonizing over a design, finding parts at Hobby Lobby and cutting everything out, I have the stress-free solution for you. Our First Communion banner kits come in several styles and two different sizes with all the parts pre-cut out. Check the show notes for a link to our kits and be sure to watch the video of my daughter assembling one of the kits for her First Communion three years ago.
Following on the success of the Son of God miniseries, NBC hired the producers to make a followup, twelve part series about the Acts of the Apostles. It premiers on Easter Sunday. Sophia Institute Press has produced two companion books to go along with the series, one of which was written by Mike Aquilina, Church Fathers expert. Stay tuned in two weeks for my podcast about the new series. I’m looking forward to seeing it.
Several years ago, the Benedictines of Mary made big news with their chart-topping Advent at Ephesus CD. This year, they have a new album out, Easter at Ephesus featuring twenty seven Easter classics. I’ve put a link to the CD in the show notes.
Be sure to visit the Catholic Book Blogger over at Patheos this week for his interview with Joseph Pearce and also for a giveaway of Lenten books.
Okay, let’s get on to the interview.
Ian: Today, I’m interviewing Margaret Realy about her new book, A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac. Margaret is an oblate of Saint Benedict, she’s a blogger and retreat master and she’s here to talk us about working on a spiritual garden. Welcome to the show Margaret!
Margaret: Thank you so much!
Ian: How did you come up with the idea for this book? And I’ve seen gardening books before but this is a very different type of gardening book.
Margaret: Well about 6 years ago, when my first book came out, which is A Garden of Visible Prayer which, is now on its second edition. But when that first book it was being produced by Circle Media, Father Bartunek and Claudia Volkman had asked me to write something in a Gardening theme for Catholics to take it away from the new age perspective of nature and God, so it was with their input the book began.
Ian: That’s great! So, this book is something close to your heart, right? You’ve enjoyed gardening a lot.
Margaret: Yes, I was born into it pretty much. My parents business was greenhousing.
Ian: Oh Okay.
Margaret: And when I lived with my maternal grandmother, I really then developed the love of gardening, I saw what happened to green house plants. Of course when you’re working in a business, it’s very miopic and you just see what’s happening very close, especially if you’re a child and then to see what happened to those plants that went out of the garden and into the landscape, I was really fascinated and I wanted to learn more about it.
Ian: So in this book it’s a year long almost spiritual journey that you take people on. Can you briefly describe the structure of the book?
Margaret: The book is set up, every month has a theme and it’s based on, first of all, the calendar of the church and what is going on each month. Each month has a dedication. Most people are familiar that May is dedicated to Mary, so with that concept Ave Maria Press and I expanded, actually incorporated several manuscripts into this one book and focus on each month. Each month will contain a garden theme, like I said focused on the monthly dedication of our Church and also liturgical events and topics occurring in that month. I have Bible stories and verses related to that theme and there’s stories about saints and feast days. I also give practical gardening tips or techniques specifically related to that month in our gardening seasons, as well as faith-filled gardening activities that are specific to the liturgical season. I have Bible passages and at the very end a monthly prayer focus.
Ian: Looking at the monthly dedications that you have in here for each month, it’s nice that you put those in because a lot of people may be familiar with May being for Mary and October being the Rosary but the other one’s I think for a lot of people are lost, so this is the great way to get people more in tune or in touch with their faith throughout the year.
Margaret: Yes very much. That was why I wanted to do the book in the first place. You hear so much about the new evangelization and bringing our church into the 21st century and one of the things that I wanted to do was not only to evangelize and to help people understand their church but I’m coming at it from the other side of the scale. I’m evangelizing anew with the oldest words of love which are God’s parables from nature, so that’s how I’ve kind of brought the book into being with that perspective.
Ian: Well since it’s March and the book is coming out in, it’s coming out on March 20th or the Monday after?
Margaret: March 23rd is its official launch.
Ian: Okay great, so this is coming out in just couple of weeks and we’re going to have a couple of specials at the end of the show to talk about related to the book for people who want to get it but since we’re looking at the book now in March, let’s take a look at the chapter on March which is about pruning, which is a perfect thing to go in line with Lent.
Margaret: Yes I’m very fond of pruning. It’s the hope-filled art tool in the garden. Everything is directional and pruning is either to create better shape, to enhance the growth of a plant or to be more fruitful, so it’s very much in line with what God wants for us in our life.
Ian: Now looking at the March saints there’s some in here which I’ve never heard of, which is really neat because I get a little bit of education about saints, such as, Saint Ansovinus of Camarino who’s a patron for the protection of crops. Here in Colorado we got plenty of hail so having a patron, protection of crops is a great idea. So what other saints did you put into this book? Just name a few of them that people would be interested in hearing about.
Margaret: It’s April 2nd, Saint Urban of Langres, I think that’s how to say it L A N G R E S, and he is the patron saint of vine growers. It was very early on that this particular saint, he was in the of 300’s I believe, yeah 327 to 390, but he was very much loved by the vine growers and the workers and would help them – you know convert to Christianity, and they helped him and his ministry to convert others and also to help protect him and keep him hidden from the Roman Empire. And in his devotion to consecrating the wine into the Precious Blood, he developed a deep affection for these people who made the wine and loved him in return. And interesting enough, he’s not only the patron of vintners but also the patron of alcoholics.
Saint Botolph of Ikenhoe is a patron of agriculture workers, and often times when they were building monasteries in the early centuries, the land that they would have is usually very barren and basically leftover property. And so it really developed a lot of the monks and to focus on spiritual development as well as the lands because they had to depend from God for everything they couldn’t just grow it. And Saint Botolph, in the year of 654 had recruited enough brothers and hermits to begin work on the Benedictine monastery on Ox-Island which we know was Ikenhoe in England, they said that he was often assaulted for his efforts and thwarted by evil spirits who occupied the desolate, swampy island. They wanted to keep that piece of land from him and his brothers. So through faith and hard work, the monastery grew and the population turned the large scrubby marshland into productive farming and grazing land. And he also became a favorite of the people because most of the people in that area were unsavory types – I guess it was the best way to put it – so he converted them as well and through this, Saint Botolph, they named a town after him in England, and then also in the states they also named Boston after St. Botolph.
Ian: Oh okay! That’s interesting I had no idea where that name came from.
Margaret: Yeah, it was fascinating to me, there’s a lot of different theories as to why the name was changed from Botolph to Boston, and whether it was Norwegian or Scandinavian, they’re not sure of the etymology, but one thing that was interesting is he was often called The Turnip Chap, because the feast was celebrate at the time of root crops were harvested and then planting- I’m sorry, the planting of root crops, and that included of course- you know, turnips and yeah so he name means The Turnip Chap, one of his monikers.
Ian: Oh that’s funny. Well, let’s take a look at April because you know some good tips and I want people to understand that this book has wonderful spiritual aspect but also some very handy tips on working in your garden, so in the April section you talk about composting which is very important for gardening so can you give us some tips on proper composting?
Margaret: One thing that I always say to my students or participants in gardening class is compost happens. You know, and it’s not a high, it can be high touch and can have a lot of times when I’m around other composters, they really get into composting, in the temperature, so much to add that you don’t.. my eyes often glaze over. It can be so complex and it need not be.
Ian: You can make anything as complex as you wanted to be.
Margaret: I think so and composting, I list in the book the misconceptions I had that needed to be reworked. The first one was composting is complicated. Well it’s not. Use green material which be like lawn cutting or stuff from the kitchen, throw in some dried leaves or straw, toss in water, make sure it’s in the sun or cover it with something and it will cook, innevitably, it will just cook. So- you know it’s not that hard to do. Another one was, my yard is too small for a compost pile. Well, you have to think of it, if you have a large yard of course you’re going to need a large compost pile because you’re going to have a lot of yard waste. But for really small gardens, city-lot size, mine is even smaller than that, you can use something as simple as a black garbage can. You want it black so that it will absorb the sun rays to make it hot and just drill some one inch holes, around and of course at the bottom for drainage, and just put your compost in there, water it down. I used a bungee cord to secure the lid and then I roll it around on the driveway, toss it down inside and then roll it around- you know, with a compost pile that small and you don’t have to see it.
Ian: It sure is nice to be able to see how easy it can be to do this and to improve your garden without a lot of expense and actually a whole lot of effort if you just take a little bit of time to do this, so that’s very handy.
Now one of the other things I really liked about your book is that you have different themed gardens that you can make throughout the year. Can you tell us about some of those?
Margaret: Yes. Lot’s of catholic think that the only garden is in Marian Garden,
Ian: Well of course.
Margaret: I mean it is the most well loved and most familiar garden for Catholics but there’s so much more in our heritage and that’s one of the main purposes of the book is to say there is more to a Catholic spiritual garden than that. You can have a garden that- well see, a Divine Mercy Garden, I’m very fond of the Divine Mercy, and the colors for Divine Mercy are red and white. There are plants like the Bleeding Heart that are red and white, of course bleeding hearts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
You can go with the Station of the Cross Garden which doesn’t need to be as elaborate as we see in public environments. It could be very small and personal and it can be a symbol as selecting a plant that is symbolic of a particular station of the Cross, and this putting a simple little placard or wood burned piece, maybe a steppingstone with the number one for the first station. That’s another way you can do it in a home garden. If you can, have it dedicated to a particular saint. An easy one that everybody knows is Saint Patrick with clover, well you can have accents – you know, plant it in your garden, there other symbols of different saints or a metal object in the garden can define a spiritual garden in that sense.
Ian: Right, I like your Stations of the Cross garden. You give a whole bunch of suggestions in here for different things you can use for each stations, so that’s really wonderful. And then at the end of each chapter you have a section on the spiritual prayer aspects of the month and things to consider.
Margaret: Well, what I’ve tried to do is for the focus of June is to draw it in personally to the individual. And I’m looking in the month of June here, and it reads “There are two things that must always be meditated on together in the devotion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Christ’s Heart of Flesh and Christ’s Love for us. Was there a moment in your life when a shift occured in your heart, a change in circumstances unexpectedly took place, or a particular grace was given?”
And what I do is I list a number of questions and I ask people to reflect on. I ask them to think about how your heart was changed when it encountered the heart of Jesus in that situation? Or maybe they attend the adoration, do they pray before the blessed sacrament for conversation of their hearts? Usually, for conversion is somebody else’s. So every month takes whatever the theme is and asks that you reflect on it personally for your own being and your own soul.
Ian: Now for this book, since it comes out on the 23rd, what we are going to do is we’re going to give away a free copy to our listeners. So to enter the drawing for the book, you can post a comment on this blog post with a picture of your garden or a favorite memory you have of a garden at home and also, we’re going to be giving 15% off as a pre purchased price on it until the 23rd. And Margaret you also were having a giveaway related to your new book, can you please tell me about that!.
Margaret: Yes! people can go to my blog site Morning Rose Prayer Garden and register there for the contest to a rafflecopter, and what it is, is I have a gift pack of some of my favorite items in the garden that includes tools, well a tool, books, journals, the basket is about a $75 gift and I’m very excited to be able to share some of my favorite things, with people who like my book.
Ian: That’s wonderful and the giveaway will start on the day the book is released so I will put a link in the show notes to your blogs so the people can go find them.
Margaret thank you for joining me on the show today, how can people get in touch with you if they want to learn more about your books?
Margaret: Well they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I also have a blog called Morning Rose Prayer Garden and that’s on the Patheos Catholic Website.
Ian: Margaret I really do appreciate you, coming on the show today to share this book and I’m looking to getting it from my wife as a present.
Margaret: Thank you so much have a blessing in your week.
Ian: Thank you, you too.
Thank you for joining me today. For links to the books and websites we discussed today, see the show notes. Please subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and comment on this and past episodes at aquinasandmore.com/podcast.
Stay tuned next week as I talk with Brother John McKenzie about his new children’s book, The Life of Saint Benedict.
At Aquinasandmore.com we are in the business of strengthening your Faith through the products we sell. I look forward to having you shop with us where good faith is guaranteed. God bless.
- A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac
- Margaret Realy’s Blog
- First Communion Banner Kits
- The Life of Saint Benedict
- A.D. books
- Mike Aquilina’s Blog
- The Catholic Book Blogger
- Easter at Ephesus
He lives with his lovely wife and eleven kids in northern Colorado.