My mother, Mary, had the most amazing garden. I remember it well. Summer days were spent finding worms, playing with desert caterpillars and holding ladybugs in my hand. She would be gardening most mornings and as she gardened she would hand me bumblebees to hold in my hand. She would tell me, “Es un abejorro y no pica, hold it” and they never did sting me. I remember Miguelito along the rock walls, madreselva on the fence and our favorite morning glory growing up and down and all around the house. Their scents would fill the summer night air that breezed into our rooms as we slept with the windows open. My sisters and I would wake to pull the wicks out of the honeysuckle vine and taste the morning nectar. My mom raised three girls and a traditional Mexican garden with all the herbs needed to season her menudo and plants to cure a stomach ache. Her time in the garden was therapeutic for her and that special time is one of the fondest memories I have of my childhood.
My mom inherited a home that my father purchased as a gift to his own mom with his GI bill benefits after coming home from the war (World War II). He promised his mom he would always take care of her and he never married until after she passed. I guess you could say my dad was the quintessential Mama’s boy--committed to care for his first love until her passing. That house raised many generations in my family and always had a thriving garden even to this day. In our home two gardens were grown, the first was my grandmother's, the second my mother’s.
My grandmother’s garden grew around a central rosemary bush. It was more like a tree than a bush because it was so large. El romero would overpower the scent of all the other herbs and flowers she grew. Toloaches grew along the side of the house and early on we were forewarned not to eat them or stick our fingers in our mouth after touching them. The garden had plenty of different colored oleanders that decorated the surrounding area as well as a pear tree that lent us shade while providing the family fresh pears annually. For cooking purposes she grew epazote herb that grew rampant along with thyme and marjoram. She grew estafiate, annatto, squash, oregano, onions and lemon verbena. Her garden, of course, included the go-to medicinal herb for an upset stomach, the well known hierbabuena. I never met my paternal grandmother but growing up in her house and garden gave me the feeling that I knew her.
My mom loved my grandmother’s garden and kept it growing while adding on to it. My mom loved chile, all kinds of chile, so she added to the garden her favorite varieties of chiles. My mom added pomegranate trees or as we called them “granadas”. As kids we loved to use the granadas as weapons. We would throw them at each other hard enough to leave strawberries on our skin and break open so we could eat the inside. Who would have guessed there were so many health benefits growing in our own backyard arsenal. My mother also added, tomatillo plants, watermelons, lantana bushes and many, many rose bushes. She would spend hours with her roses. My dad, an avid polaroid photographer, took pictures every year of my mom posing with her roses. For six years after she passed he placed roses from her garden in her bedroom almost daily.
Soon after my mom’s death some of the flowers and plants she tended in her house started popping up around my home, the house I lived in at the time with my husband and kids. First to pop up were chile bushes and then toloaches. Huge lantana bushes and then desert lilies started to grow. I, being “too busy” to garden, would remove these plants from the roots and then a few weeks later there they were again. These plants from my mom’s garden that were invading my house were invincible, almost super plants. They would not die or leave and they just kept coming back each time I had them removed. These plants even survived the severe winter freeze we had a few years ago. Nothing survived that freeze! Eventually it was useless so I stopped trying to kill them. We no longer own that house but as I look back now I think maybe she was trying to tell me something. It was as if she was trying to talk to me from the afterworld. I know now she was probably telling me to stop being too busy to garden. She was telling me to stop and smell the roses. Mom, this time I’m listening.
The Diocese of El Paso is building a community garden at the Pastoral Center in honor of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si. We have decided a community garden is a perfect way to engage with our community in caring for our common home. It is also an opportunity for us to live out some of Jesus’ parables. God’s first act of creation was building a garden, The Garden of Eden. In our community garden we can experience the life and death of Jesus in the act of planting a seedling and watching it burst into life, a new creation. There exists so many wonderful and worshipful lessons we can learn and share. Our community garden can become another demonstration of God’s promise for our future.
Our community garden is in it’s infancy right now with just two canopies, cinder blocks and a beautifully crafted iron gate. But soon we'll be building the first beds and come this March we will be hosting demonstrations with our friends the Master Gardeners. I invite you, our readers, and our surrounding communities to participate in the first planting by adopting a bed. Or you can just come out and help us plant. Join me in this new venture as we garden in a profound act of worship. It looks like this time, I am going to be busy gardening. Please join me as I pray for my ancestors’ green thumbs.
The Community Garden at The Pastoral Center is located at 8330 Park Haven Ave. 79907
For more information please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 915.872.8414.