You see her image all over Mexico from taxi rearview mirrors to T-shirts and tattoos. She is Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron of Latin America, celebrated every year on her feast day, Dec. 12. I know her well for this is my birthday, too, and all my life her image has been a part of my spiritual world. As a horticulturist, I am keen on the role of plants in this miracle, and that’s why there will always be a small corner of my garden dedicated to her.
What few understand is why roses became part of this legend. It’s because the Spanish held a special link to the rose of Castile, Rosa damascena. This rose was native to Damascus, Syria, and likely brought to Europe by the Moors, who occupied Spain during medieval times.
In the Guadalupe story, St. Juan Diego came upon a “lady” in the midst of winter on top of rocky, dry Tepeyac Hill in what is now Mexico City. His story was not believed by the local bishop, who asked for a sign only he would recognize. The lady told Juan to gather roses that miraculously appeared in the volcanic stone and cactus of Tepeyac. Juan filled his agave fiber cloak with the strange flowers and carried them to show the bishop as proof. When he opened the cloak, roses of Castile tumbled out, leaving behind an image of the lady indelibly imprinted upon the cloth. This same miraculous image on Juan’s actual cloak hangs in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, where this feast day is the greatest of all.
Like so many who honor her in their yards, you can create a bit of hallowed ground for a shrine in your garden as an expression of faith and spirituality. These mini focal points offer more than simply aesthetic elements, but those with real meaning to you and your entire family. If you’ve longed to create a sacred spot in your garden but don’t know how to get started, follow these simple steps.
- Designate a spot. Small garden shrines are rarely front and center. Because they inspire contemplation, yours will have more “feel” if it’s in an out-of-the-way spot or secluded from the rest of your living spaces.
- Select an image. This can be a picture, a statue or even a keepsake with special memories. It must be sized to fit the spot you’ve selected, or choose one lightweight enough to bring indoors for the winter. Make sure a heavier statue is able to stand up to the weather for year-round visibility despite snow and ice.
- Raise it up. Most statues are small and need to stand upon a pedestal. You can buy one or just turn a beautiful pot upside down and place your image on that.
Page 2 of 2 - - Devise an altar. Most garden shrines have a flat surface in front where you can group candles, burn incense, offer bouquets of flowers or incorporate other images. Use a flagstone, a plank of weathered old barn wood or anything else that’s flat enough for things to stand securely.
- Plant the setting. For a Guadalupe shrine, the plants are always roses and cacti. The self-maintaining Flower Carpet or Knock Out roses are easy to grow and maintenance-free. Create a beautiful framework with leafy plants in colors you love to make the spot beautiful in the day, then add a strand of twinkle lights for subtle illumination after sunset.
No matter your faith, expressing it with a garden shrine is a meaningful way to personalize your yard and garden. Human efforts to bring elements of the divine into the landscape are age-old practice. Be sure your space is comfortable with a seat where you can slip away after a hectic day at the office into your own bit of heaven to relax, meditate or pray.
Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at MoPlants.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or PO Box 891, Morongo Valley, CA 92256.