Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

Saints looking up into the face of God

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Over the past ten months, something has been growing near the Lourdes Grotto. Standing in the Grotto, and peeking around a couple of bushes, you will find Br. Andrew’s Grotto Garden. On the left side of the Grotto is an old, small building that looks like a cottage. Beside that there is something that had been overlooked for many years. This area was once a reservoir. As the years passed, it stopped being used, and the brick-framed rectangle was filled with stones, dirt, and old bricks. It was then covered by weeds, small trees, and vines. While walking one day, Br. Andrew spotted a tulip growing in the brush. After looking around the area, he was pleased to also find day lilies growing. This was all the inspiration he needed to begin his work on a garden.

After working through the winter, and even on Christmas day, he has accomplished a great amount. The garden is beautifully laid out using the stones and old bricks that had once filled the unused reservoir. It is very early in the planting season, but if you use your imagination (while listening to a description from the gardener) you can see three different sections: “Asian, cottage, and woodland.” He describes the future of the garden, saying, “As you walk in, there will be Asian plants first. I really like them because they are unique and there are so many brilliant varieties.” The area to the left of the entrance is reserved for a fish pond. Then, “at the feet of a donated Mary statue, is the center of the garden, which has a cottage garden feel.” As the labels in the garden show, the area will be filled with colorful flowers, including tulips, violets, daisies, and more than five kinds of lilies. Many people are familiar with Br. Andrew and his wit; those people will appreciate his decision to also include some lucifer in his plantings (lucifer is a plant with a red-orange bloom).

At the very back of the garden is the “woodland area.” There, visitors are accompanied by the wrens and sparrows taking advantage of the bird feeders, large shrub, and a bird bath. The garden also has a bird house and a bat house. Br. Andrew plans to provide the woodland area with larger, bushier plants which will encourage birds to continue visiting. This is his favorite area, and perhaps his principle motivation for creating the garden: “I love birds,” he says. “I actually like birds more than I like flowers.”

The Grotto Garden has required a huge effort. Br. Andrew is sure to acknowledge those who have been kind in “giving their time, energy and treasures” to his project. However, it is clear that he has spent many days clearing vines, plowing dirt, removing clay, digging up stones and bricks, and designing the layout—all this before any planting even took place. As the weather has gotten warmer, he has finally been able to do a lot of actual planting. He is waiting on some flowers to come up and he has a lot of plans for the future; “There are a lot of nifty things to come,” he says.

In addition to working in the actual garden area, Br. Andrew has beautified the area around it. He believes that “the context of the garden is just as important.”

Besides adding a stone-lined path, pruning existing bushes, and planting some bulbs in the surrounding areas, he has planted grass. It has taken a lot of work to level and fertilize the now-grassy area, but he doesn’t mind doing it: “I like a lot of different flowers, but I really like grass. I know it sounds silly. I just think it’s a fascinating plant.”

When the flowers begin to bloom, many people will be tempted to pick them; we all enjoy decorating our rooms or wooing our loves with flowers. This garden, though, is intended for everyone’s viewing pleasure. Thomas Merton, reflecting on inanimate beings that give glory to God “by being precisely what He wants them to be,” writes that flowers “are saints looking up into the face of God.” So, come, sit, and enjoy the beauty of this peaceful garden. But, please leave the flowers so that they may continue to please both God and future visitors.

Christopher Lux

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