Wanted: green thumbs to nurture creation

A bee visits a Virginia bluebell in the garden of Mary and Fred Holden in the Highlands. The bluebell is a native Kentucky wildflower that typically blooms after the last hard frost in March or April. Catholic Charities of Louisville has issued a Wildflower Garden Guide to educate Catholics on the benefits of planting pollinator gardens. (Record Photo by Jennifer Jenkins)

By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer

Catholics around the Archdiocese of Louisville are being urged to consider planting a wildflower garden.

Not only do the plants add beauty to our communities, they can act as a vital component to the health of our planet.

In his 2015 encyclical on the environment — “Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home” — Pope Francis called on Catholics around the world to provide “constant concern and attention” to Earth.

“Each of us has a personal responsibility to care for creation, this precious gift which God has entrusted to us,” Pope Francis wrote.

Mark Bouchard, who serves in the Office of Mission Advancement at Catholic Charities of Louisville, said the charitable agency’s call to plant pollinator gardens fits right in line with the Holy Father’s call to care for creation.

“Pope Francis reminds us of the gift that is our Earth. He reminds us to honor the one home we’ve been given,” Bouchard said in a recent interview.

Bouchard noted the extensive amount of property and accompanying land owned by the Archdiocese of Louisville, which stretches from the Ohio River to the Tennessee border.

Bouchard invites families, as well as parishes, schools and other church properties to consider planting a wildflower garden.

And to help you get started, Catholic Charities’ Common Earth Gardens program has produced “The Wildflower Garden Guide.”

Catholic Charities isn’t new to gardening. Its Common Earth Gardens program has been turning unused church property into gardens — for vegetables, fruits and wildflowers — since 2007. 

Pollinator gardens are predominantly planted with flowers or plant varieties that provide nectar or pollen for a variety of pollinating insects, such as bees, said Laura Stevens, director of the Common Earth Gardens and Common Table Culinary Program.

The first step is to form a team, organizers said. If you are planning to plant a garden at a parish, school or other church property, gather several volunteers and determine a budget.

“One of the biggest benefits of planting a garden, especially at a parish or school, is to instill in kids the love of nature and to encourage them to care for the environment,” Stevens said.

Next, choose a site. Gardens do not have to be large to have a big impact, Stevens said. A simple four foot by four foot garden at an individual home is sufficient.

Look for a location that gets a lot of sunshine and access to water, Stevens said. It’s also important to have some protection from strong wind and ensure the garden is far from the use of pesticides. Also, the ideal soil pH should be between 5.0 and 7.0. You can take a soil sample to your county’s local extension office.

For choosing plants, organizers have put together a list of varieties native to Kentucky, including flowers such as butterfly milkweed, scarlet bee balm, trout lily and trumpet honeysuckle.

Stevens suggested visiting local nurseries rather than big box stores because you will find more regional plants and the staff tend to be more knowledgeable, she said.

The ideal time to start planting is now, she said. Planting during spring or early summer (or later in the fall) will produce the best results, Stevens said. Avoid planting during the heat of the summer.

Once native gardens are established, they are fairly low maintenance, Stevens noted. Perennials establish roots and return year after year. The biggest concern is to weed, mulch and water regularly. Plan to weed for an hour each week.

While individual gardens are a small step in caring for creation, they’re a step in the right direction, Stevens said.

“Ultimately when we talk about environmental issues, they are people issues,” she said. “The people that are affected the most by climate and environmental issues are the ones on the margins of society.”

Those most negatively impacted by environmental issues around the world, she said, are the poor among us, whether that is by water pollution or air pollution.

Creating pollinator gardens can thwart some negative effects of climate-related issues by helping revive the health of bees, birds and butterflies, which in turn pollinate crops.

To learn more about pollinator gardens and to view the full guide, visit cclou.org/common-earth-common-table/common-earth-gardens/resources/ or call 637-9786.

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