Parish gardens: Sowing, growing the seeds of Christ

April 25, 2023

At Christ the Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Spring, upwards of 25 regular volunteers plant and harvest between 7,000 and 9,000 pounds of produce per year on behalf of its garden ministry, Shepherd’s Garden, to help area food pantries. (Photo courtesy of Christ the Good Shepherd Catholic Church’s Shepherd’s Garden Ministry)

SUGAR LAND — Spring is here, and so is the urge to garden.

Dedicated dirt provides homes for daffodils and tulips, sprouting tomatoes and green bean vines that curl themselves around wooden stakes planted near more flowering foliage.

These beautiful garden scenes, kept alive and thriving, are found on various properties belonging to parishes in the Archdiocese.

But someone has to take care of all of that.

Meet Toni Perich, one of countless volunteers who spend hours each week tending to these area church gardens.

At 7:30 a.m. on Wednesdays, members of St. Fiacre Gardening Ministry flock to the grounds of St. Theresa Catholic Church and School in Sugar Land. They pull, dig and plant, all with the intention of beautifying the property.

Perich and co-chair Roxane Gautreau have led the burgeoning gardening ministry since it began in August 2021. What started with three parishioners has grown to 16. All come prepared to work with their hands and donated tools for two to three hours, including weekends.

“There is no such thing as meetings but working with shovels and dirt,” said Perich. “As you go around the campus, the scenery changes,” she said. “We just put in an Our Lady of Grace statue and a new garden arbor with growing vines. It was started a year ago and will take another year to finish. It just takes time because we are doing this in stages.”

Oak trees, Mexican petunias, marigolds and roses are some of the foliage found among nearly 10 garden areas these church members keep up — in the name of the Lord.

“At my own house, this is my hobby, and when I saw in the church bulletin that they wanted to start a garden ministry, I said ‘Lord, are you asking me to garden?’” Perich said.

She referenced nature and gardens in the Bible and pointed out that after creation, God built the Garden of Eden.

“It is so much fun, and the gardens are beautiful by mid-summer,” Perich said. “It’s the satisfaction of you doing it for the Lord.”

At Christ the Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Spring, upwards of 25 regular volunteers plant and harvest between 7,000 and 9,000 pounds of produce per year on behalf of its garden ministry, Shepherd’s Garden.

Volunteers meet three days per week, from 8 to 10 a.m. on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays.

“Our crops consist of tomatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, broccoli, several varieties of peppers, carrots, cauliflower, squash, zucchini and some herbs, such as basil and oregano,” said Ann Zdansky, garden coordinator.

The vegetable garden produces food for those who go to area food pantries because they need help. Food pantries in the Spring area include Northwest Assistance Ministries (NAM) on Kuykendahl and FM 1960, Prince of Peace Catholic Church food pantry, St. Anne’s Catholic Church’s food pantry and the Trinity Lutheran Church food pantry.

“We are doing something for someone else,” added Zdansky. “We are serving God by helping them. Some volunteers are not even Catholic. They just like to serve the community as well.”

Volunteers include those from the Master Gardener program who lend their expertise in local gardening schedules, pest eradication, and their labor.

All ministry donations are used to buy supplies like seeds, irrigation hoses, fertilizer and ant killer.

The group is currently researching the purchase of a large shipping container to store equipment. The current shipping container is full, and two smaller, rotting wooden sheds are of limited use.

Volunteers agree that tending to these gardens is a year-round responsibility but one that comes with many benefits.
Take, for instance, high school students in need of service hours.

They arrive at Shepherd’s Garden to volunteer and get a day’s lesson on food production — nature’s way.

“It’s good education to see where the food comes from,” said Zdansky. “Some kids think it just comes from H-E-B, and when they see a carrot come out of the ground, they are like ‘whoa.’”

As is the case with any church ministry, parishioner involvement is critical to its success.

At St. Thomas More Catholic Church in southwest Houston, the Garden Club’s small volunteer force maintains property gardens despite a limited crew since it began two years ago.

“This is not a large ministry, so right now there are four of us, and we are always open to new members,” said Jane Falk, Garden Club chairperson.

Besides Falk, there is Katie Lewis, and married couple Moira and Allan Kinsey, who meet weekly during the summer. In cooler months, they meet when the weather permits.

“Our meetings are in the garden, and we really don’t sit down but work, chat and pray,” Falk said.

“I think we all have to recognize that finances are limited, even in parishes,” added Falk. “We give of ourselves financially and of ourselves physically, and to be with others with the same intention is uplifting.”

Chores include trimming bushes and pulling weeds from flowerbeds, along with the removal of anything considered an eyesore.

Granddaughter Hailey Falk, 13, who helps in the garden, said, “We do it just to make sure the church looks nice, and we don’t expect anything back.”