I’m not one to use the term “miracle” lightly but every year when I see the brilliant red berries illuminating the dark green bushes behind my garage like a Christmas tree I know that something extraordinary has happened.
And I know who it is in Heaven who is smiling down on the harvest and probably saying: “Not surprised.”
Sister Wilma Schlangen was in charge of the gardens at the Monastery of St. Gertrude when I interviewed her in May, 1996 for the Lewiston Tribune. Sister Wilma was a prolific gardener, raising many of the vegetables on a quarter of an acre that fed the sisters and their guests throughout the year.
The theme of the article was Sister Wilma’s reliance on lunar gardening — an ancient practice of planting, weeding and harvesting according to the phases of the moon. She was guided by a small booklet published yearly by the Ed Hume Seed Company of Kent, Washington, and swore by its power.
When she first experimented with lunar gardening, Sister Wilma told me, she did a trial — planting some lettuce according to the moon signs and more lettuce on the off sign.
The moon sign lettuce grew profusely but the off sign crop failed to even germinate.
“My faith really increased,” Sister Wilma said. “So ever since I have been a firm believer.”
Some time later I asked Sister Wilma if I could dig up a few of the raspberry shoots that were sprouting around her prodigious raspberry patch. Sister Wilma was a driving force behind the now-famous raspberry shortcake served each year in August during the Raspberry Festival — a fundraising event for the Historical Museum at St. Gertrude.
She was happy to share the shoots with me so I dug up six and took them home and replanted them in a sunny, well-drained spot behind my garage.
I didn’t consult a lunar planting guide — or even the Farmer’s Almanac. And I also failed to employ Sister Wilma’s faithful practice of praying for each seed, each plant as she placed it into the ground.
That first year I tended the plants in my usual haphazard way, and, as might be expected, they produced no berries and by the end of the season almost all of the plants were dead.
The next spring I noticed one of the small raspberry plants had survived, but just barely. Since I didn’t have much use for a single raspberry bush I decided to ignore it and let it go the way of its brothers and sisters.
I was intrigued, however, when the tiny shoot — without any encouragement or help from me — continued to grow, turn green and produce a few, puny berries by the end of the summer.
The next spring I decided that if that neglected plant had managed to make it through the winter and was showing a strong will to survive another season I would take better care of it.
I gave it a little plant food, pulled the weeds around its plot and tried to remember to water it two or three times a week.
The plant grew and started sending out shoots of its own. By the second or third year I was harvesting an impressive amount of berries from the bushes and having to dig up and replant several of the new shoots from the fertile mother plant.
All I can say is, this raspberry bush, which continues to supply me each year with a bountiful harvest of berries, made it without much help from me. Seed nurseries sometimes sell their plants with short-term guarantees based on the survival rate. Sister Wilma offered no such assurance but my suspicion is that she inoculated the original plants with her own divine growing potion.
As I quoted her in the Tribune: “Even though Sister Wilma believes in moon phase gardening, she doesn’t rely on lunar activities alone. `When I seed, I pray to the Lord, who is creator of all, that he will bless the seeds and make them grow. Nobody can make things grow but God.’”
Sister Wilma Hildegard Schlangen died peacefully Feb. 1, 2010 at the age of 94.
Kathy Hedberg may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 983-2326.