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Plant of the Month
& Reader Contributions



Almond Tree

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Autumn Crocus

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Star of Bethlehem

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Lily of the Valley

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Rose of Sharon

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Olive Tree Part 2

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Crown Anemone (Anemone coronaria)


Photo from PxHere


onsider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 

Matthew 6:28–29 (ESV)

I decided to begin the plant of the month series with the anemone, or more specifically Anemone coronaria, as I wanted to plant these this year to see a new spring flower in my little garden, and I was told they are low maintenance. But why mention them in March? Because this is apparently the time to start checking bulb suppliers for their availability and prices for an autumn sowing. I found the anemone corms were very reasonably priced and available in mixed packs, not just one-colour packs. I’ve chosen a pack of 20 mixed, and if they grow then I’ll plant more next autumn.

That was the easy part done, and then when I began to look at the evidence for the Anemone coronaria being the lily of the field, as I had believed, I discovered that this may not be the case. Instead, it appears that at least six, and maybe more, plants are under consideration for being the Biblical lily. And over the span of more than one hundred years some of the plants put forward earlier, and then later dismissed, seem to be emerging again to claim the title of ‘lily of the field’.

I thought it may be helpful to make a chart of some of the contenders:


Scarlet Crowfoot (Ranunculus asiaticus)

MathKnight and Zachi Evenor, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Image is cropped


Mountain Tulip

(Tulipa montana)

© 2020 Mahbod Mehrin – some rights reserved, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Image is cropped


Sword Lily

(Gladiolus italicus)

Image by Hüseyin Cahid Doğan, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Image is cropped


Semitic poppy

(Papaver subpiriforme or Papaver umbonatum)




There are many species, the image is Palestinian Chamomile (Anthemis palestina) © 2022 centaur – some rights reserved, CC BY-NC 4.0

Image is cropped


And to add to this inconclusive identity of the lily are the original languages used in the books of the Bible. Does the Old Testament Hebrew word for lily have the same meaning as the Greek New Testament word?


The mystery grows!


Not being a botanist, plant specialist or student of ancient Hebrew and Greek, I am far from being able to say which plant has the most evidence to be the Biblical lily. However, I do find the evidence gathering to be interesting and appreciate the opportunity to study God’s Word from another perspective.


One of the earliest handbooks for travellers to the Holy Land was Flowers & Trees of Palestine by Augusta A Temple, which was published in 1908. It came from the author’s realisation that ‘no portable handbook containing a general list of Palestine flowers and trees existed’ when he toured Palestine in 1904. What he saw on that tour formed the foundation for a book of trees and flowers that ‘might be of use to future travellers in the Holy Land’, and he gave ‘special reference to those mentioned in the Bible’.


As this tour took place before modern agricultural practices would have been used across the country, it gives us a better picture of how the wildflowers may have looked in Jesus’ day.


In chapter one, ‘Characteristic Flowers of Palestine’, Temple says of the wildflowers he saw:

The flower that first strikes the eye in travelling through Palestine is the Anemone coronaria. It grows by the wayside, on the hills, and in every part of the country in bright profusion. In the plain of Gennesaret the anemone covers great stretches of land with its beautiful scarlet and white blossoms, and these are now generally identified with the ‘lilies of the field’ (Matt. vi. 28). Red is the prevailing colour, but white, blue, and purple are also abundant. The Arabs use the word susan (Hebrew shisan, translated ‘lily’ in the Bible) as a general term for flowers of the lily kind, such as tulip, iris, anemone, ranunculus, etc., and hence the references in the Old Testament—as, for instance, the ‘flowers of lilies’ used in the decoration of the temple built by Solomon (x Kings vii. 26), the ‘lily of the valleys’ of the Song of Solomon, the ‘lily’ of Hos. xiv. 5 (‘He shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon’), etc.—probably signified any or all of these.


He goes on to briefly describe various flowers in Palestine called lilies, and how they could all be candidates for the ‘lilies of the field’.


When my anemones flower, I won’t be able to describe them in the same manner as Temple because they won’t be spread across the fields, hills and plains of Palestine but, instead, just in a small pocket in a little garden in suburban Melbourne. Nonetheless, once I plant the corms, I’m looking forward to seeing my Anemone coronaria flowers as I cannot recall seeing any in the Holy Land when I visited in September 2019. This was during early autumn in the northern hemisphere, and it was between the flowering periods of the anemones. It was also only weeks before Covid-19 began transforming the whole world into a ‘no-go’ travel zone. Now, once again, travellers to the Holy Land can see the wildflowers that compete with one another for the title of ‘lilies of the field’.

Readers' Tips
  • Grow in full sun in well-draining soil.

  • Before planting the corms soak them in room temperature water for about 1–2 hours.

  • In the March 2023 issue of the ABC Gardening Australia magazine, there is a half-column summary about growing the Anemone coronaria on page 24  timely advice.

  • Start preparing the soil in March to receive the anemone corms and any spring bulbs you plan to plant.

  • Follow the directions for planting on the corm packaging, especially which way up to plant the corms.

  • The ABC Gardening Australia magazine has further tips for anemones in their latest April issue. These appear on page 80. One of the tips is to plant the corms with the points facing downwards.

  • Anemone corms can be stored at room temperature before being planted out.

  • Keep the planting area weed free.

  • Before planting, improve the soil with leaf mould or compost.

  • Anemones do not like wet feet, so do not overwater.

Please send your items of interest, gardening tips and experience of growing the Crown Anemone (Anemone coronaria) so we will have plenty to share on this little plant during March.

Please send all contributions to

and use subject heading Gardens of Praise.






Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majallis)



am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys. 

Song of Songs 2:1 (KJV)

Free photo from pxfuel

Did you know that Lily of the Valley was the favourite flower of her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II? It held significant memories for her, and featured in her coronation bouquet at the beginning of her 70-year reign and accompanied her to its end (according to one website*) in the floral arrangements of Westminster Abbey during her funeral service.


Lily of the Valley was also significant to the beginning and end of her long marriage to Prince Philip. Her bridal bouquet contained Lily of the Valley, and the flowers at Prince Philip’s funeral in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle included Lily of the Valley. Even the flowers displayed in her Majesty’s royal residences featured Lily of the Valley.


Many interesting facts about the late Queen’s attachment to various flowers were revealed when I viewed the television broadcast of her funeral on the ABC. I hadn’t expected this aspect of her life would be part of the commentary.

* I haven't been able to verify that Lily of the Valley was amongst the flowers displayed in Westminster Abbey, however, Lily of the Valley was represented at the end of Her Majesty's life by a poem. A Floral Tribute was written upon her death by Simon Armitage, the UK Poet Laureate. The poem is also a puzzle that contains many clues to its solution through the Lily of the Valley references and the structure of the poem.


In recent years, I have even heard it said that the Queen’s favourite flower is found in the Bible. After climbing a small mountain of reference material, I find it is highly unlikely that the ‘lily of the valley’ in the Bible is the same plant that Her Majesty admired. From its scant description in verses of Scripture, the term ‘lily of the valley’ seems to be interchangeable with the mysterious ‘lilies of the field’ that we looked at briefly in our March Plant of the Month. The same words, shushan, in the Hebrew of the Old Testament and Krinon, in the Greek of the New Testament, are used for both terms. Most importantly, I did not find Convallaria majallis, Lily of the Valley, in the botanical lists that comprise the flora of the Bible.

I did find three similarities of the Biblical lily of the valley with the Lily of the Valley plant. They are:

  1. beauty or striking appearance,

  2. flowers that have a perfume,

  3. cup shaped, if you turn the bell flowers of the Lily of the Valley upside down.


However, they each require different climate zones for ideal growing conditions. Lily of the Valley is a woodland plant found in cool temperate zones, and it is ‘not happy’ in zones that have warm or hot summers that do not offer shade from the sun or soil that can be kept sufficiently damp for the plant’s water requirements. It does not like dry conditions.


I am not denying that there are cooler areas in the Holy Land that have a more reliable source of water available, nor am I saying that there were not wetter, more fertile areas in the time of Christ and earlier. Based on my research, I believe it is possible to grow Lily of the Valley in the Holy Land, but I do not believe the Lily of the Valley plant is the Biblical lily of the valley. And I feel better equipped now to make a response the next time I hear that the Biblical lily of the valley is the same Lily of the Valley that Queen Elizabeth II favoured.


Whilst researching Lily of the Valley, I learnt that it was also the favourite flower of Christian Dior, the famous French fashion designer. His company recreated the perfume of this flower as apparently the scent cannot be produced naturally from the plant.


The Lily of the Valley is a Christian song that was written by Charles William Fry, The Salvation Army’s first bandmaster. He lived from 1838 to 1882 and wrote The Lily of the Valley in 1881, the year before his death.


Bliss Media, on the YouTube channel, present ‘old Christian songs with a small background/history about the song and the author’. In November 2020, The Lily of the Valley was featured – click to hear and see.

Readers' Tips
  • Grow plants close together and they will make a pretty ground cover.

  • This plant prefers a cooler climate. One of our WA members said that she hasn't been able to grow Lily of the Valley successfully in WA. ​In Allan Seale’s book, Gardening for Pleasure, he has a very brief paragraph on the Lily of the Valley in which he states: [it] ‘does need cold winter and a fairly cool spring to flower well.’

  • Lily of the Valley is very poisonous if swallowed and can lead to death in children and pets. Recommend always washing your hands after handling any plant.

  • I’m not familiar with the growth cycle of Lily of the Valley, but I’m told they can also have little red berries. I hadn’t previously seen images of this plant with berries so I investigated further and found quite a few on the internet, and with warnings that the berries are also toxic.

  • It is said to be a low-maintenance plant and can live for many decades.

  • Grows best in humus-rich, free-draining soil.




Lily of the valley

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)



am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys. 

Song of Songs 2:1 (KJV)

Free Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay

Which plant was the Biblical rose of Sharon?


Again, this is another mystery plant from the pages of the Bible. Scripture does not provide sufficient description to identify this 'rose', nor is it clear why it would have been called a rose.


There are a number of plants that could be the rose of Sharon, and we'll look at these later in this column. However, there is a variety of hibiscus that is labelled the Rose of Sharon or Hibiscus syriacus to give it its botanical name. It seems to have originated from southern China and India, specifically in the central and eastern regions of that area before it was introduced to countries stretching much further to its west and east, such as Syria and Korea.


I was very surprised to learn that the national flower of South Korea is the Hibiscus syriacus, although it is known there as the Mugunghwa or Korean Rose. Having visited South Korea, I cannot recall anyone pointing out their national flower to me. It was spring when I visited and everyone was excited about the cherry blossoms, which were magnificent, and looking forward to attending the blossom festivals.

According to the website Flowers in Israel, the rose of Sharon is 'one name by different people for different plants: 

        Hibiscus syriacus, Hypericum calycinum, Lilium candidum, Pancratium maritimum, 

        Narcissus tazetta, Tulipa Montana and Tulipa sharonensis’.

Most of the references that I used to gather information on the Biblical rose of Sharon seemed to favour the Narcissus tazettas as the candidate for the Rose of Sharon, mainly because of its strong perfume and beauty, and it was said to grow on the Plain of Sharon. This suggestion has been held for more than a century.

I found several century-old images of Narcissus tazetta marked as Rose of Sharon. The one seen below was reproduced from a glass negative, probably between 1900 to 1920. It was produced by the photo department of the American Colony (Jerusalem), and is held in the Matson Photograph Collection at the Library of Congress in Washington DC.


LOC title: Wild flowers of Palestine. "Rose of Sharon" (Narcissus Tazetta L)

No known restrictions on publication of this image.


Horatio Spafford

Public Domain image

The American Colony (Jerusalem) was a religious community begun by Horatio and Anna Spafford in 1881. Some of you will recognise their names, particularly Horatio. He wrote the words of the hymn It is Well With My Soul after the tragic loss of his four young daughters. All four children drowned when the ocean liner they were travelling on with their mother, Anna, sank quickly after a collision with another vessel.

Readers' Tips
  • Plant Rose of Sharon close together to form a hedge full of flowers in summer and autumn.

  • It prefers a sunny location in the garden in moist soil that drains well.

Please send your items of interest, gardening tips and experience of growing the Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) so we will have plenty to share on this plant during May.

Please send all contributions to

and use subject heading Gardens of Praise.




Rose of Sharon

Fig Tree (Ficus carica)



Above: Image by Hedwig Storch, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Left: Free Image by  Jason Goh from Pixabay


ou can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 

Matthew 7:16 (NLT)

The fig tree is mentioned from the very first book of the Bible and throughout both the Old and New Testaments. 

     Then the eyes of the two of them were opened [that is, their awareness increased], and they knew that they were naked; and they fastened fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. Genesis 3:7 (Amplified Bible)


The fig was, and is, an important food in the diet and health of people living in the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean regions. Parts of the fig tree, such as the leaves, have multiple uses, including being edible, however, it is said that the wood of the fig tree has little value.

I like figs, but I have come across many people who think figs look scary. I think the price of figs is scary – between $12–20 per kilogram is beyond my budget. My Nanna introduced me to figs as my parents weren’t keen on them. Nanna was occasionally given a gift of delicious homemade fig jam, which I found to be at its best when spread over butter on very fresh bread or hot buttered toast. Whenever I come across homemade fig jam, I usually buy it because it evokes the memory of my wonderful Nanna, and the many hours I spent with her during my childhood and beyond.


Fig jam. Image by Rinaldo R, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Speaking of memories, an epic fig tree moment for me happened not long before the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted our lives. I was blessed to visit the Holy Land with a study group. There, I had the pleasure of sitting in the shade of the sprawling branches of a fig tree, growing in the centre of a stone-walled courtyard, just off a narrow but busy street in Jerusalem.

Since then, I have been weighing up whether to attempt growing a dwarf fig tree in my little garden. The biggest hurdle in coming to a decision has been the possible damage that the roots of this tree may cause in such a confined space. I would also like to grow a date palm, again that would have to be a dwarf variety, and I haven’t found a solution yet for ‘squeezing’ both trees into such a small area because I don’t want to grow them in pots.

So, my tip for this month is to consider growing a dwarf variety of the fig tree if you have a small garden, but you don’t have to take as long as me to make a decision on whether it will be suitable.

As I continued my research into the fig tree, I came across an excellent and very informative website that specialises in growing fig trees It has many tips and videos on the care of a fig tree, and information on the size of fig trees and how far their roots spread. A section on dwarf varieties of the fig tree offered sound advice to bear in mind when choosing which fig tree to grow:

       ‘Dwarf fig trees can prove more challenging to establish due to their weaker root systems. They also tend to mature later, producing inferior fruit in their early years, are more susceptible to root rot, and in general, their performance in containers can be subpar.’


From the other sources I consulted, I learnt that the fig is related to the mulberry – that surprised me. I also discovered that some varieties of fig tree can produce more than one crop of figs throughout their usual fruiting season, which can be from early spring to late autumn. Hopefully, one day I will plant a fig tree and be so much better prepared because of the things I have learnt about this tree.

Many of the readers of this website have or had a fig tree, and we would love to hear your experience of growing and maintaining a fig tree in your garden. You may also like to share a fig tree memory with us. 

Please email

Fig Tree Tips
  • One member told me that her sister cares for another sister's fig tree, after that sister passed away, and she keeps it small by pruning it back each year after it finishes producing fruit. She also sees no reason why a fig tree could not be grown in a pot.

  • Pick ripe figs before they fall to the ground and spoil.

  • Fig trees require soil that drains well and is moist, but not wet.

  • A fig tree can usually recover well from any damage it may receive.

  • The leaves of the fig tree can be an irritant to some people.

  • Fig trees should be planted in a sunny area of the garden that is protected from strong winds.

  • It’s best to plant a fig tree in winter.

Please send your items of interest, gardening tips and experience of growing a fig tree (Ficus carica) so we will have plenty to share on this plant during June.

Please send all contributions to

and use subject heading Gardens of Praise.



  • John Hutton Balfour, The Plants of the Bible, Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1885, pp. 40–43. Available from:

  • Monty Don, The Complete Gardener, Second Edition, Dorling Kindersley Ltd, London, 2021, p. 410.

  • Larousse Gardening & Gardens, English Translation, The Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd, London,1990, pp. 130–131.

  • Lytton John Musselman, A Dictionary of Bible Plants, Cambridge University Press, 2012, pp. 55–57. Available from:

  • Allan Seale, Gardening for Pleasure, Harper & Row (A'Asia) Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1979, p. 139.



Fig trees in pots Wurzburg, Germany. Image by Julie CorsiCC BY 2.0

Ficus carica

Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera)

Bowl of dates.png


Date background: Public Domain Image License: CC0 Public Domain

Bowl of dates: Free Image from <a href= target="_blank">


hen he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes. 

2 Samuel 6:19 (NIV)

Juicy dates? I don’t know how many of you have been fortunate enough to eat a juicy date, and you may have to travel a long way for this to happen. The President of Australian Church Women told me: ‘The best dates I have ever tasted were those I had when I was in Israel. They were so juicy.’

I, too, had the pleasure of eating dates when I was in Israel. The leaders of the study tour purchased a box of dates from a local stall holder, and we shared them on the coach as we travelled to our next site. They were very moist and had lots of flavour.


Prior to this taste experience, I can only remember eating drier and dried dates, two different things. I think the closest I would have come to a ‘juicy’ date was in a very moist cake or pudding. Who can resist a serve of warm sticky-date pudding with caramel or butterscotch sauce and fresh cream – poured or whipped? An even more decadent treat is a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of the sauce before adding the cream. I know some purists of this delicious dessert would never consider adding ice cream, but it is so ‘moreish’.


If you have a recipe for sticky-date pudding, why not share it with us, unless it’s a secret family recipe.


Dates, like figs, were a staple food in the diet and health of ancient people groups who lived in the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean regions. This tradition has carried through to the present day, and many commercial date-palm groves are farmed in that part of the world. The groves often begin at the side of the road and stretch into the distance.


On a couple of occasions, as my study group was driving past these groves, we saw the dates being harvested. It looked like a labour-intensive process with lots of ladders against the palms, and workers busy amongst the palm fronds and on the ground below. It gave me a better appreciation of the work involved in delivering dates to the consumer.


Harvesting dates in Iraq, Public Domain Image

Even though I saw many groves of date palms in Israel in 2019, my experience was quite different from that of Augusta A Temple when he toured Palestine in 1904. In his book, Flowers & Trees of Palestine, he wrote: 

     The date-palm was from earliest times associated with Palestine, and was the symbol on its coinage. It is still abundant at Beyrout, but has almost disappeared from Jericho and other places. Many passages in the Bible show that palm-trees were far more plentiful in old times than at the present day. Jericho was called the city of palm-trees; Phoenicia, Hazazon-Tamar, by the Dead Sea, and other towns, were named from them. Palms were luxuriant at Jericho, in the ravine of the Jordan, round the Sea of Galilee, and in other places, and masses of them are found on the shores of the Dead Sea tossed up by the waves, the pathetic tree skeletons of the giants of bygone years.


Temple’s experience of the location of date palms was not only different from mine, but he states that his was in contrast to a much earlier distribution of these trees in Palestine.


I was also surprised to see Beyrout [Beirut] mentioned, as I did not see many date palms growing naturally in Beirut when I travelled there in 2011. I knew that Lebanon was part of ancient Phoenicia, but I did not make the connection with the botanical name of the date palm – Phoenix dactylifera – until I read this section of Temple’s book.


Further research informed me that Phoenicia was known to the Greeks and Romans as “the land of palms”. Sadly, that is not a memory I have of modern-day Lebanon. I did see palms, but they had been planted and installed in narrow garden strips alongside roads and around public spaces, similar to many other places in our modern world, including countries where the date palm is not a native plant. Perhaps those indigenous palms of Lebanon still exist in the parts of Lebanon that I did not visit, or they are in areas beyond Lebanon that were once included in the territory of Phoenicia.


What is significant for the modern gardener is that date palms can be grown in countries that have suitable growing conditions, even if they lie far beyond the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean regions.

Date Palm Tip
  • Date palms can have a huge crown of fronds that can be larger than a small garden. Collect as much information on this plant as you can before deciding to grow one.

Please send your items of interest, gardening tips and experience of growing a Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera) so we will have plenty to share on this plant during July.

Please send all contributions to

and use subject heading Gardens of Praise.




Date Palm

Grape (Vitis vinifera)



nd they came to the Valley of Eshcol and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them; they also brought some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the Valley of Eshcol, because of the cluster that the people of Israel cut down from there.

Numbers 13:23–24 (ESV)

There are numerous references to the grape in the Bible and, in fact, this plant receives first prize for being the most referenced throughout Scripture. The grape weaves through the verses of the Bible like the tendrils of its vine, as they curl along and around the trellis that offers them support. It acts as an apt reminder to look at the whole passage of Scripture in which the grape is mentioned, so as to see more clearly its context within the adjacent verses. This reminder applies to all Scripture, that it should always be examined in light of its original cultural, historical and literary background. To ignore context leads to misunderstanding God’s Word.


Grapes and grapevines are impressed upon the memories of so many of us. When I was a child, I was fascinated by the grapevine that one of my grandmothers had at the rear of her house. It ran the full width of the house on an old and well-weathered timber structure that also served as a pergola. In the heat of the West Australian summer, it provided so much welcome shade, especially to the lean-to kitchen to which it was attached. Even though there weren’t many visits to this grandmother’s house, it seemed like I spent hours in the shade of that vine playing, reading, or mesmerised by the engaging activities of the ants, as they busied themselves collecting the many things that they found among the leaves and clusters of fruit.


The best thing about that grapevine was its fruit – large, green, sweet and juicy grapes. Perhaps they seemed so good because I rarely received a share of the harvest.


If you have a memory, story or gardening tip about grapes, why not share it with us.


‘The vine has followed the footsteps of man, and has been transplanted by him into all parts of the world.’

(Balfour, The Plants of the Bible)


I was interested to read in A Dictionary of Bible Plants that recent research is suggesting that grapes were first cultivated in the Zagros Mountains of eastern Iraq. Showing my ignorance, I have to admit that I’ve never thought of Iraq as a country known for its grapes. Once other countries began growing grapes, it developed much later into the huge commercial vineyards that are scattered across our modern world, and we lost sight of the origins of the grape.


The Bible is a valuable resource for taking us back to ancient times, and gives us quite a few details on how the grapes were grown. The people of those days relied upon a successful harvest of the humble grapes grown in their region – without the aid of the sophisticated methods of production that are employed today. However, recent natural disasters, such as floods and fire, have strikingly portrayed to us that modern agriculture is still vulnerable when humans cannot control the effects of calamity.


In Flowers and Trees of Palestine, its author saw in 1904:

     The vine, the emblem of the nation, is also very abundant, and in the same districts as of old. The hills about Jezreel, where was Naboth’s vine-yard, are still celebrated for their vines, and in the Valley of Eshcol may be seen to this day the great ‘clusters of grapes’ (Num. xiii. 23, 24).

In Rev. Henry S Osborn’s book Plants of the Holy Land, I came across an intriguing story about no grapes in Egypt during the time of the Biblical patriarchs, which proved that the text of the Bible was false. Osborn wrote:

… some skeptics discovered what they supposed to be the proof of an error in the books of Moses. The record there plainly speaks of the chief butler and the wine and grapes in Egypt. (Gen. xl.) But history and facts were against the statement. The Greek historian Herodotus, who wrote of Egypt more than four hundred years before the time of our Saviour, declares that no vines grew in Egypt; and the opinions of others added authority to that historian’s statement. The soil was examined and found to be wanting in the ingredients necessary to sustain the grape; and the conclusion was that here was an error in Scripture. For two thousand years the testimony of Moses stood alone in its contradiction to the testimony of historians and the voice of the soil. But a Frenchman, (M. Costaz,) during a visit to the catacombs and caverns of an ancient city on the Nile, discovered sculptures revealing the fact that, at a time long before the birth of the Greek historian, there lived men who planted vineyards and made wine in Egypt, and had carved in the rock the history of the whole process; and, as the curiosity of antiquaries was stimulated, other places were opened, and a certain sediment was found in ancient jars; and chemists knew this sediment to be the remains of ancient wines. The first discoveries were made at the present little Arab village of El Kâb, the ancient Elethyia, on the right bank of the Nile. But what shall we say of those examinations of the soil that led to the decision against the growth of the vine in ancient Egypt? They were doubtless correct. But, while they had reference only to the present state of the land, they merely proved that many centuries ago the soil of Egypt had undergone a change, and that the plants which once grew there had taken their departure, or had perished, long before the time of Herodotus.

I have not verified this story, although I did find some illustrations of the walls of El Kâb that showed images of agriculture. This is another rabbit hole beckoning me to explore another day.


In the New Testament Scriptures, they point to the importance of the vine to Jesus’ followers when He calls Himself the true vine in John 15:1, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.’ When I first became a Christian, a colleague gave me a hymn book and on the first page he wrote: ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.’ John 15:16.


May the humble grape continue to remind us of Jesus’ Words and His purpose for our life.

Grape Tips
  • Grapevines must be pruned annually to keep disease at bay and increase the quality and yield of grapes.

  • Be sure to purchase the grape variety that is suited to your local climate.

  • Grow in soil with good drainage and preferably a deep, moist soil, as the roots of the vine can grow down quite deep.

  • Annual mulching in the spring helps to keep the roots cool in the summer.





Pomegranate (Punica granatum)


hy did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!

Numbers 20:5 (NIV)


I like to drink pomegranate juice, but I do not like trying to eat pomegranates – too many seeds, too little juice for me. When I was growing up, I cannot remember ever seeing a pomegranate, never alone eating one. Pomegranates did not appear to be a fruit that any of my  family or friends ate.


It wasn’t until I was in my twenties, and at a relative’s home, that I was first offered a taste of a pomegranate. They cut this piece of fruit in half and gave it to me. It looked so strange, and I didn’t know where to start. It was full of large, red, juicy-looking ‘bits’ with just a thin covering of white flesh inside its hard skin. I tasted a small piece of the white flesh, and it was bland and pithy like the inside of orange skin.


Then I picked at the ‘bits’ and discovered they were large seeds that also had a thin covering, except that it was juicy and delicious. But there was so little juice in proportion to the size of the hard seed that it encased. It was a disappointing introduction to a new taste experience, and I decided that I was unlikely to try eating another pomegranate.


Fast forward another decade, and I was offered a glass of pomegranate juice. Delicious! From then on, I have only had pomegranate juice.

I wonder what your experience has been, not only of eating the pomegranate but also growing and caring for a pomegranate tree.


Image by Susanne Wick from Pixabay

It seems that the pomegranate has had a long history of being grown in the Holy Land, although it is considered to have originated in Western Asia and to be native to countries stretching from Pakistan to Türkiye. When Augusta Temple visited the Holy Land in 1904, he recorded that pomegranate trees were ‘cultivated everywhere’.


And there are many instances, including in the Bible, of the pomegranate being recognised not only as a source of food but also for its beauty and decorative appeal. According to John Hutton Balfour, author of The Plants of the Bible: ‘The beauty of the flower and fruit, and the use of the latter as an article of food, caused the plant to be cultivated in gardens.’


I have learnt many things about the pomegranate in researching this plant. One thing that really surprised me is that some varieties have bitter or sour fruit rather than sweet. I have never heard anyone refer to pomegranates tasting bitter or sour.


Other surprising information about the pomegranate is that it is a berry, and its rind has been used in the production of leather since ancient times. Having little knowledge of plant botany, I needed to find out why the pomegranate is considered to be a berry. According to the Kew Gardens’ website, it is a berry because the fleshy fruit comes from the ovary of a single flower.


As for being used in the process of tanning leather, Balfour said: ‘The rind was employed for tanning and preparing the finer kinds of leather in early times. It is the principal material used at the present day [late nineteenth century] in the manufacture of morocco leather.’


I find it fascinating that plants have had so many different uses throughout history, and that so much symbolic significance was attached to the pomegranate by God and the authors of the books of the Bible.

Pomegranate Tips
  • This is another plant that likes soil that is well drained.

  • Grow in a sunny spot that is protected from strong gusts of wind.

  • Pomegranate trees do not grow well in cold regions, although they like cool, wet winters followed by hot, dry summers.

  • There are dwarf varieties of pomegranate trees that grow to only 1–2 m in height, rather than 5–10 m, but they also have smaller fruit.

Please send your items of interest, gardening tips and experience of growing olives (Olea europaea) so we will have plenty to share on this plant during October.

Please send all contributions to

and use subject heading Gardens of Praise.

October Plant of the Month

Olive Tree

Start sending in your tips for this plant now



  • John Hutton Balfour, The Plants of the Bible, Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1885, pp. 77–79. Available from

  • Margaret Barrett, Gardening Through the Year, Viking Penguin Books Australia, 1986, p. 140. 

  • Larousse Gardening & Gardens – English Translation, The Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd, London, 1990, p. 528.

  • Lytton John Musselman, A Dictionary of Bible Plants, Cambridge University Press, 2012, pp. 117–118. Available from

  • Rev. Henry S Osborn, Plants of the Holy Land with their fruits and flowers, J B Lippincott & Co., Philadelphia, 1861, pp. 131–134. Available from

  • Kristo Piennar & Denise Grieg, What to Plant? An illustrated guide for Australian gardeners, Angus & Robertson Publishers, 1986, p. 271.

  • Allan Seale, Gardening for Pleasure, Harper & Row (A'Asia) Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1979, p. 185.

  • Augusta A Temple, Flowers & Trees of Palestine, Elliot Stock, London, 1908, pp. 31–32. Available from



Olive (Olea europaea)


Olive trees at Gethsemane. Photo by James Emery from Douglasville, United States via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0


ut I am like an olive tree
   flourishing in the house of God;
I trust in God’s unfailing love
   for ever and ever.

Psalm 52:8 (NIV)

A Mediterranean climate is best for growing olive trees as they thrive in long, hot, dry summers followed by mild to moderately cold, wet winters. The weather in Perth, Western Australia, is ideal for growing olives, yet I didn’t see many olive trees during my childhood in Perth.
I believe there were two main reasons for this. Firstly, my family was living in what was then one of the new suburbs and olive trees were not considered to be a trendy garden plant. Secondly, growing olive trees seemed to be a cultural thing. Many of the immigrants from the Mediterranean countries seemed to live in the older inner suburbs or rural areas where they could have market gardens.
When I was older, I discovered that some of those inner-suburban areas often had olive trees growing beside the boundary fences. They were also popular as a screening plant grown on the front boundary.
Even though there were no olive trees growing near my childhood home, that did not mean olives were not eaten at home. My father and I loved olives, especially those that were pitted and stuffed with capsicum or almonds. However, these were expensive and would only appear on a special occasion, along with smoked oysters and ‘cracker barrel’ or mature cheese, and ‘cracker’ biscuits. We thought this was so sophisticated for the 'working class'.
Do you have a memory of olives or gardening tips for olive trees that you can share with us?



Recent Olive News

'Spanish police seize 74 tonnes of stolen olives amid soaring prices'

Earlier this month, the above headline caught my attention when browsing the ABC News website. To view the story go to

A short video clip accompanies this news report. It shows some of the olives that were stolen, including a car load of olives that had spilled from the back seat onto the ground when the door was opened.

Olive Tips
  • This is another plant that likes soil that has good drainage. It does not like wet soil.

  • The olive tree is generally a slow-growing plant.

  • Plant in full sun.

Please send your items of interest, gardening tips and experience of growing olives (Olea europaea) so we will have plenty to share on this plant during October.

Please send all contributions to

and use subject heading Gardens of Praise.

December Plant of the Month

Star of Bethlehem

Start sending in your tips for this plant now

Olive Tree Part 2
Over the years, I have often heard people say that cats have nine lives, but now I’ve heard a story of an olive tree that has had at least three lives. That olive tree is in the adjacent photo, and some of you may recognise it. This little tree was used to represent the theme of ‘Renewal through Trust: Caring brings Renewal’ for our 2022 ACW World Community Day.
The story of the three lives of this small olive tree has been shared with me and permission given to share on our website. This olive tree had grown from a massive parent tree that grew in its owners’ garden. When the little tree’s owners made a sea change and moved house, their olive plant accompanied them. It had been ‘happy and healthy’ in its pot, although it was not ‘doing much for several years’.
It was placed, pot and all, in its new location outside the courtyard wall, and it remained there through the first summer. However, it died.
But the owners ‘did not have the heart to throw it out’. 
Then it seemed to come back to life, and the photo shows its regrowth. ‘Only trouble was that by the time World Community Day came around … it had died again.’ 
And then, at the beginning of this year, two tiny leaves emerged from the lifeless plant.  

‘There are now ... 15! Each new one is slightly bigger.’ 
Thus far, throughout the three lives of this olive tree, there has been no fruit. This lack of fruit could have supported a ‘fact’ about the olive tree that I came across in my research, except that this ‘fact’ was only half correct. When I read that it takes nine years for an olive tree to produce its first fruit, I wondered if it was a printing error. I thought: no wonder olive trees can live for many, many years if it takes that long to begin producing fruit. However, further research revealed that, depending on the variety, olive ‘Trees take three to five years of growth until they produce their first harvest and most only become fully productive after eight or nine years.’ [] And contrary to that, some dwarf olive trees can bear fruit in their first year of growth. 

Hopefully, this hardy little tree will now live to a ripe old age, as olive trees do – they can live for hundreds, even thousands of years. In Bechealeh, Northern Lebanon, there is a grove of 16 olive trees known as ‘The Sisters’, and they are reputed to be about 6,000 years old and still producing olives []. There are several other olive trees scattered across the Mediterranean region reputed to be of a similar vintage. 





Olive tree 2

Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum)



fter Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Matthew 2:1–2 (NIV)


The Star of Bethlehem plant is found naturally in many parts of the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Africa. It is a hardy, bulbous plant that has white or yellow, star-shaped flowers and long, strappy leaves. Sometimes the white flowers are tinged with green.

This plant is reputed to last for years and can multiply into a thick carpet of white flowers above the foliage. These characteristics mean that in some regions, it is considered to be an invasive plant.

The bulbs and roots of this plant have been a food source, particularly in times of famine. And Temple, in his book Flowers & Trees of Palestine, stated: ‘The bulbs of Ornithogalum umbellatum are cooked and eaten in Palestine, “being sweeter in taste than any chestnut, and serving as well”.’

Rev. Henry Osborn wrote:
        The root of the ornithogalum has been used in Syria, it is said, in all ages as an article of food. In many places we saw it growing with all the vigor of an indigenous plant; and it is found at the present day about the hill-sides and fields of Samaria. Great numbers grow in the garden of Campo Santo at Pisa; which has been attributed to the fact that, the soil of this garden having been brought from Palestine as ballast in ships, the ornithogalum enjoyed its native soil though under an Italian sky.


Star of Bethlehem Tips
  • Here is another plant that prefers well-drained soil, and it will also cope with some shade.

  • Plant bulbs in autumn for spring blooms.

  • Suitable for growing in containers.

  • Deadheading the spent flowers of this plant will help to curtail seeds from self-seeding.

  • This plant is poisonous to both animals and humans.

Please send your items of interest, gardening tips and experience of growing the Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) so we will have plenty to share on this plant during December.

Please send all contributions to

and use subject heading Gardens of Praise.

Free image by sebastiano iervolino from Pixabay

The story of how this plant got its name is a folktale. It was said to have grown from tiny pieces of the Biblical star of Bethlehem when they dropped from the sky.

In the Christmas narrative, the appearance of the celestial star of Bethlehem was a significant event. Not only did it herald the approaching birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, but it continued to lead the way to Him once He was born. This star ushered in new beginnings through new life.

On the eve of a new year, many people talk about new beginnings.

And for many Christians, we reflect on the new life and, therefore, the new beginning that Jesus offered to us when we confessed Him to be our only Lord and Saviour.

The Old Testament Scriptures of the Holy Bible continually pointed to this Saviour, Messiah, who was revealed in the New Testament as Jesus the Christ – the Jesus of the Christmas narrative, which took place hundreds of years after the Old Testament books were first written.

There is much symbolism of new life in the Holy Land, and the almond tree and its flowers are especially meaningful for new life and new beginnings. So, our January plant for the new year will be the almond tree.




January Plant of the Month

Almond Tree

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Star of Bethlehem
Star 2

Almond Tree (Prunus dulcis, 
also known as Amygdalus communis)


Images above and below left by Angeles Balaguer from Pixabay


hen their father Israel said to them, “If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift—a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds.”

Genesis 43:11 (NIV)

In Israel they celebrate an annual holiday called Tu b'shvat for the beginning of a new year for trees. It falls within the northern hemisphere’s late winter to early spring. This year, 2024, the holiday will begin at sundown on Wednesday 24 January and end at sundown on Thursday 25 January. Often, the celebration coincides with pink and white blossoms appearing on the tree that flowers the earliest in Israel in the new year – that is, the almond tree.

‘These trees always bloom the first in Israel and is a wonderful reminder that the winter is about to come to an end. One has to really pay attention to see the almond blossoms though. They blossom only for a short time. One blink and they are gone until next year.’ (


Spring almond flowers in Bekoa, Israel.

Photo attribution: צולם - דבורה ויסמן  Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

I was surprised to learn that the almond tree probably originated in Iran. Not being very knowledgeable about Iran, it was not the first country that I thought of for the origin of the almond tree. I knew that almonds were available in the Middle East for thousands of years because the seeds of the almond tree have played an important part in the diet of that region, but I was thinking of countries of origin that are to the west of Iran. A Wikipedia article states: ‘today it [the almond tree] is rarely found wild in its original setting.’ ( I'll use this quote as an excuse for not considering Iran.

And I was even more surprised to discover that almonds are closely related to roses and stone fruit, such as peaches and nectarines. This is why the almond can be referred to as a fruit or drupe (stone fruit), rather than a seed or nut.

‘Like its relatives in the rose family, almond flowers are large and showy. From a distance, they look white.’ (Lytton John Musselman, A Dictionary of Bible Plants, Cambridge University Press, 2012, p. 18.)
‘It belongs to the rose family (Rosaceae), making them relatives of other well-known fruit trees, including peaches, cherries, plums, and even apricots.’ (

I wonder what other surprises I will discover as I research the almond tree!

Further research brought a puzzling discovery about the pollination of the almond tree. Cross-pollination is the method, which requires two varieties of almond for this to occur. I scratched my head over this fact as I thought back to my maternal grandmother’s almond tree. She only had one tree, so there must have been another variety in one of her neighbours’ yards because her tree was very fruitful.

I remember clearly when my childhood visits to this grandmother coincided with her almond tree being ready for harvesting. My siblings and I were well occupied detaching the fruit from their branches, separating the almond shells from their fuzzy husks, breaking open those shells and then devouring the tasty almonds. I am sure the work involved to reach those almonds helped to prevent us from gorging ourselves to the point of extreme.

We also had to throw all the inedible pieces into a box or other container as they could not be left on the lawn below the tree. My grandmother said that not cleaning up after our feast would encourage rats to visit her yard. I assume she binned the ‘rubbish’ after we departed as I cannot recall her having a compost heap, only a location for lawn clippings.

If you have or intend to plant an almond tree, I hope that it is as productive as my grandmother’s tree.

Almond Tree Tips
  • Plant in a sunny location that is protected from winter winds.

  • The best soil for an almond tree is loose, like sand, and free draining with compost added.

  • Almond trees are drought tolerant, but they need extra watering once they flower and up until the almonds are harvested.

  • Almond trees can grow up to 10 metres in height so a dwarf almond tree may be a better fit for your garden. These grow to 2.5 metres in height and width.

Please send your items of interest, gardening tips and experience of growing the Autumn Crocus (Zephyranthes candida) so we will have plenty to share on this plant during February.

Please send all contributions to

and use subject heading Gardens of Praise.

February Plant of the Month

Autumn Crocus

Start sending in your tips for this plant now






Autumn Crocus (Zephyranthes candida)


Image Forest and Kim Starr, CC by 2.0 DEED Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence. Image has been cropped.


he wilderness and the dry land will be glad;
The Arabah (desert) will shout in exultation and blossom
Like the autumn crocus.

Isaiah 35:1 (AMP)

A few days ago, I was on my way out of the house when I noticed a happy little ‘crocus’ face looking up at me from the border of my garden. It was the first 2024 bloom of my handful of white Autumn Crocus that I planted in 2021. Perfect timing for February’s ‘Plant of the Month’.

Regretfully, I did not stop to photograph it. The following day when I went out to my little garden, with phone camera in hand, I was disappointed to discover the crocus petals had folded in on themselves as the bloom was nearly spent. Then I remembered that last year I had photographed the first appearance of the first crocus I had planted in my garden.

When I viewed the 2023 photo, see below, it was a mirror image of the flower I had seen the previous day, and it was in the same location. Also, the photo’s date of 9 February was very close to this year’s appearance of the Autumn Crocus. I still have the original packet that contained the bulbs of this plant, and it states that flowering occurs ‘in late summer to autumn, often flowering after rain’. This is why it is also known as the rain or storm lily.

The Autumn Crocus in my garden is not the autumn crocus of the Old Testament, as my plant has its origin in South America, not the Middle East. And the Biblical crocus has not been definitively identified – it is another mystery plant and has also been called a rose in some translations of Scripture. However, it was not a rose that we would readily recognise.


When Isaiah prophesied what it will be like when the ransomed return in Isaiah 35:1, we assume this verse was describing a natural event that occurred when the wilderness and dry land once again blossomed after autumn rains. This comparison with a natural event would be understood by those who heard this prophecy, whereas roses suddenly appearing to welcome the ransomed home in a hostile environment would have been unfamiliar.


In A Dictionary of Bible Plants Musselman says: ‘There are numerous species of the genus Crocus in the Middle East, some flowering near melting snow and others blossoming in autumn.’


He then addresses crocus and rose being used to translate the word chabazzeleth as in Isaiah 35:1. Musselman says crocus is plausible, but it is not plausible that the true rose is used in the translation, as the only rose native to the wider area is ‘a plant of the mountains’ and therefore highly unlikely to be found in a desert.

The little Autumn Crocus were unfamiliar to me until three years ago when I purchased that lonely little packet of bulbs sitting in a tray at a local supermarket. Their image on the packet appealed to me, and their appearance continues to hold my admiration.


They really are quite adorable, like young grandchildren.


Since the first crocus flower surprised me in the last days of January this year, several more have bloomed and made me smile down on them as they seem to smile up at me. They definitely have character as they attract my attention, and I have found myself stopping longer to admire them compared to my time spent with their brightly coloured petunia neighbours. These crocus flowers are a blessing to the start of my day when I walk around my garden with a morning coffee.


There are three things I especially like about the Autumn Crocus:

  1. It is a low maintenance plant. It looks after itself and does not need coddling to survive or pruning to limit the extension of its growth.

  2. It does not seem to attract garden pests. I found this curious as my garden is still visited by a few snails, although nowhere near the hundreds that were here when I first moved in. (They quickly found themselves deposited in the green garden waste bin or squashed under foot.) When I researched this lack of pests, I found differing opinions. Some said they were pest and disease free, and others stated that snails and slugs will attack the flowers. Fortunately, my crocus flowers have remained safe from attack so far.

  3. It surprises me. One minute, it seems to be just a few short, slender, green stalks poking out of the soil and looking very fragile and insignificant. The next minute, these little stalks are suddenly topped by a very small, delicate and elongated ball of velvety white that gently unfurls throughout the day to expose long, almost transparent petals radiating from a centre of sunny orange stamens.


I would like to extend the number of autumn crocus in my garden, so I researched how to propagate them and discovered that they can naturalize, which will be good if they do. They can also grow from seed but take longer to begin producing flowers – a three-to-four-year wait, which will require a lot of patience on my part. In the meantime, I am quite happy to admire the flowers of my few Autumn Crocus and hope they will continue to flower into the coming autumn season.


Crocus flowers peeking through the salvia

Image by DTB

Autumn Crocus Tips
  • Plant in a position of full sun to part shade that is protected from frosts.

  • Grows well in free-draining soil.

  • Looks more effective if planted in groups.

  • They occupy little space in the garden.

  • In very hot climates, protect crocus from afternoon sun.

  • Even though this is a moisture-loving plant, do not over water as it may rot the bulb. Allow the soil to dry between waterings.

March Plant of the Month

Mint (Mentha species)

Start sending in your tips for this plant now

Please send your items of interest, gardening tips and experience of growing mint (Mentha species) so we will have plenty to share on this plant during March.

Please send all contributions to

and use subject heading Gardens of Praise.


Emerging Autumn Crocus flower

Image by DTB



  • Larousse Gardening & Gardens – English Translation, The Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd, London, 1990, p. 582.

  • Ed. Tremper Longman III, The Baker Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Baker Books, 2013, p. 382.

  • Lytton John Musselman, A Dictionary of Bible Plants, Cambridge University Press, 2012, pp. 123–124. Available from