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A Secret Garden: The Motherhouse Courtyard Ecosystem

Posted on April 1, 2018, by Joy Jensen SL

The courtyard pond visible from the windows of the Motherhouse Infirmary is an example of the Loretto Motherhouse ecosystem.
Photo by Donna Mattingly

Editor’s note: Joy has written a series of four articles to inform us about the ecosystem at the Motherhouse. In this issue, we will present the first two. Look for the following two articles in the next two issues of Interchange.

A gray squirrel scampers up the trunk of the tree in the courtyard outside my Infirmary window, usually with a nut in its mouth. A chipmunk scurries across the concrete walkway. The English sparrows flutter in the pond’s waterfall to clean their wings. This is our own secret garden, our own garden ecosystem in the Motherhouse courtyard.

What is an ecosystem? An ecosystem is a community that includes all the living things (plants, animals) in a given area, interacting with each other and also with their non-living environment (soil, climate). In an ecosystem each organism has its own niche or role to play. Ecosystems come in indefinite sizes, such as under a rock or in a pond. The earth itself is a huge ecosystem.

Ecosystems can be classified into three categories: micro, as in a small-scale system such as a pond; messo, as a medium scale such as a forest; and a biome, which is a large ecosystem or a collection of ecosystems such as a rainforest.

In the courtyard there are also soil ecosystems. The roots of plants in the soil depend on nutrients, air, moisture and temperature to survive. The roots also depend on fungi and bacteria to protect the roots from harmful bacteria.

Nutrients and air are provided by tiny weevils, termites or worms that dig and turn the soil when they feed on fungi and the bacteria on dead plant material. The droppings of these tiny things provide the chemicals needed for decomposing organic materials.
So an ecosystem is a complex set of relationships among the living resources, habitats and residents of an area. It includes plants, trees, animals, fish, birds, micro-organisms, water, soil and people. That also includes me as I look out my Infirmary window to look at the flowering dogwoods and watch the hummingbirds.

Our secret garden is indeed a complex ecosystem, and as we walk within it let us remember Walt Whitman’s poem: “I bequeath myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love. If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.”


Joy Jensen SL

Joy is a vowed member, and she resides in the Motherhouse infirmary. Previously, Joy was a community organizer in St. Louis at St. Alphonsus Liguori “The Rock” Church, a historic Catholic church with a predominately African-American faith community. She also did some teaching at St. Louis University after receiving her doctorate. She enjoys reading American history and spy thrillers. Joy also enjoys knitting.
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Learn more or plan a visit to the Motherhouse!