Church Gardens

Shirley Lindsey
Adams County Master Gardener

Surprises wait all around us during the gardening season. One that we often miss is the delight of finding charming little gardens behind, beside or around churches. These gardens range in size from a tiny plot around a sign for the church, to the awesome gardens at the National Cathedral in Washington, D. C.

People have grown plants for many centuries for a variety of reasons. One of the oldest and most important, of course, is to provide food for survival. The use of plants for medicinal purposes goes a long way back through history as well. And once one's basic needs are met, we all seek beauty.

After interviewing several people involved in church gardens, I have found that these patches of beauty often just evolve. In the case of the small (16 x 20) plot behind
Barts-Centenary Methodist Church in Littlestown, this was surely the case. In our lush and fertile climate, unused areas grow into weed patches, so several members of this congregation decided to give direction to the inevitable growth in this small area.

Plants mentioned in the Bible were our first choice and many of our perennials are those spoken of in the Bible. The remainder of the flowers planted is named for or remind us of something or someone in the Bible. Of course many plants from biblical times are native to the Mediterranean area and do not flourish in Adams County.

Although this garden does not get full sun, it does have the advantage of having the wall of a brick building on two sides, which provides additional warmth to the plants,
helping them survive our Pennsylvania winters.

This garden is designed to be used as a teaching tool for the Sunday School children. All the plants are labeled, allowing the children to find a specific plant and look it up and read the Bible passage that relates to it.

Our plants include a tall white phlox called David, reminding us of King David.
Roses have been desirable flowers for many centuries. The one in our garden is called Mary, a David Austin rose with a truly heavenly fragrance as well as hardiness. Many plants are named for or refer to Mary, the mother of Jesus. We have Lady's Mantle, named according to lore, for Mary's cloak. It has deeply serrated leaves on which the dew gathers in the morning. Our only tree in this small space is the redbud or Judas tree
reported to have been the tree from which Judas hung himself after betraying Jesus. There is also a juniper hedge representing the cedars of Lebanon.

Lavender was a Bible herb. "Awake, O north wind, and come O south wind!
Blow upon my garden that it's fragrance may be wafted abroad." Song of Solomon 4:16.

Costmary is included too; it was a medicinal herb also used as a bookmark for the Bible and known as ‘Bible Leaf' in early American churches.

Dill was an herb used for tithing as mentioned in Luke 11:42, "Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God…" Calendula is also called ‘Mary's Gold.' This dependable daisy-like plant reseeds and graces the garden with golden blossoms every year. Jacob dreamed of a ladder coming down from heaven (Genesis 28:12), thus we have the plant, ‘Jacob's
Ladder.' Another herb is coriander: "The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey."
(Exodus 16:31).

A plant grown widely in the Mediterranean is rosemary, but there are many hardy varieties that make excellent perennials in this area. The herb of remembrance, Rosemary is often grown and used in honor of Mary. Obedient plant is included as a reminder to be obedient to the teachings of the Bible.

Sage is an herb used for medicinal and culinary purposes. The structure of the plant resembles the shape of the Jewish Menorah. Flax is referred to in Proverbs 31:12-13: "She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands." Our garden also includes wormwood, garlic, angelica, chamomile, bleeding heart, and many others.

In our little garden at Centenary, we also have a bench where one can sit to pray or meditate and enjoy the plants. It is a place of peace where fragrant smells and colorful sights abound. The plants are labeled and we include the following poem by Pearl Council Hiatt (from Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina – used with permission)

Inscription on a Garden Gate

Pause, friend, and read before you enter here.
This vine-clad wall encloses holy ground.
Herein a mellowed garden dreams away the years,
Steeped in serene sweet light and muted sound.
Herein tranquility and peace abide,
For God walks here at cool of evening-tide.
Pause, friend, and strip from out your heart
All vanity, all bitterness, all hate;
Quench, for this hour, the fever of your fears,
Then, treading softly, pass within this gate,
There, where the ancient trees wait, hushed and dim,
May you find God, and walk awhile with Him.

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