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 are 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
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
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 Phasisees! 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.
on Butterfly Bush
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
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.