Monday, June 14, 2010

The Layout of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden



Some gardens start with a grand scheme, a vision, a great idea, a landscaped scheme that appears beautiful on paper. Some have no apparent purpose or plan as they seemingly place plants arbitrarily here and there, like a five-year-old artist that throws paint onto the easel. The Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse is neither of these, yet there are aspects of each.

Pastor Lee Simmons, a visionary pastor with grand ideas, approached me with a fresh opportunity in 2003. Someone had donated a large sum of money to the church in memory of his wife that had just gone home with the Lord. The two men agreed that the money would be used to start a landscaped garden for the purpose of meditating with God – it was to be a prayer garden.

With the help of many from our church, I had coordinated the landscaping around the church building in the spring and summer of 2000. It was a new building, and we planted two hundred shrubs and trees around the property. The foundation plantings were simply placed with a mix of varieties based on a the limited budget, and most were commonly available shrubs.

This garden was to be much different. We had planted a pin oak and a cutleaf purple beech in the lawn with no particular plan in mind, and it was decided to turn these into the corners of the first section of the garden. A professional landscaper was selected; soon we had two beds of lucious pink 'Bonica' shrub roses along with many other July and August flowering plants: stately purple coneflowers, flowing Russian sage, and pinkish autumn joy sedums.

The next year, I was asked to be the Caretaker – so it has been for the last seven years. The garden has grown in size each year having expanded from 800 to 8,000 square feet. There are nine flowering beds that are intermixed with shrubs and trees.

Each time we expanded, the Lord gave me a planting scheme for each bed with the interweaving of fine sand gravel walkways that curve between adjacent plantings. First would come the center plant or plants as the extremities of the bed were developed in my mind. If a sketch was made, it was never exactly followed.

I am well convinced that plants, both large and small, are best placed by careful examination by eye. The sketch may be helpful and can sometimes avoid problems down the line, but we don't really know until that plant is stood up in its proposed location. By considering the ultimate height of all the plants, sometimes significant adjustments become obvious. Looking from many angles, pacing off the size with our feet, soon we begin to see it come together. We plant it, and then move on to the next largest or next most showy.

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End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.