Wednesday, September 28, 2011

In Review: 2011 in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden

While it may seem early to be writing a "How Did We Do For The Year?" review in the September / October time frame, to the caretaker of a public garden, it makes perfect sense to write this now. By December, flowers have long faded and the interest is more tuned to the next day's snowfall.
The Gethsemane Prayer Garden at Faith Chapel in Syracuse is a one-acre landscaped garden for people to enjoy the beauty of God our Creator and to rest in His presence. The garden is open to the public and there is no admission fee.

The hope at Faith Chapel is that people would visit this small but intimate garden, seeing it as an outdoor sanctuary and a place to experience God and His love. There are fifty perennial flower varieties and several hundred shrubs and trees, intended to usher in God’s peace. Benches are available for a quiet time with the Lord.
The Volunteer Force
The main purpose of this garden is plants for people, not plants in themselves. May was very wet and July was very hot. While the stress of extreme weather affects the plants, it also affects the garden workers. Some days in the garden were very challenging this year, but each year has some difficult days – this year it seemed that there were more.

We had forty-one volunteers this year which is down from fifty-two in 2010. The volunteer hours spent in the garden dropped 40 percent. Our typical church attendance is around 300 people on any given Sunday, of which nearly half are in their twenties or thirties – as caretaker, I personally am satisfied with the support shown by the older ones of our congregation. By the end of 2011, my own hours will have dropped 20 percent for the year, averaging just seven hours per week.

Garden Quality
Despite the reduced hours, the garden quality has not significantly suffered. Heavy mulching in late May was a significant factor in helping to control the weeds. The volunteers have developed good sensitivity for keeping the quality at a high level and they seem very interested in learning how to maintain a garden environment.

Much attention has been given to the wooden benches last year and again this year. A much-appreciated volunteer has spent an inordinate amount of time improving the quality of our benches and it shows. In a certain way, the quality of the garden is reflected in the quality of the benches, just as the polish on a man's shoe is a reflection of his opinion of himself.

The roses require the greatest amount of time in this garden, but these lusciously sweet flowers are well worth the effort. With the heat of July, we essentially had no blossoms for nearly one month. We lost them again in early September because we did not prune them often enough in August. (Remember the lesson on pruning from John 15). Yet while they were in blossom, the roses looked great as they have matured.

Garden Visitors
While the Gethsemane Prayer Garden is oftentimes without any visitors, we have seen more visitors this year than any previous year. On Monday and Tuesday evenings, my joy has been to see a small group of African refugees spend an hour or so in the garden. Each one takes his or her own bench and has a quite time with the Lord, some singing, some praying, some reading Scriptures, and one watching the two small children. At the end, they gather around the stone altar for a time of corporate prayer and singing. It is so sweet to see – whereas our suburban church folk may not know how to use this garden, the Lord has brought a group from a another continent to teach us by example!

We have also witnessed an increased number of visitors on Sunday mornings and at various times during the week. Articles in Syracuse's Good News paper and in the internet's Ruby for Women have helped this. We had two Garden Tours but they were not well promoted and therefore not well attended – hopefully we can do a better job with promotion next year.

Garden Expansion
This fall we have begun and should finish developing two areas:
  • A large rock was "planted" near the northern entrance to the garden, and landscaping will be added around it. We will plant flowers around this rock which will hopefully be more inviting to those that see this area for the first time.
  • The garden area in the south-west corner is being cleared. Plant debris near the stream is being removed and truckloads of soil have been brought in. Ground cover is being added around some of the evergreens in this area. The effect should be better integration of this area into the garden and will permit another location where people can seek the Lord.

Thoughts for Next Year
One of the struggles we had in April was overcoming the heavy deer damage from the previous winter. One ornamental pine tree had to be removed and several arborvitae were severely chewed. Later this fall, we should protect more of the evergreens and do this effort in mid-November before the snow starts flying. The fencing around a large cluster of evergreens looks ugly, but without it the deer would devastate them.

The lawn surrounding the garden will hopefully be mowed more often next year. The weather has been a major factor in this because too much rain and too much heat are significant inhibitors to regular lawn maintenance.

April and May are by far the most labor intensive periods in this garden. Hopefully in 2012 we will have much more volunteer participation during this time. As more people start discovering this garden, it will be important to get the garden in shape much earlier in the season.

We have had to put off the construction of the gazebo for another year. Hopefully the funds for this wedding location and center for small gatherings will be come to fruition in 2012.

Submitted in faith,
Tom Clarke

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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.
Caretaker of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden