Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Incredible Montauk Daisy

I remember asking my wife, "Have we had an unusual summer or fall? That looks like a daisy that's blossoming." I had to investigate.

The Montauk Daisy is a late summer and fall blooming perennial. The plants that I saw are mature, five-feet wide and possibly three-feet tall. The flowers are roughly the size as the more familiar Shasta Daisy. The leaves have the same vein structure but they are thicker and more shiny, like a sedum.

I did some internet research. Originally from Japan and China, the Montauk Daisies are named after Montauk, New York, a town on Long Island approximately 110 miles east of New York City. In Montauk, they have naturalized and are now very common. They are not as common in upstate New York but they should be.

These simple but hardy perennials offer roughly the same bloom cycle as chrysanthemums, first opening in late summer and continuing until the first hard freeze. That could easily mean two months of flowering or possibly more.

When I took the above photo yesterday, October 31st, I was surprised that none of the petals reveal insect damage or other signs of deterioration. Unlike the mums that often start looking brown by this time of year, none of them revealed that same dieback problem. If you look again at the photo, you will see that all of the petals have remained clear white.

To me, the daisies are a symbolic representation of hope and simplicity – what we currently endure will have its season for the Lord will simply take care of us. That is trust, for hope and trust belong together.

I don't know what you are going through – for some I am sure it is not easy. But what I do know is that Jesus already knows whether you've been praying or not. If you are a believer in Him, then He is within you and wants to take you through this period in your life. It's as simple as a daisy yet as beautiful as all of creation. That is your hope.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Landscaping at Believers' Chapel in Auburn NY

Last week I completed some landscaping for our new church, Believers' Chapel of Auburn. The tree in the center is a Weeping Norway Spruce. The five brilliant blue shrubs are Dwarf Globe Globe Spruce. All the plants were selected because they are supposedly deer resistant.

The goals of this spot garden were to:
  1. Attract the eye of people as they drive on a major road in Auburn
  2. Find plants that should be resistant to herds of suburban deer

Although the church building was constructed in the 1950's, Believers' Chapel has owned this facility for only three years. As we started to build a reputation in the community, many improvements were needed. Regarding the landscaping, the only plants were some very large and prickly Alberta Spruce, a cluster of daffodils, and some mature trees. Most of the foundation plants were either not planted or had been removed because of the deer.

The location of the building, 3141 E. Genesee Street Road, is in a more-affluent neighborhood where good landscaping is respected. By attracting the eye of people, we are making a subtle but substantial statement: "We are a new church, not the same as the old."

The Weeping Norway Spruce is the key plant in the design. The plant seems to suggest gentleness and humility, an important statement to the community. Our expectation is that this tree will grow fairly wide over time but remain about five feet tall.

The five Dwarf Globe Blue Spruce have a most amazing color. Contrast is key to good color selection – the brilliant blue is a year-round attraction that should not be easily forgotten. In the early years we should be able to maintain its shape through pruning; as the Weeping Norway Spruce grows, we will probably have to move the "blues" away from that tree.

Red Chrysanthemum and purple-leafed Barberry add contrast to the Globe Spruce. They help draw the eye to the blue spotlight. In the spring and summer months, other annuals can replace the effect of the Chrysanthemums.

Not visible in the photo are three Honeysuckle vines. These are the 'GlobeFlame' Honeysuckles which will grow over a trellis near the entrance. As mentioned in my A Garden of Love book, the Honeysuckle Vine heralds a message of peace to all who enter.

The last landscaping item in this fall 2015 effort was to remove many lower branches from a King Crimson Maple. While I like this tree, its massive shape hid much of the church building from view. Now that they have been removed, the dominant effect is the church building and not this tree. The primary effect from cutting these branches is that it adds more sunlight to this spot garden.

Next year's efforts should be to plant landscaping along the side of the church that faces the road. This too should add more softness to the otherwise cold-looking building. At that time we can also see what plants survived the deer browsing during the winter.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Gethsemane Prayer Garden is Now Closed to the Public

In an email yesterday to me from Jim Tuttle, pastor of Faith Chapel, he stated, "Tom, I am totally fine with people using the prayer garden from the public. My concern is that it is no shape to show publicly. It would likely be a big disappointment if someone traveled a great distance to see the garden. It is wise to remove it as a public garden."

Therefore, because I am no longer the Caretaker of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden, I have removed the garden's website, I retired from that Caretaker position in December 2014. The garden has since gone to the weeds.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Question Regarding Photographs of Garden Bouquets

I have a quick question if someone would like to comment. In the photograph below, what is a good background that shows off the beauty of the flowers? I am thinking of using this photo, or one like it, in a future publication. I appreciate your input. Thanks, Tom

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Rethinking Your Landscaping: Developing a New Design

This week I completed the landscaping redesign for the front of our house. Sometimes the changes we make in a garden is a response to our impulsive nature: purchase some little gem because it looks so adorable. And sometimes our changes involve the transplanting flowers or shrubs because they have outgrown their space or would simply look better somewhere else. And sometimes it is time for an overhaul.

Since retiring from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden, I still have a yearning to get my fingernails dirty. Now they are.

Whether you are designing a new prayer garden or tackling a redesign of your landscape, the principles should be the same: develop a vision of the big things based on your overall objectives. Initially, do not be very concerned with the little plants, "Where will I plant my special peonies?" for the time will come where that will become more obvious. Instead, focus on what must go and what cannot change. And look for those features that will make the big impact on the new plot that complement your objectives.

Here is how our house looked in August of 2013.

Click photo to enlarge

What Must Go
I had been so consumed with my full time secular work, the responsibilities of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden and my writing/publishing assignments that I had largely neglected the look of our house. Kind of like the gobbler's shoes.

Our biggest problem was the seven steps that led to the front door: they were deteriorating and someone could get hurt. My wife could no longer negotiate these concrete stairs. I feared someone stumbling at night.

The house is over forty years old and the concrete walkway from the driveway to those steps had started to heave from the severe winters and was too narrow because of overgrown yews.

The third problem was the overgrown burning bushes that covered the front door and bay window. There were three beauties that turned luscious red in the fall but their size made the house seem uninviting. The visitor had difficulty feeling comfortable with what may be behind those shrubs.

What Cannot Change
There are four trees that had to remain – everything else was negotiable. The two birch trees were planted there to provide nighttime protection from our neighbor's spotlights. I was hoping for more visual protection from those birches when I planted them twelve years ago, but they certainly were not going away now. And my wife has made it very clear that the two maples, seen on the far left and far right of the photo, were to remain. End of discussion.

The Big Impact
I pondered how to treat the sidewalk and stairs for several weeks. I used rope to lay out the two sides of the walkway but each time I tried, the vision of the existing plants got in the way.

Click photo to enlarge

Finally I called a contractor. He removed the steps and stairs, and he transplanted the yews and burning bushes with his excavator. If the shrubs lived, great; if not, oh well.

Landscaping is not like carpentry. With landscaping, you can design part without having a complete vision of the final product. With carpentry, you don't want to relocate a downstairs wall because your plumbing just does not otherwise work – you must thoroughly plan ahead. I consider it an honor and privilege to own a shovel.

At that point, I received the vision of a raised walkway that is embedded in the ground. When given a choice between an obtuse wooden walkway that can rot away and one that is placed in the ground, I will always choose the later. Now my wife, who walks with short steps because of her limitations, can get to the front door without climbing any steps.

In the next article, I will discuss design objectives when rethinking your landscaping.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Prayer Rooms in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden

There are eight outdoor prayer rooms in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden. The prayer rooms use shrubs and trees rather than wood or concrete to separate each area. A bench has been placed in each prayer room for personal intercession with God and private viewing of the beautiful flowers and plantings.

As I stated in my article Design Garden Prayer Rooms With Inviting Paths, I believe that pathways can create a sense of curiosity and intrigue. By positioning the shrubs and trees closely together, each room is secluded from the next – the larger plants also form garden hallways connecting one prayer room to another.

The article below is not new. At the end of 2014, I stepped down from my position as Caretaker of that two-acre garden. Subsequently I removed all webpages from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden website and moved that information to this blog thinking it might be helpful for some people.

Grace Prayer Room

Grace Prayer Room The wooden cross stands eleven feet tall and majestically hovers over this prayer room. Naturally this is the most popular of the rooms. The infectiously abundant love and grace of Jesus Christ is readily apparent here.

Along one side of this prayer room, a series of shrubs, trees, and rocks retell the story of Exodus 33 and 34. The pillars of fire and cloud, Moses, the Israelites, and the two stone tablets are all seen in this reenactment. As the plants mature over the years, this depiction will be more easily seen.

Abiding Love Prayer Room

Abiding Love Prayer Room There are four large prayer rooms in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden; the Abiding Love Prayer Room is the oldest and some suggest it is perhaps the loveliest. At the center of the room are two beds of soft pink and brilliant red roses; these roses blossom from June to November. A plethora of other pink, blue, red, purple, and white flowers help make this room a favorite.

Roses are often used to symbolize love and these roses certainly do; to sit here is often an encounter with Christ's agape love.

Intimate Prayer Room

Intimate Prayer Room Prayer gardens should, when possible, have both large rooms for the eye to roam and smaller rooms with fewer distractions. The Intimate Prayer Room is a closely defined space that is particularly good for focusing on the Lord.

For two weeks in the spring, a redbud tree blooms above the bench with showy magenta flowers without the competition of its own green leaves. When the heart-shaped leaves emerge, they provide excellent shade for the bench that sits below it. The summertime shade of the redbud is often a welcome respite on a hot day.

Reflection Prayer Room

Reflection Prayer Room Located under the shade of some tall willows and nut trees, the Reflection Prayer Room overlooks a 20'x25' pond that we call the 'Pool of Siloam.' Directly above the pool is a bed of local and commercially-available shade loving flowers, a soft blend of light and dark green foliage with colorful suggestions of pink, white, and blue.

The quiet ambiance of this area is captured by the pond's reflective character, a small dam with the sound of falling water, and refreshingly cool air as it passes over the water. It is a place to reflect on what God has done, is doing, and is going to do.

Joyous Celebration Prayer Room

Joyous Celebration Prayer Room The Joyous Celebration Prayer Room, unlike the other prayer rooms, is filled with flowers that are yellow and white. There are some blues, pinks, and purples, but predominantly it has a cheerful yellow theme.

The emphasis on joy is based on the remembrance of several loved ones – while it can be very difficult to loose a parent, spouse, or child, there is comfort in knowing we can celebrate their permanent home with Christ. This prayer room can accommodate a larger number of people that can joyously sit or stand in agreement and support.

Worship Prayer Room

Worship Prayer Room When people visit the Worship Prayer Room they often ask, "Why are those rocks there?" The story goes back to 1999 when the first phase of the Faith Chapel building was completed. This 530-seat facility was constructed by volunteer labor in 22 months, never borrowing any money from anyone. That debt free status allowed the church to support missionaries and develop facilities such as this prayer garden.

Joshua created an altar of remembrance after the Israelites miraculously crossed the Jordan River on dry land (Joshua 3 and 4). Similarly we created this stone altar in remembrance of how God helped us complete this facility.

Wind and Spirit Prayer Room

Wind and Spirit Prayer Room Many people are not familiar with the flower gaura, but what a joy it is! The singular purpose of the Wind and Spirit Prayer Room is to observe the uniqueness of the gaura as it sways back and forth.

Also called the "wand flower", each cluster of blossoms sits on top of a long wand-like stem. The top-heavy gaura seems to dance in the breeze, even when there is seemingly no detectable wind. In the Bible, the Hebrew word ruwach can be translated as both Holy Spirit and wind. As this flower dances, the gaura reminds us of the wind, the ruwach, the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Peaceful Waters Prayer Room

Peaceful Waters Prayer Room Water is somehow soothing to the soul, especially when under the shade of a tree. Minimal landscaping has been done to this area yet it offers its own sense of serenity. The simplicity of this location is a draw to many prayer garden visitors.

The only flowers in this area are the bright yellow marsh marigold in early May and the tall mauve-colored Joe Pye weed in August; both of these flowers are natural to this area and were placed along this streambed by God many years ago. Frogs, wild ducks, chipmunks, and many birds also draw young children to this peaceful spot.


The result of these eight prayer rooms is an integrated garden with flowered areas that seemingly flow from one area into another. When one sits on any bench in the garden, there is privacy in that prayer room – that is, the other seven benches cannot be seen and it belongs to them unless someone passes by.

A path in the center of the garden