Engaging the community via a church garden
This article gives an overview of key principles that churches should use to engage with the community through their gardens.
~ “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens…. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:5-7)
God challenges us to settle in the city we are called to, pray for it earnestly and … wait, plant gardens?
A GREAT EQUALISER
What I find amazing is how the garden can be a place where differences in culture, race, and in social and financial standing could mean absolutely nothing at all.
It is a fantastic place for conversation. Whereas someone might find it difficult to walk into church for the first time to listen to a sermon, they might be more relaxed in a garden.
A banker and a bereaved single mother could be working side-by-side one weekend, cultivating a fresh batch of strawberries in a fruit and veg patch. A foreign diplomat and a supermarket cashier might wander into a contemplative garden space, thinking about mistakes they had made in past relationships, and wonder what the future might bring. I would want to be in that place, to bring a word in season.
Here are some key points in developing a successful church garden, using an appropriate acronym ‘REAP’:
- Who is the church trying to reach?
- Ask your community what they need.
- Ask God what they need.
- Are there experienced gardeners in your church willing to be involved? Or interested volunteers could sign up to one of the basic gardening courses run by the RHS.
- Build links with local authorities and businesses – some might have a Corporate Social Responsibility budget.
- Put up signs during harvest seasons to encourage passers-by to pick from specific sections, just like in biblical times (Leviticus 23:22) – a great way to engage people!
- A ‘functional and productive’ garden does not have to be boring.
- Use a colour wheel, get some Dulux colour cards from a hardware store or follow the artistic whims of Pantone (apparently ‘Marsala’ is the colour for 2015).
- Choose form and structure over colour!
A professional garden designer will know which plants provide ‘staying power’.
- Organise your core team for the creation of the garden and for ongoing care.
- Do you have committed partners for funding, maintenance or promoting awareness of the garden project?
- Conduct a site survey: check for soil conditions, location of underground services, etc.
- Commit the garden project to the Lord.
~ ‘It’s not important who does the planting or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.’ (1 Corinthians 3:7)
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
Whereas God spoke everything else into being at Creation, He formed man with His own hands, and Genesis 2:7 says that ‘God planted a garden in Eden’.I can almost imagine the Almighty getting on His hand and knees, digging into the soil, planting a new fruit tree and thinking, ‘The important things need a personal touch.’
There is something incredibly satisfying about getting outdoors, working the ground and tending to plants. Sunlight spurs the body to create vitamin D, and plants create oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. There have been moments in the garden when the Lord has taught me the value of hard graft and patience. It’s where you learn the difference between planting an apple tree, watching it grow, and eating the fruit of your labour, as opposed to doing an online shop for Braeburns with your latest iPad…
TOP 3 WINTER GARDENS TO VISIT
There is still time to visit a few of Britain’s best winter gardens. Who knows, you might be lucky enough to catch yet another flurry of snow from heaven’s vault, freshly dusted onto some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes!
Here are my top three:
- Trentham Gardens (near Stoke-on-Trent) – Tom Stuart-Smith’s Italian gardens and Piet Oudolf’s Floral Labyrinth are absolutely stunning in the winter frosts.
- Dunham Massey – You simply cannot afford to miss the sight of some 300,000 snowdrops in February, with thousands of winter-flowering blue irises in Britain’s largest winter garden. White-stemmed silver birches shine against coloured dogwoods.
- Cambridge University Botanic Winter Garden – Set in a shallow valley, the evening sun brushes a warm glow over the entire landscape. Fragrance from the honeysuckles and Mahonia japonica suffuses the atmosphere.
Jason Loh established his award-winning garden design practice, Jason Loh Designs Ltd. For more details, visit www.jasonloh.co.uk.
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