Biblical Gardens

Building Your Own Biblical Garden

Biblical gardens are cultivated collections of plants that are named in the Bible. They are a type of theme garden that botanical gardens, public parks, and private gardeners maintain. They are grown in many parts of the world with examples in diverse places, including Japan’s Seinan Gakuin University Biblical Botanical Garden and the Missouri Botanical Garden in the United States.

A list of plants in the Bible includes species of plants mentioned in the Jewish and Christian scriptures. Other plants with associations to the themes and subjects of the Bible are sometimes also included, especially in areas with different climates. Additionally, some gardens exhibit objects in order to illustrate Biblical stories or to demonstrate how people lived in Biblical times.

Happily there are no hard and fast rules to follow – in fact there are really no rules at all related to planning a Bible garden. You can make it as you wish, projecting your own interests, enthusiasms, and personality. Of course, there are horticultural and botanical aspects to consider as well as design practice, but this is normal with any garden.

A special-theme garden deserves special attention from the outset. The simplest way is to adapt your existing garden by inter-planting it with Biblical species and labeling them accordingly. This is what I do in my own garden at home. I have several small patches here and there devoted to particular species, as it is inappropriate, for instance, to have onions and other vegetables in the herbaceous border. I also separate the cereals and inter-sow them with thistles and poppies to form an attractive mini-cornfield.

If you have room for trees and shrubs, plant as many of the Biblical species as you can, as they help to give all-the-year interest when herbaceous plants are over. Greenhouse plants and tender species can be incorporated during the summer, so make sure that your design accounts for them. If you have sufficient space at school, college, or church to devote an area specifically to a Bible garden, the initial design will be an important factor in its success.

For example, you may wish to have separate displays of vegetables, fruits, spices and herbs, and so on, or to adopt an ecological theme with aquatic, desert, woodland and field plants. Perhaps you can think of other groupings that would enhance the display. Whatever the design, be sure to keep the scale appropriate with small beds and narrow paths so that visitors can see the plants and read the labels. Public gardens need to provide access for bigger groups of people and to spread out the displays with larger clumps instead of individual plants.

The needs of disabled and handicapped visitors must be kept in mind. Can you, for instance, use a sloping path in place of a flight of steps? Carefully positioned seats transform a garden into a place of tranquility, prayer, and meditation. The choice of site is vital: a shady damp place is sure to be a disappointment, whereas an open well-drained site with light soil is best for these Mediterranean plants. See whether you can make a level site more interesting by creating undulations or adapting a bank to give a rock garden.

Even the excavations from a pool can be used to good purpose. If you want to make a pool your centerpiece, it should be in a sunny place and not over-shadowed by trees. It is as well to look ahead when planting trees and make sure they will not cast their shade over the garden as a whole. An important part of your planning should be how to maintain it after construction – the work of knowledgeable weeding, sowing, propagation, and other jobs should not be left to unskilled laborers.

Bible Garden Labels

Good labeling can transform a miscellaneous, obscure collection of plants into an interesting and instructive garden. You will probably want to adapt the labeling according to your own particular requirement, either for a private garden, or for one attached to a college or church where the labels will be read by many visitors, but the principles of clarity and information apply to both. Very large labels are likely to be too obtrusive, and I would advise choosing ones that can be read clearly, yet do not dominate the display.

Plastic labels may be ordered from suppliers, or sometimes may be purchased at garden centers. Anodized aluminum tickets are difficult to read, as the wording has to be written in pencil along their length, and as they hang down, they must be read sideways. I suggest square plastic labels set in the ground or hanging on tree trunks, with bold lettering that can be read by adults standing upright as it is tiresome to have to bend down to scrutinize every label! Engraved laminated plastic labels are even better if you can afford them. Restrict the information to such items as the common name in your language, the scientific name (even the Hebrew or Greek for the erudite!), and a Bible reference. It may be possible to quote a verse or to summarize a reference, for example:

Darnel grass, Lolium temulentum
Parable of the Tares, Matthew 13

If visitors have to guide themselves around the garden, I suggest an introductory plan and explanation on a board near the entrance. Alternatively, a printed or duplicated leaflet could provide additional information which gives wide scope for teaching aspects coupled with, say, Bible study groups. In situations where the garden may be threatened by vandalism, such leaflets could take the place of vulnerable labels, with the plants marked by numbers corresponding to the notes and plan.

(by F. Nigel Hepper)

You can find a list of plants from Holman Bible Dictionary at PLANTS IN THE BIBLE.

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