Heaven on Earth: Church members create peaceful garden
WREN, Miss. (AP) — In 2014, Linda Ludwig and her husband were looking for a church to attend. They had visited every church in the Wren area and the last one on their list was Common Ground Christian Church.
“We came here in the middle of the week when no one was around and we saw this beautiful garden,” Ludwig said. “We immediately felt so peaceful and relaxed. We came back that Sunday and we’ve been here ever since.”
The garden was the brainchild of Mary Philley, a Monroe County Master Gardener.
When Philley and her family began attending services at Common Ground in 2007, the church had just been built and had no landscaping around it.
“They found out I was a Master Gardener and asked if I’d plant some trees and things,” she said. “The pastor’s daughter was getting married and they wanted it to look nice.”
So she planted some crape myrtles and abelias near the front of the building. Not long afterward, Philley and fellow churchgoer, Emmett Free, got the idea to put an arbor with some swings in an open area on one side of the church.
“Emmett built the arbor and the swings and then one of the elders came and broke up some ground for us,” Philley said. “My daughter, Beverly, and I got stuff out of our yard and began planting.”
They started with crape myrtles, hollies, roses, rudbeckia, salvia, swamp sunflowers and Mexican petunias.
“Beverly and I kept working and planting a little bit every year,” Philley said. “People kept bringing us things to put in the garden. Then Beverly went off to college and some of those in my Master Gardener group said, ‘Why don’t you ask people from the church who like to garden to help?’”
And volunteers like Sherry Gaskin, Debby Bryant and Ludwig stepped in to play in the dirt.
“We’re the worker bees and Mary’s the queen bee,” Bryant said. “We’re lost without her.”
The roughly 30-by-70-foot area is 11 years in the making and largely the result of donations and parishioner sweat.
“Three years ago, I went around to people asking for money to help build the concrete steps,” Free said. “I’d ask them for $100, and they’d give me $20 or $50.”
“When we got the concrete steps built, you could actually get down to the garden without falling,” Gaskin said.
Next, Philley and Gaskin began working on the entrance to the garden. Gaskin bought and donated two limelight hydrangeas to flank the concrete steps.
“Those limelights really make the garden,” Philley said.
The whole area is outlined with natural stone.
“It took us a year to make the money needed to pay for the stones,” Gaskin said. “We put together a cookbook as a fundraiser and the church gave us money for the rest of it.”
Bryant’s stepson, Lamar, donated money to have a water feature and two stone benches built in memory of his mother, Barbara Bryant. The fountain sits in the center of the garden.
“We try to get donations for everything,” Philley said. “We try to be very frugal with the church’s money.”
The church did offer some money to buy evergreens for the back of the garden, so there would be color all year and to offer a backdrop for the space.
“Every month, the garden looks different, depending on what’s blooming,” Ludwig said.
In the fall, there’s swamp sunflower, rudbeckia, coneflowers and Confederate roses; in the winter, there are evergreens; the spring brings tulips, daffodils, Lady Banks climbing roses on the arbor, hyacinths, irises and daylilies.
And now, in the heat of the summer, it’s blooming with rudbeckia, zinnias, Japanese maples, ferns, gladiola, elephant ears, Carolina sapphire, artemesia, roses, crape myrtles, coneflowers and limelights.
Folks come to the garden to have senior portraits taken, for weddings and for family photos on special occasions.
“Sometimes, we come here to work and there will be total strangers sitting in the swing,” Philley said.
“I think a lot of people come here that we don’t even know about,” Ludwig said.
“Our garden is our ministry,” Gaskin said. “It’s contributed to our friendship and fellowship.”
“We do it because we love it,” Philley said. “It’s our gift. We’ve grown here as friends.”
Her daughter, Beverly, agreed.
“Nothing brings people together like getting dirty together,” she said.
“It’s a work in progress,” Bryant said. “There’s always something to prune, something to clean. There’s always something to do.”
Most recently, Free took an old iron bed and turned it into benches for the garden. He painted them red — International Harvester red.
The workers have also started stringing lights with Edison bulbs throughout the garden and they have solar lighting in spots.
The wish list for the garden includes a stone pathway to the front of the church, a small firepit, an herb bed, a blueberry patch and a wildflower garden.
“This garden will never be finished,” Philley said. “And it’s really been an education for people. They’ll pull me out in the garden after church and ask me about different plants.”
The ladies are quick to add they’re not the only ones getting down and dirty.
“Everybody helps in the garden,” Gaskin said. “The men laid the stone. It’s been a group church effort.”
And the garden isn’t just for the members of Common Ground Christian Church.
“The main purpose of the garden is for people who visit it to feel God’s presence and to be drawn to him through the beauty of his creation,” Ludwig said. “Anyone is invited to come.”
Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, http://djournal.com