Passover and Holy Week coincide this week during Ramadan. Whether you participate in one of these traditions or just celebrate the glory of spring happening around us, we thought it would be a fitting time to share an unusual project with you.
This is the Transfiguration Garden I designed for the Church of the Ascension in Montgomery, Alabama. The Gothic Revival Church was designed by the imminent Ralph Adams Cram of Boston in 1908. St. Thomas Fifth Avenue and the Cathedral of St. John Divine are among his many notable designs. This is his only Church design in Alabama and one of the few in the deep south. Back to the garden… It is a rather small garden (approximately 33’ x 40’) but very complex. Let me talk you through it…
The garden is a traditional potager garden or kitchen garden planted with fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. The plan of the garden has a stone fountain at its center with four pathways radiating from it separating the center of the garden into four beds. This traditional garden design comes from the description of the Garden of Eden from Genesis (2:8-10) which ends with “A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches.” This concept of having a water source in the center and four pathways became the standard for garden design for thousands of years. Originating in Muslim and Judeo-Christian gardens, the design became part of the classical language in Greek and Roman gardens and moved across Europe and farther. Examples of which can be found across Europe and the Middle East in Judeo-Christian and Muslim gardens, Greek and Roman gardens, Medieval, monastic, Tudor, and Renaissance gardens, and in today’s gardens. Incidentally, the Muslim concept of the Paradise Garden, also drawn from this scripture and tradition, has its four rivers flowing with water, wine, milk, and honey. Now that is indeed paradise!
The center Gothic inspired stone fountain represents Christ in the center of the lives of the faithful, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living waters” (John 7:38); and four beds surround it — representing the four Gospels. There are twelve raised beds total — representing the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the Twelve Apostles. The bed edging is constructed of powder coated steel. The pair of pomegranate trees (Punica granatum ‘Angel Red’) in sizable stone pots represent Martha and Mary who cared for the apostles. Just outside the boxwood edging, with ample room to grow, is an apple tree (Malus domestica ‘King David’), giving a nod to the first garden at Eden. The two wood benches nestled under iron trellises covered with climbing roses (Rosa ‘New Dawn’) represent Moses and Elijah on the Mountain of the Transfiguration as they appeared speaking with Christ, who is represented by the cross.; The stone cross is the former Church Tower cross reassembled after it bore the brunt of a lightning strike saving the Church. The broken pieces, much like we are broken, are held together by a strong iron frame. Carved into its massive, limestone base is 2 Corinthians 5:17 “So if anyone is in Christ there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away. See everything has become new!” The garden is maintained by volunteers, a Scout Troop, choir members, and friends.
We hope you enjoy this visit to the garden.
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