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Throughout the history of humanity, gardens have been used to commemorate religious beliefs. Perhaps that is because, as English poet Dorothy Frances Furney wrote, “…one is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.” Statues, plaques, pavers, plants and color can all be used to express one’s faith in an outdoor setting.

An Islamic garden is designed for rest, reflection and contemplation. Rumi, the Persian poet and Islamic scholar, wrote, “Beauty surrounds us, but usually we need to be walking in a garden to know it.” Water and aromatic plants are typical features, both of which can be appreciated through the senses of sight, sound, smell and touch. Some plants for an Islamic garden may include hibiscus, tulips, narcissus, roses, peonies and apple trees.

Respect for the natural world is integral to Judaism. Religious tradition forbids grafting trees or bushes with other species as it is considered meddling with the natural order of God's universe. Features of a Jewish garden will honor the relationship with the earth, love for God’s creatures and the importance of sharing nature’s bounty. The garden might include grapevines and pomegranates (not winter hardy here), and fiery red fall foliage of Euonymus alatus is planted to represent the burning bush, also its common name.

Since ancient times, an enclosed garden has been a common feature of Christian monasteries and convents. A reflective place of retreat, such a garden serves as an oasis away from community life. Designed to lift the human soul to God, these gardens are a place to think, read, sit, walk and pray in silence along with nature’s beauty. A few of the plants found in liturgical gardens are listed below.

Aquilegia canadensis (columbine) has petals shaped like a dove. Columba is Latin for dove, a symbol of the Holy Spirit in Christianity.

Asters (Aster novae-angliae or Aster novi-belgii) have long been a symbol of patience and are frequently included in Rosary gardens to symbolize the carrying of the cross.

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Dicentra eximia (fringed bleeding heart) is a spring-flowering plant with a two-tone heart-shaped bloom. The color and shape of the bloom symbolize the mixture of blood and water that flowed from the pierced side of Jesus.

Phlox divaricata (lady’s wedding flower or wild sweet William) is used to imply purity of heart or the uniting of souls and may be found in a garden commemorating Mary.

Roses – whether hybrid tea, shrub or climbing – are associated with love. The rose plant also alludes to the crown of thorns and is used in liturgical gardens because of its symbolism.

A sense of peace and tranquility is common to gardens of all faiths. Gardeners planting seeds of spiritual growth in a vegetable, perennial or annual garden may find they are cultivating themselves as well.

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Mari Lane Gewecke is a Master Gardener volunteer, affiliated with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus program, and a self-employed consultant.

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