Our family vacation in southern California this week brought a special visit to Sherman Library and Gardens. Perched on the “PCH” (Pacific Coast Highway, as the locals say), Sherman Gardens calls guests out of traffic’s confusing, commercial clamor into a paradise riotous with color. This urban, walled garden pushes back against the iconic, rushing thoroughfare to shelter a serenely sensational experience.
“Go! Leave Babylon! Flee from Chaldea! Announce it with joyous singing! Let everyone know! Proclaim it to the ends of the earth! Say it loud and clear: Yahweh has rescued his servant Jacob!” Isaiah 48:20 TPT
At first, I did not see a real life connection, and thought my chance reading of Isaiah’s instruction and the footnote was a bit random. However, meandering later through the garden, finding every path adorned in a playful flourish of texture and color, my soul began to hum with Holy Spirit’s melody…maybe it was the whizzing rush of hummingbirds among the foxgloves! Aaaahh, the way to flee confusion is to zip along in God’s joyous songs!* This came into focus while considering Isaiah’s union of bursting flower-bloom and merry melody:
The desert and the dry land will be glad; the ‘Aravah will rejoice and blossom like the lily. It will burst into flower, will rejoice with joy and singing Isaiah 35:2 CJB
A breakout of budding and flowering, especially after a time of stretched, bleak existence, is God’s signature; that is, His expression of the death-to-life turnaround He cultivates in us, giving us gleeful chorus. Is your heart tuned to hear it? He does not leave His people deserted or confused. He offers refreshment and joy to the dead-end beatdown of the world.
He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. 2 Samuel 22:20 NIV
The Lord urged Israel to escape Babylon, yet we can take this to heart as an urgency to leave behind a hazy, cluttered state of mind (or state of the union, O dear!), any disconnected understanding or confusing ramble, and proclaim God’s rescue, remembering what He has done for us.
God has freed us from the power of darkness, and he brought us into the kingdom of his dear Son. Colossians 1:13 NCV
Urban gardens like Sherman Gardens, enclosed by walls to protect their sanctuary-like spaces, offer an exceptional measure of God’s tranquil vibrancy against the surrounding chaotic commotion. Look for this unflinching garden ballad throughout the Bible, beginning with planting a garden of Eden, all the way to the revelation of His jeweled-walled garden.
And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden Genesis 2:8-9 RSV
Attention, all! See the marvels of God! He plants flowers and trees all over the earth, Bans war from pole to pole, breaks all the weapons across his knee. “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” Psalm 46:8-10 The Message
My darling bride, my private paradise, fastened to my heart. A secret spring that no one else can have are you—my bubbling fountain hidden from public view. What a perfect partner to me now that I have you. Your inward life is now sprouting, bringing forth fruit. What beautiful paradise unfolds within you. Song of Songs 4:12-14 TPT
…the Holy City, Jerusalem…shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass…The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone…the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flow[ed] from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Revelation 21:10, 11, 19; 22:1-2 NIV
Biblical Plants at Sherman Gardens
Admittedly, I expected this (and any southern California public garden) to be a treasure of Biblical plants, since the climate and exposure parallels that of the Holy Land. While there are a few botanicals from the ancient pages growing at Sherman Gardens, the form and function of the garden, not its species of plants, is the treasured take-away for Bible Garden lovers. Yet there are a few species to discover:
Enjoy a large olive tree, Olea europaea, planted nearly at the center of the garden, surrounded by a colorful flower bed. Olive trees are symbolic of peace and prosperity, highlighted in many Scriptures communicating shalom blessing from God to His people.
How happy is everyone who fears Adonai, who lives by his ways. You will eat what your hands have produced; you will be happy and prosperous. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine in the inner parts of your house. Your children around the table will be like shoots from an olive tree. This is the kind of blessing that will fall on him who fears Adonai. May Adonai bless you from Tziyon! May you see Yerushalayim prosper all the days of your life, and may you live to see your children’s children! Shalom on Isra’el. Psalm 128 CJB
A little olive shot springs up from the trunk of the tree, just like Psalm 128 describes: Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Psalm 128:3 RSV
Maidenhair ferns, Adiantum capillus-veneris, surround a gurgling water feature in the Specimen Shade Garden. This verdant, dainty, flowy fern is wonderfully resilient, a great garden go-to in a range of climates and always happy indoors. Though most of the Holy Land is “sun-scorched” through the summer, maidenhair fern greenery is discovered in the secluded waterfalls of En Gedi. — Look at you! So handsome, so pleasing, my darling! Our bed is the greenery Song of Songs 1:16 CJB
The Sun Garden is planted in a rainbow of color, with a fun mix of edible plants among the floral delights. Red leafed lettuces, accompany red geraniums, and Italian parsley add vibrant green foliage next to orange marigolds. Both of these, lettuce and parsley, stand in for “bitter herbs” on the Seder plate during the celebration of Passover, reminding of the bitter tears shed by the ancient Israelites, crying out to God for deliverance from slavery in Egypt. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast… This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover. Exodus 12: 8, 11 NIV
Closing Prayer: O Father, thank you for your surprises! Help us open our hearts to your constant amazement and wonder, and Your ways of getting our attention. You know the upsets and upheaval we face, and the confusion they cause us. Yet You are always ready to usher us into Your presence, by way of Your Son, Lord Jesus. Help me hold on through Your mysteries and seek You for revelation, knowing it is always Your move to flourish my desert places. Thank you for your Holy Word and how much I can learn about You in a garden. May I be forever delighted by your discoveries and leave behind my “Babylon” for a life proclaiming You, O joy! Put a hum in my heart and a happy patter in my pace. You are the Lord our God. Amen.
* This thought inspired by The Passion Translation® footnote for Isaiah 48:20, “The key to fleeing from the Babylonish (Babylon means “confusion”) systems of the world is to go out with a joyous song. See Jer. 33:7-11.” From The Book of Isaiah: The Vision, copyright ©2018 Passion & Fire Ministries, Inc., page 116. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ThePassionTranslation.com Visit www.thepassiontranslation.com/
Sherman Library and Gardens, located on the Pacific Coast Highway in Corona del Mar, CA, was founded in 1966. For more information, visit www.theSherman.org
Learn more about olive trees in Chapter 1 of My Father is the Gardener, Devotions in Botany and Gardening of the Bible, Shelley’s book published with BRIT Press.
Find more devotions on walled gardens in God’s Word, literally “pairidaeza,” where the word paradise comes from, in Palace Gardens, a series from the Garden Tour section of God’s Word for Gardeners Bible, beginning on page a-17
Photo Credits: ©2023 Shelley S. Cramm
CJB notes Scripture quotations taken from the Complete Jewish Bible by David H. Stern. Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Messianic Jewish Publishers, 6120 Day Long Lane, Clarksville, MD 21029. www.messianicjewish.net.
The Message denotes Scripture quotations taken from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.
NCV denotes Scripture quotations taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
NIV denotes Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.®
RSV denotes Scripture quotations taken from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
TPT denotes Scripture quotations taken from The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017, 2018, 2020 by Passion & Fire Ministries, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ThePassionTranslation.com