How goes the summer adventures?! Hopefully you have tip-toed out to a few garden tours this summer amid business travel and family road trips. In June, I visited Washington, D.C. to present at the annual American Public Gardens Association conference, as part of my publishing relationship with the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) Press. I was delighted to be there; both the conference and the moments I slipped away for garden-spying were nourishing to heart, soul, and mind. What fun to share snapshots from the sacred gardens I discovered. The following glimpses reveal pockets of sanctuary around town, with plants of the Bible tucked in at every turn.
U.S. Botanic Garden
The stately garden and conservatory is a neighbor to the U.S. Capitol, a love-your-neighbor moment if you ask me! The collections in the conservatory offer a Bible gardener much to see. One of my favorites is a fantastic exhibit of the mint family, Lamiaceae, currently on display. Well-known by its scent and flavor, mint has many fascinating relatives—hidden ones like coleus and ajuga, as well as a full bounty of familiar herbs like basil, lavender, rosemary, and thyme. I was excited to see hyssop of the Bible, Origanum syriacum, blooming at the center of it all.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Psalm 51:7 NIV
Frankincense tree captured my attention in the World Deserts section, a showcase of desert plants spanning the globe. What a great opportunity to see this rare tree first-hand. Dried sap or resin from the tree is used in forming incense, as highly treasured in the ancient world as it is today in the Middle East.
You shall put pure frankincense on each row that it may be a memorial portion for the bread, even an offering by fire to the LORD.
Leviticus 24:7 NASB
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Matthew 2:11 NIV
In the Mediterranean hallway, it is no surprise to find many Biblical plants growing, since the holy land encircles the eastern edge of the infamous sea. Old friends like bay laurel and wormwood are on display, yet I loved this vignette of tall papyrus stalks growing behind a hip-height, water-pot fountain, evoking water’s-edge imagery where the plant grows prolifically.
When she couldn’t hide him any longer, she took a basket made of papyrus plants and coated it with tar and pitch. She put the baby in it and set it among the papyrus plants near the bank of the Nile River.
Exodus 2:3 NOG
Across Independence Avenue, U.S. Botanic gardeners plant and tend Bartholdi Park, a triangular island filled out in manner and scale relating to home gardeners with many fruit and vegetable crops. I was extremely envious of the rows of wheat cultivated in straight and tall symmetry…you may remember my Utrecht Blue wheat in my home garden this spring; I did not manage soldiered stalks like these!
[The LORD] strengthens the bars of your gates and blesses your people within you. He grants peace to your borders and satisfies you with the finest of wheat.
Psalm 147:13-14 NIV
Museum of the Bible Garden
Just blocks away, the actual Word of God is on display at the Museum of the Bible. Easily a full day’s worth of exhibits to see, the museum showcases the Scriptures, their history, meaning, and influence. Of course, I am delighted that the building is crowned in a garden! The intimate rooftop space is a tranquil retreat, an inviting spot to be still and be surrounded by the grace of God in horticultural dimension.
The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.
Romans 8:2 The Message
The Bishop’s Garden
One would expect to find sanctuary in a garden adjacent to a cathedral, and the Bishop’s Garden at Washington National Cathedral does not disappoint. Rustic rock walls, statuary from old European churches, and plaques of remembrance make a visit to this garden a pilgrimage with a unique, personal touch.
Maturing Cedrus’ are a big statement and organizing feature of the garden, yet shroud a cloistered garden room in mystery, the ethereal branches curtain-like over the thistle fountain in the Norman Court.
The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it, nor could the junipers equal its boughs, nor could the plane trees compare with its branches—no tree in the garden of God could match its beauty. I made it beautiful with abundant branches, the envy of all the trees of Eden in the garden of God.
Ezekiel 31:8-9 NIV
This memorial sums up the joy of this holy ground, in honor of Canon Charles L. Glenn from 1968 – 1976 “who continually rejoiced in the myriad wonders of the Father’s love strewn in the garden of creation.”
The National Mall
The National Mall in the heart of the city is common ground; this consecrated land has supported performances, rallies, ceremonies, and assemblies across our history. Yes, the place we freely gather to freely express a community of ideas is common ground, yet holy ground. A sense of awe awakened in me as I walked there with a treasured friend in the cool of the day. God shed of grace on us in fitting form, a rainbow:
Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.
Genesis 9:16 NIV
God’s praise as the highest Word in a city often noted for its cacophony and ill-will was a glorious, peace-filled take-away from the trip. Perhaps Noah felt likewise in seeing the rainbow—a precious knowing of calm resolve and forgiveness everlasting.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.
Psalm 33:12 NIV
U.S. Botanic Garden – www.usbg.gov
Museum of the Bible – www.museumofthebible.org
The Bishop’s Garden, Washington National Cathedral – www.cathedral.org/gardens/
The National Mall, operated by the National Park Service – www.nps.gov/nama/index.htm
©2019 Shelley S. Cramm