News from the Tennessee Valley Religion

Chris Martin, pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, passes through his congregation's new Faith Garden. Gardeners will plant annuals, herbs and olive trees in April to join palms, figs and other plants already in the ground.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Chris Martin, pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, passes through his congregation's new Faith Garden. Gardeners will plant annuals, herbs and olive trees in April to join palms, figs and other plants already in the ground.

Plantings at Pleasant Hill
Extension agent, church use Bible to inspire faith garden

By Melanie B. Smith . 340-2468

The Gospels say Jesus used lilies of the valley to illustrate a story. Followers waved palm fronds to honor him. He retreated to a grove of olive trees before taking up a cross.

The story of Jesus is intimately linked to the green, growing things around him.

In fact, plants are mentioned throughout the Bible. Think of the Garden of Eden, Noah's olive branch, Jonah's gourd vine, David's green pastures and Zaccheus' sycamore tree.

The people of the Bible lived a largely agrarian life, of course. They had to grow or gather their food and medicine.

But how many Bible believers today have seen or touched the plants they read about?

Spiritual component

Jerry Chenault of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System wants to help people experience the plants firsthand through a faith gardens program.

"Imagine taking the good things that occur when people and plants are put together and adding a spiritual component," he said.

Pleasant Hill Baptist Church took Chenault up on his ideas. Members of the 163-year-old church are creating the first faith garden in the area.

Between two buildings, Chenault and members have fashioned a demonstration biblical garden with grape, pomegranate, fig, palm, cedar of Lebanon and other plants already growing.

Tender plants such as herbs, annuals and crop specimens will go in next month, said church gardeners Ann Lamm, Sharyn Wilbanks and Laverne Sims.


Lamm said one of Chenault's seminars was the inspiration to landscape the area with biblical plants. The church invited Chenault to speak, and agreed for him to come up with a design, volunteers said.

Using the plan he did last July, workers have built beds, hauled stone and rocks, poured concrete and worked soil. Members donated benches, a fountain, a birdbath and plants. Chenault made a cedar arbor and used $1,000 in grant money to buy river rocks, stone, palm trees, more plants and other materials, said the gardeners.

The workers and their pastor, Chris Martin, said they envision members and other people visiting the garden to learn.

"Once the beds are made and the signs are out, youth and children will be able to visually see what's in the Bible," Wilbanks said.

Carla Jackson, children's worker, said she plans to lead children into the garden April 1 as they follow an "Easter path."

Volunteers will teach how Jesus used a garden before his death, she said.

A faith garden can be a place to pray, meditate, introspect and learn, said Chenault, urban regional extension agent.

Reference books note that some of the Bible's 125 to 130 plants will grow in the U.S. A church in Hartford put 40 to 50 in its Eden garden, according to The Alabama Baptist.

Chenault said some varieties, like the pindo palm he used at Pleasant Hill, are not precisely those in the Bible but are similar ones that will survive in the Tennessee Valley climate. He said the church garden will have olive trees rooted at the Huntsville Botanical Garden and plants grown from seed, such as wheat, barley and mandrakes.

Garden at cemetery

East Lawrence Memorial Gardens on Lawrence County 434 is planning another faith garden. Chenault's 2-acre design there will feature 40 biblical plants. It will be one of the largest such gardens in the U.S., he said.

Chenault said he is completing a manual on creating faith gardens.

Shinto, Zen, Islamic

It will give information about biblical and prayer gardens and also have ideas for Shinto, Zen and Islamic designs. He said a Web site,, should be ready soon.

"This will be on my plate for a long time," he said.

Chenault said grants enabled him to do the demonstration gardens, and a grant extension helped him travel to Texas, Vermont and other places to research faith gardens.

Who knew rue?

The Bible’s grapes, olives, dates and wheat are probably familiar to most people, but what about rue, hyssop or mustard?

The Holman Bible Dictionary said rue is a shrub with pungent leaves. Jesus said Pharisees tithed it, according to Luke 11:42.

The Catholic Encyclopedia said hyssop, mentioned in cleansing rites in Exodus 12 and other passages, could be Syrian oregano.

The mustard plants of Palestine that Jesus referred to in Matthew could grow 10 feet tall from tiny seeds, the encyclopedia said.

One source for biblical plant seeds and information is a company in Gautier, Miss.,

- Melanie Smith

Want your own faith garden?

  • Alabama Extension Agent Jerry Chenault gives talks, workshops and advice on faith gardens. Call 974-2464.

  • Visit www.biblical for plant listings, books, suppliers, tips and more

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