Posted by: christinelaennec | February 20, 2011

The church garden

Last month, I posted about my plans to try to garden with the moon; I’ve done very little gardening since!  This weekend, I was hoping to get some gardening done but snow has closed the road to Braemar west of us, and here by the North Sea we’ve had freezing winds and rain.  This is the time of year for gardeners to dream:  of gardens past and future.

I actually work in two gardens – our own at home, and also the church garden:

South Holburn Church, Aberdeen. September 2010.

This all started because, when we moved to the church four years ago, there was a notice in the church magazine saying that the garden team needed another helper, or else they would have to plant low-maintenance shrubs throughout.  This idea horrified me, and also I really liked the idea of being able to contribute to the church by gardening.  (This was not an option at our former church, St. Machar’s Cathedral, which is surrounded by a graveyard.)

A few years later, and I find myself in the odd position of being The Gardener.  But I’m just one of a team.  One man cuts the grass, the retired gardener grows about 300 bedding plants for us twice a year – the Livingston daisies and lobelia above were all grown by him from seed – and I have a helper on many Saturdays, a young man from Cameroon who hasn’t gardened before but seems to enjoy himself.  Other people contribute in various ways too.

Dahlias grown for the garden by the former gardener. South Holburn Church, Aberdeen. September 2010.

Caring for the church garden is very different from gardening at home.   For one thing, you get extravagant praise.  So much that’s done in the church is more or less invisible, or is the same from week to week.  No one notices that the sanctuary is spotless because the cleaner dusts and vacuums it every week.  But people notice when the bulbs come up or when the bedding is lifted – and they tell me “the garden’s looking lovely” as if I’d done it singlehandedly.  Sometimes people come to offer suggestions or advice. I’ve learned a lot!

When I plan for the church garden, I try to make it something that people will enjoy.  In my own garden, I don’t grow masses of bedding.  In the church garden, although I’ve cut back on the amount of bedding that’s planted, I’ve kept as much as I can manage.  I’ve learned how to garden in this way, with much help from my predecessor (who was a professional), and I’m glad to do it because it really makes people happy.  After all, it’s their garden.

There’s a very particular atmosphere in the church garden.  I love working there and am almost always home later than I’ve promised, because I find it hard to leave.  One member told me that she’d come into the church past the spring flower bed “and it was like a fairy garden!”  It made me happy that even before she came into the church itself she felt she’d come into a special place.  Many of the plants in the garden have a special significance.  Recently a member told me that the weeping tree (with the red berries in the top photo) was planted for a child who died.  That family long ago moved away, but the tree is there and it makes a difference to me to know why it’s there when I’m weeding around it.  Also when I’m working in the bed below the memorial to those of the church who died in the First World War, I often wonder about them as I read their names.

I’m very conscious of the work that’s been done by those who’ve gone before.  For example, I know that one of the earlier gardeners, who recently died in her 90s, was a Land Girl in the Second World War.  She developed a love for growing things that she transferred to the church garden for the next 30 years or so.  Many others have spent hours tending and loving the garden, and I think you can feel it when you’re there.  The Old Order churches – the Shakers, Quakers, Amish and so forth – believe that work is a form of worship.  Certainly I feel that when I’m here, and that feeling transfers over to the gardening I do at home.

Some volunteer violas in the church garden. South Holburn Church, Aberdeen, October 2010. Behind them are wallflowers grown from seed by the former gardener.

I’m nowhere near as strict a gardener as some of the older folks in the congregation.  My edgings are far from perfect, and I do let quite a few self-seeded plants please themselves.  These violas just appeared, and I was so glad I left them to flower.

It’s very important to me that the children are involved in the garden.  The Sunday School children plant nasturtiums in late spring: this is also my cunning way of getting them to be a bit more careful of the flowerbeds.  Many days after church the garden is full of the children playing together, and to me that’s the best possible use of the church garden.  If a few plants are trampled in the chase for a ball, I’m sure the garden agrees with me that the sound of children laughing in it is more important.




  1. Judging by the photographs, Christine, you deserve extravagant praise!

  2. what a delightful blog post, Christine. i love the fact that you include the children in the gardening. it’s also poetic that some plants have special significance for people who have passed on. gardens can be really special places. the pictures are lovely. i’m glad you get such pleasure from helping in this way and i’m sure it’s greatly appreciated.

  3. Goodmorning Christine what a lovely post to start my day-of with.Even though I’m not religious I love churches and walking in church gardens and cemetaries…So peaceful and yes fairy-like..Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures…

  4. What a great pictures of that garden, so nice colors !

  5. Dear all, thanks very much for the kind comments. I’m glad that the non-churchy folks enjoy the specialness of the church garden.
    Martin – I very cleverly angled the top shot so you can’t make out all the chicory and stray nasturtiums so well!!

  6. I enjoyed reading this and seeing the lovely photographs. It’s good that you make time to do the garden – I get a sense that you’re making time to smell the coffee in your life. It’s a reminder to the rest of us who are flying around gripping the steering wheel with our heads full of mush to slow down and look around.

    • Jean, I’m so glad you liked this piece. I’m aware that I’m very lucky to be able to do the church garden, which is such a pleasure to me. The fact that I don’t have to be the main breadwinner and that I only work (for pay) 20 hours a week has a lot to do with “being able to smell the coffee” – or the roses! It *is* important to slow down in life, and modern pressures don’t help any of us much.

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