There is nothing better than discovering secret gardens, little places that are hidden treasures.
I relish when a reader whispers in my ear about their own gardens or a friend's outdoor retreat, but the best oasis is one that is meant to be enjoyed by the public. Yet very few of the masses actually know of their existence - these are a genuine find.
When a friend of mine suggested checking out the hidden courtyard garden at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1245 N.H., I immediately went to scout it out. What a wonderful, secret surprise. Here sat a remote, sheltered garden sanctuary with a babbling pond, a winding path framed by a stately arch with the original carillon and sturdy teak furniture nestled throughout to absorb the view from various angles. This area of repose is a spot anyone may enjoy as a unique and unexpected Lawrence delight.
The Trinity Lutheran Church that we see today was built in two time periods. First in 1927, the brawny, English gothic brick walls were erected with a soaring bell tower, Spanish-style red-tiled roof and intricate stained-glass windows made by legendary artisan Von Gerichten. (According to the church, only three places in Kansas boast of his work, and the Trinity Lutheran is one of them.) Later in 1992, the church was growing and needed to expand, creating the East Wing of the building with an enclosed bridgelike construction used to connect the two structures. In doing so, an area was created that was, well, less than savory, according to Brad Richardson, property manager of the church.
"There was just this big weed patch, an incubator for mosquitoes," Richardson says. "No one came out here - it was such an eyesore. But then we had a parishioner who gave a sizable gift as a memorial, and that is originally what kicked it off."
In 2001 after some architectural drawings were rendered, a crew began to construct the flagstone path and arch where the original bell dangles that was used as a call to worship. Sunrise Garden Center landscaped the space with a gurgling water feature, a tumbled river rock creek bed and plants such as boxwood, vibernum, daylilies, ornamental grasses, butterfly bush, coreopsis, oakleaf hydrangea, lirope, hostas, Japanese maple, dwarf rose bushes, crepe myrtles and climbing hydrangea.
Richardson keeps a sharp eye on the plants and pond. He says, "I'm out here every day. We have a computerized irrigation system that I check on. I also try to keep up with the algae in the pond, and the evaporation of the water can be pretty rapid, so I refill the water level often."
One of the most popular uses of the pristine courtyard garden is for wedding and christening photos, as the backdrop is begging to be immortalized digitally for various memorable events. The congregation also tends to venture out to the garden between services, and there are some 12-step groups that have their meetings among this relaxing site. It is a quiet, still place where the breeze rarely blows and the acoustics echo off the rising brick enclosure. A few musicians have taken advantage.
"We've had some musicians come out here to play and sing. Just a person with a guitar sits and strums; we encourage anyone to come enjoy the space," he says.
As you might imagine, one of the more popular uses of the garden is as a peaceful place to pray.
Ruth Sarna, a member of Trinity Lutheran says, "I am part of a prayer group that meets in the garden every Wednesday morning, and on occasions we have used that space for morning prayer. : It is so peaceful and meditative. It was quite unattractive before the transformation, but now the area is a showplace."
As you sit in the enclosed courtyard you are surrounded with four towering brick walls: One is glinting off the reflections of the sun with delicate pieces of the stained-glass works by Von Gerichten that depict vibrant colors with flowers and trees; another is the sheer face of the chronobell tower, which happens to strike 11 as we are talking, adding a glorious sound to the already ideal atmosphere. A little bird whizzes by with bright yellow and black markings in unison to a small aircraft coming into sight, as a square patch of sky is revealed when one looks upward from this unique garden sanctuary.
The Trinity Lutheran Church initially was situated at 1040 N.H., which now houses offices. The original stone structure was chartered 140 years ago this September. To commemorate this anniversary, a march will take place at 10 a.m. Sept. 16 from the original chapel, walking through South Park to where the church stands today at 1245 N.H., with the parade commencing in time for the 11 a.m. services. In order to ready the church for the big affair, some of the congregation is working on landscaping the South Park entrance to look as it did in 1927 when the present-day building was erected.
Mary Olson and Nancy Vogel, both members of the church and Master Gardeners, have been perusing historic photographs in order to recreate the original landscaping by the end of the summer. While these exciting improvements to the church's landscape begin to flourish, there still sits the lush, private garden courtyard ready for a picnic lunch or a quiet interlude. Olson thinks the space is great for all seasons.
"It is very well-planned with both flowering shrubs and evergreens. It really holds its appeal year-round. It is truly beautiful even when viewed from the inside of the church," Olson says.
So by all means, go discover this secret garden and take advantage of another little gem hidden away in beautiful Lawrence.