Here are some other suggestions for themes that can be fashioned into gardens:
¢ Colonial: Model your garden after the restored Moravian designs in Old Salem, Mass., by dividing a small patch of ground into squares separated by walkways and inter-planted with vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers. Or look to Monticello, near Charlottesville, Va., where Thomas Jefferson, one of the more horticultural presidents, grew more than 350 varieties of fruits and vegetables in his mountaintop orchards and gardens, ranging from asparagus to lavender, tomatoes to table grapes.
¢ Perfumed: Place this scented garden near a bedroom window or anywhere you spend a few tranquil hours outdoors. Go heavy on the lavender, lilacs, heritage roses, sage and verbena, to cite just a fragrant few.
¢ Tea: Plant an herbal brew of plants that can be converted into enjoyable teas. That includes the flowers and foliage from basil, peppermint, rose hips, chamomile, lavender and lemon thyme, among many others.
¢ Patriotic: Cultivate an explosive mix of the old red, white and blue with flowers patterned as a flag or made into some kind of lively Fourth of July color display.
¢ Roof: Top off a sturdy outbuilding with a layer of sod sown liberally with wildflowers. Or use succulents, cactus and other drought resistant plants on the roof of structures where they can be maintained and enjoyed.
¢ Alphabet: A good learning tool for the entire family. Start by planting some alyssum in a sunny spot and then work your way through the letters to zinnias.
¢ Friendship: Each bloom becomes a treasured reminder of the friend or relative who gave you the slip, seed or plant. Label and date each plant before adding it to your perennial garden.
Source: The Associated Press
People who grow gardens grow in faith, according to the Rev. Marsh Hudson-Knapp, which accounts in large part for the Bible garden he helped established adjacent to his church a quarter-century ago.
"A lot of people's spirituality is rooted in nature," said Hudson-Knapp, pastor of The First Congregational Church of Fair Haven, Vt. "There's always been a deep (biblical) connection with gardening. With each new season, life is bursting forth again."
A Bible garden is not a theme recommended for the casual hobbyist. Cultivating every flower, shrub, food crop or fruit mentioned in the Scriptures is a daunting objective, especially if you're trying to be exacting about plant choice. More than 120 plants have been mentioned in the Bible, although that total is open to interpretation.
How do you determine, for example, exactly what kind of "burning bush" was cited in the story of Moses (Exodus 3:2). Or what is meant by such figurative imagery as "grains," "trees" or "sweet smelling plant?"
"We decided not to be all that precise," Hudson-Knapp said. "We use substitutes at times, especially where we can't duplicate the growing conditions of certain plants. That means going with the botanical cousins; the same genus but a different species."
There are plants of the Bible, and then there are plants of the Bible lands, said Lytton John Musselman, chairman of the Department of Biological Sciences at Old Dominion University and author of "Figs, Dates, Laurel and Myrrh: Plants of the Bible and the Quran."
"Original translators of the King James version didn't have much knowledge about plants native to the Near East so they read into a lot of things," he said.
A notable example is the apple, as in the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden, said Musselman, who has made an academic career of winnowing the botanical from the theological.
"Apples were not part of the agriculture from that era. It was more likely an apricot that Adam handed Eve if you want to be literal about it. Apples had no natural role in that part of the world."
Hudson-Knapp, whose Bible garden has had several makeovers, found a convenient way to get around the ongoing apple-or-apricot, good-versus-evil debate stemming from Genesis (2:16-3:19).
"It's been a hotly contested issue, but I'm not a historical botanist, so we decided to please both factions. We had an apricot tree growing in our garden for a long time, but after it winter-killed, we replaced it with an apple (tree)."
Climate willing, there are scores of biblical plants gardeners can choose for their yards - ornamental, medicinal and culinary. Among them:
¢ Grapevines (Vitis vinifera). No plant is referred to more frequently in the Bible than the grape along with many of its products (wine, raisins, syrups and vinegar). Figs and grapes often were mentioned together, Musselman said, because their fruit ripened about the same time.
¢ Date palms (Phoenix dactylifera) were valued for their sugary fruit as well as the durability of their leaves, which were used for making baskets, ropes, rugs and roofs.
¢ Dill (Anethum graveolens) leaves and seed were used for flavoring and adding variety to otherwise bland foods. Many herbs and spices were considered so valuable during the period that they were used for tithing, Musselman said.
¢ Olive tree (Olea europaea). The Bible has about 25 references to the olive tree and more than 160 references to its oil, which was used with foods, for illumination, as an ointment and soap and for preserving leather and certain metals. The Quran mentions olives as a condiment, Musselman said.
Deuteronomy describes "a land of wheat and barley, of grapevines, fig trees and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey." Numbers 11:5 refers to cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. And let us not forget the armed plants: thorns, briers, nettles and brambles.
"Examples of those are usually saved for institutions, which tend to have more room," Musselman said. "But then, who wants to plant a bunch of thistles in their backyard?"
In addition to explaining the biblical reference, Musselman recommends identifying the plants by common and scientific names, since many of the plants either are Mediterranean in origin or have become obscure in contemporary cultures. "That gives people an opportunity to visualize the species as it's used in the Scriptures."