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St Clement’s Garden

2011 March 28
by Gordon Reid

We have a lovely garden in front of St Clement’s. In the spring, which is almost upon us, it is a mass of colour, with a lush pinkish-white magnolia tree by the front door, a huge pear tree in front of the Rectory which froths with white blossom, real lilac-coloured lilac (as opposed to the white or dark purple) and, prettiest of all, two large dogwoods which are masses of pink blooms. On the ground are daffodils and tulips and hyacinths.

Much of this is due to the care of Dr Lillie my churchwarden, who for many years has done much of the work in the garden, But he has now retired and has a large garden of his own to look after. So we have formed a Garden Group under the leadership of a new Vestry member, Ron Emrich. His professional life has been dedicated to Historic Preservation, so he will not be an iconoclast in planning the future of the garden but will develop it gradually.

A wonderful aid to this has been the enthusiasm of Drew Becker, the new CEO of the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, whose offices are right across the road from the church. I made a courtesy call on Drew right after he began his new job (his old one was in charge of the highly successful “greening” of the city of Chicago) and was astonished to leave his office with the promise of all the help we needed from PHS for the beautification of our garden as part of their desire to help local community projects.

As we plan its future, we have to take into account the varied uses of the garden. The first is its visual attractiveness to those who come to church and to those who pass  by it every day. This will be done by building on and adding to the lovely trees and shrubs and flowers we already have.

The second is to ensure more use of the garden by local groups. Already it is used by the Clementine Montessori School children as their playground, so we have to ensure it is a safe place for them. In the future, I would like to see it  used at lunch times in good weather for the staff of the PHS and other groups who work in the same building. As long as someone has a key and supervises, there is no danger that this would  lead to indiscriminate and harmful use of the garden.

Thirdly, there are special occasions when the garden could be used. Our neighbours in Appletree St get together now and then for a barbecue, and it could well be held in our garden. Then there are the wedding parties who would like to have their receiving line and a glass of wine in the garden before setting off for their reception. And since some of the improvement work will cost a bit, we could ask all such groups to contribute to a garden fund to help us keep it in first-class condition.

There is the saying “You are closer to God in a garden than anywhere else on earth”, often used  to justify reading the Sunday papers on the deck, with coffee and other sustenance at hand, rather than coming to Mass!

However, Francis Bacon begins his Essay on Gardens with the statement: “Almighty God first planted a garden” , and these is indeed something special in sowing and planting and watering a garden. In a way, we are sharing in a tiny way what God does in a vast way all over the world, sharing in creating something beautiful. I hope the St Clement’s Garden Group won’t mock me for such “high-falutin” sentiments as they  finish a stint with aching backs. The only way I can stave off such (ungrateful) criticism will be to have soothing drinks ready in the Rectory afterwards.

3 Responses leave one →
  1. Paul Emmons permalink
    April 1, 2011

    Thank you, Father, for what seem to me like an admirably Epicurean post.

    This term and philosophy are misunderstood first by people who associate it with overeating in expensive restaurants; and hardly less by those who assume that it that celebrates self-indulgence generally. My understanding is that this philosophy encourages abstemiousness in many matters. It certainly opposes any excess or irresponsible enjoyment which will make life less enjoyable in the long run.

    Epicureans find the world a random and often violent place, in which they can set little store. It has been called the philosophy of the walled-off garden: a small place that one makes beautiful, protects to the best of one’s ability, and (last but not least) invites friends in to share, all with a minimum of fanfare or ostentation.

    Epicureanism tends to agnosticism and happened to be so popular in the first century A.D. that the church saw it in hostile terms– particularly in contrast to Stoicism, which came to be seen as more compatible with Christian faith and life. In popular imagination it seems never to have lived down that initial confrontation. But scholars have explained that the life of a good Stoic and that of a good Epicurean look very similar. The main difference is that what the Stoic does out of a grim sense of duty, the Epicurean does out of love and friendship. I hardly think that the latter motive is any less Christian than the former, do you?

    Pierre Gassendi, a contemporary of René Descartes and a Roman Catholic priest, is known for thinking that combines Christian faith and Epicureanism. This sounds like a worthy philosophical endeavor to me. Do you know of any later efforts? Meanwhile, I can think of no better practical epitome of this spirit than S. Clement’s parish garden and your plans for sharing it with others in the neighborhood.

  2. ambly permalink
    April 2, 2011

    Excellent news that you have the HSP involved. They do wonderful work.

  3. Michael Arrington permalink
    April 23, 2011

    I am now in the process of planting my garden, but I would really like to assist you in any way with the St. Clement’s garden.

    I have only one hope for my garden, I can catch that racoon that really destroyed my garden last year (he ate everything).

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