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More about Biblical Gardens

Biblical gardens are collections of plants referred to in the Bible that are grown in botanical gardens, in parks, or by individuals. Plants are mentioned throughout the Bible but determining which species they represent has posed challenges and provoked debate among historians, scholars and botanists.  Controversy over identification of Biblical plants occurs at many levels: with translation of plant names from Hebrew into other languages, with the same name applied to different species, and with general terms used to describe several types of plants.  The work of botanists and archeologists has shed light on specific plants found in the Holy Land in biblical times.  Other plants associated with biblical themes may be found in contemporary gardens, especially those grown in areas with different climates.  If you wish to explore Biblical gardens in the United States, you may visit Rodef Shalom Temple in Pittsburgh, PA, the Missouri Botanical Garden, and the San Francisco Botanical Garden, among others.

History of the Temple Beth-El Biblical Garden:

The Temple Beth-El Biblical Garden dates to the synagogue’s early years on Orchard Avenue in Providence’s East Side.  In the course of designing that garden, Mrs. David C. Adelman, the founder and first president of the Eden Garden Club, faced several challenges.  A shallow pool (2-feet deep) along the lower level of the patio proved impractical and was filled with soil.  She relocated shallow-rooted plants from the upper level to landscape this area.  She designed the Biblical garden in the narrow plot, 60 feet x 2 feet, along the upper level of the patio.  Plants in this location, with its southern exposure and the surrounding patio and stonewalls, are subject to intense heat in the summer.  Thoughtful consideration in choosing plants and attentive care in nurturing them is essential to their survival and growth in this site.

The Biblical garden was centered on the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments and a weeping mulberry tree, pruned so that its drooping branches echoed the shape of the tablets.  The tablets came from the first Temple Beth-El built in Providence in 1890.  A pair of pyracantha shrubs flanked the mulberry tree and were espaliered in the form of seven-branched menorahs to signify “the eternal light” that is the Torah.  Bittersweet vines, along with the bitter herbs rue and wormwood, symbolized the trials and disappointments of our Jewish heritage.  Sage was planted to evoke the wisdom of Moses and a willow, which grows rapidly, suggested the ability of the Jewish people to gain spiritual knowledge quickly.  A burning bush (Eunymous alatus) which has brilliant bronze foliage and red berries in the fall was planted beneath rock fragments within the upper patio.  It referred to Moses fashioning the Ten Commandments on a rocky mountaintop and to the burning bush that blazed but was not consumed by fire, reflecting the resilience of the Jewish people.  The ground cover, Vinca minor, was planted because it shares the name of myrtle with a tree growing in the Holy Land.  The Hebrew word for that tree is “Hadas” and its fragrant foliage and white blossoms allude to the sweetness and purity of Queen Esther or “Hadassah.”  Saffron crocuses were planted for their ability to flourish under adversity, again symbolic of our Jewish faith.

The original Temple Beth-El Biblical Garden was formally dedicated on May 6, 1960.  A year later Mrs. Adelman received national recognition when she was awarded the May Duff Walters Medal for Church Gardens for designing the garden whose fitness “to meet the needs of the congregation” and “permanent beauty” were primary considerations rather than size.  The garden was redesigned and rededicated as the Julie Claire Gutterman Memorial Biblical Garden by the Eden Garden Club on June 26, 2002.

The current garden preserves plants from the past alongside new introductions that retain important symbolism.  Some plants lost over time were replaced; others that had outgrown the space or the ability of staff and volunteers to maintain them as envisioned were removed.  Whenever possible, more sustainable and less-invasive plant species, have been chosen.  The garden is a place for contemplation, engagement of the senses, celebration of the seasons, and reflection on the cycles of birth, growth, death and decay that embody all life.  As Mrs. Adelman said about creation of the original garden, “I humbly hope to make the Bible a living thing, to urge contemplation of God’s wonders, and His power and glory as something to be brought out beyond the doors of the Synagogue.”

Plants are included in the Temple Beth-El Biblical Garden on the basis of: historical accuracy (the seven species, saffron crocus), their membership in plant families found in the Holy Land (cedar, willow, mulberry, rose, centaurea), images they evoke related to events in the Bible (example: smoke tree and Spirea ‘Gold Flame’ refer to the burning bush), their presence in the garden prior to its renovation and thus their link to “ground breakers” who preceded us at Temple Beth-El (mulberry, vinca that is commonly referred to as myrtle), While New England’s climate is very different from that of the Holy Land and other site considerations limit which plants can be grown here, these plants (with the exception of the olive which is not cold-hardy) can be incorporated into a home landscape in our region.

A list of plants in the Temple Beth-El Biblical Garden follows with the common name (underlined) and scientific name (in italics).

Seven Species:

Fig, Ficus carica ‘Chicago Hardy’

Grape, (Jupiter Grape) Vitis vinifera ‘Jupiter‘

Honeyberry, Lonicera caerulea var. edulis  –  ‘Blue Pacific’ and ‘Blue Moon’

Olive, Olea europaea ‘Manzanillo’

Pomegranate (Russian hardy pomegranate), Punica granatum

Barley, Hordeum vulgare

Wheat, Triticum aestivum

Ornamental trees and shrubs:

Black Mulberry, Morus nigra

Cedar, Cedrus deodora ‘Snow Sprite’

Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifloia ‘Sarah’

Smoketree, Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’

Smoketree, Cotinus coggygria ‘Grace

Spiraea, Spiraea japonica ‘Gold Flame’

Spiraea, Spiraea japonica ‘Shirobana‘

Willow (Dwarf blue Arctic willow) Salix purpurea ‘Nana’

Vegetables and herbs:

Chives, Allium schoenoprasum (member of the Allium family that includes onions and garlic)

Coriander, Coriander sativum

Dill, Anethum graveolens

Wormwood, Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’

Mustard, Brassica juncea

Flowers, thistles and thorns:

Anemone, Anemone x hybrida “Honorine Joubert’.

Crocus, Crocus sativus (Saffron crocus)  and Crocus vernus (Dutch crocus)

Lilies, Hemerocallis ‘Stella D’ Oro’ and ‘Mini Stella’ (not true lilies but re-blooming daylilies)

Thistles, Centaurea montana ‘Amethyst in Snow’ and ‘Gold Bullion’

Thorns, (Wingthorn rose) Rosa sericea pteracantha

Groundcovers, vines:

Ivy, Hedera helix

Myrtle, Vinca minor

Tue, May 28 2024 20 Iyar 5784