Shared by Ellen Kirby
When I retired in 2007 and moved to Winston-Salem, NC, leaving PSUMC and the church garden were very difficult for me. I spent so many hours working there for over 20 years with wonderful groups of volunteers. It was a respite and an inspiration. It was and is a sacred space. Since the garden started in 1971 there have been several "waves" of volunteers, each offering their time, energy and creativity. For their names, see the sidebar and if you have other names, please send them to me.
I created this blog to provide a channel for communication between volunteers and a way for the wider community to learn about the garden as a significant part of the church's outreach. Nearly 16,000 visits to the blog are recorded by Blogger's analytics, many from other countries.
Today, I am grateful to church Trustee Rickie James, one of the original gardeners, for reviving interest in the garden's history and its ongoing significance for the church. Rev. Melissa Hinneman, the current pastor continues strong support for the garden along with faithful volunteers.
The Park Slope Methodist Episcopal Church (formerly the Sixth Avenue Methodist Church) opened in 1884. The property included a large empty lot adjacent to the church. Led by pastor Rev. Phil West in 1971 a planning process began after gaining approval from the NY Annual Conference. A group of members moved forward to create a garden in the empty lot. Led by church members Monte Clinton and Faithe Davis the group recruited local landscape designer Bob McMahon to implement their plan. Ground was broken in 1972 and an energetic and creative group of volunteers transformed the rubble strewn vacant lot into a beautifully designed and landscaped garden.
That basic design survives today. A large yew shrub and boxwoods from Mt. Vernon are still in their original places. In the original design, railroad ties provided borders and brick paths were laid. The center square of peach trees and boxwoods provided a focal point. When Rev. Finley Schaef became the minister of the church in 1972 he continued strong pastoral support for the garden including the garden's inclusion of composting as an earth saving process.
In 1984 when the original group of volunteers asked for help, I volunteered to lead a new group of volunteers. We started a composting area and used it to dispose of leaves and weeds and invited church members to "bring their kitchen garbage to church" thus creating beautiful new soil to replenish the tired old soil. New plants and trees were planted.
Volunteers learned new gardening skills and tried and tested many different ideas. Through their connections to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, volunteers acquired interesting new plants to add to the design. Many took gardening classes. Notable plants included a Japanese Maple, a Korean viburnum, clematis, hydangeas and many other perennials, along with tulips and daffodils. One October, church members, including children planted many varieties of bulbs and enjoyed the surprise of red and yellow in the Spring. It was a great sight. During this time the four original peach trees died and were replaced with a Japanese white birch, and Japanese Maple. Additional trees were added including a Dogwood Altinofolia and a ‘Red Jade’ weeping crabapple. The crabapple and Japanese Cherry Tree (‘Kwanzan’) flowered beautifully in the spring. A Crape Myrtle replaced the Japanese Cherry when it died.
The church members and the community used the garden for congregational coffee hours, meetings, weddings, birthday parties. local AA meetings, outdoor movie screenings and many other purposes. Amazing lobster dinners were held to raise funds for the church. The neighborhood Beansprouts Nursery School had its early beginnings in the church and the garden was a major feature that continues to this day. Hundreds of children have spent their formative years in this garden. Certainly this beautiful open space left an indelible memory that would last their lifetime. We enlarged the play area with a special surface made of recycled tires. Over the years the rentals from Beansprouts became a major source of funding for the church.
Garden volunteers and members donated many significant additions to the garden in memory of friends and family, including a Colorado Spruce in memory of Monte Clinton’s father, a wonderful wooden bench for Guy D’Angelo who made a major donation to the church, new roses in memory of Ruth Bell by her daughter Delores and a teak bench in memory of Sara Zug by her friends and family.
The garden extended to the street with colorful window boxes on steps leading to the sanctuary, created and cared for by Nancy Crumley. Nancy Wilks filled the gingko tree bed with beautiful yellow daffodils and flowers for spring and summer.
In. 1997 the garden was named for our beloved minister Rev. Finley Schaef and his wife, Nancy. Rev. Schaef had been the pastor for 25 years and Nancy had been his devoted partner and deeply dedicated church leader. Because of Rev. Schaef's commitment to environmental sustainability and his and Nancy's love for the garden it was named the Schaef Earth Garden.
|Rev. Finley and Nancy E.K.Schaef|
In 2001 a signifiant renovation was done with garden volunteers working with Kevin Gerard, local landscape architect. A new wrought iron fence with a center gate replaced the old chainlink one (which included barbed wire at the top). A new amphitheater with brick decking replaced the original railroad ties.
One strong memory are the remarks of people who walked by the garden a few days after the 9/11 terrorist strike on New York City in 2001. As the passersby saw the folks working to rebuild the garden, they spoke of their gratefulness to see something new and positive. Another time a woman who was in the Sunday evening AA group left three beautiful shrubs in the garden. Later I learned that she donated the plants from her own garden due to her appreciation for the chance to sit in the garden before and after meetings.
In 2007 I retired and moved to North Carolina. Many of the volunteers continued at that time and Nancy Crumley coordinated the work. (to be updated).
In 2020, The church started another major renovation to make the church more accessible from the sanctuary to the garden and the street, as well as the garden into the church building. A new entrance, an elevator and new paths were added. Some plants had to be removed but new ones will be planted. The Trustees and current pastor, Rev. Melissa Hinnen have led this effort.
Ellen Kirby, January 2021