Marta Garland


Sacred Gardens:  Places of Peace and Beauty for the Soul

Proclaim the Faith with Plants

Picture provided by Marie Proulx-Meder, from her book: Many Faces One Mary

I never thought about church gardens until I had the following inspiring experience:

I was serving as a volunteer to watch over children of women attending (court ordered) group counseling for victims of domestic violence.  The program was held at a Catholic Church in Winder, Georgia.  It was late afternoon, and some of the children were extremely restless and could not be distracted by doing crafts or coloring.

I decided to take a few of the children for a walk on the church grounds, as I had noticed some little gardens placed along the concrete walk.  We approached the first garden with a statue of Mary with flowers and benches. The children sat on the benches, enclosed in this small island of peace and comfort and became calm. After a few minutes, we walked to the next garden; I remember there were about three of them. After about 20 minutes, we returned to the classroom, refreshed.

I have since been on a journey to develop spiritual gardens of beauty, culminating in attending the SCALA Foundation Scala conference on sacred Christian art at the Princeton Theological Seminary. 

Marta Garland Greenland Landscape & Masonry at Princeton SCALA conference

Some of the gardens I have built and planted in Georgia are pictured in this blog, and others were created by Christian artists that I have had the privilege of meeting along the way.

Here are a few examples of sacred garden art to show what can be created on church grounds, as well as on your own property.

Memorial garden in Dacula

Memorial Gardens

Memorial gardens are created for the interment or burial of cremations, either in individual vaults or in a common burial plot for ashes.  These are the most popular type of church gardens because they provide both a final resting place for parishoners, and a place for outdoor services and funerals.   Here, the memorial garden at St. Mary & Martha Episcopal Church in Dacula, Georgia is shown in the vesper light, right before the Easter Eve service.

Mary Garden in Westfield Massachusetts_provided by Marie Proulx- Meder

Meditation and Prayer Gardens

This photo is provided courtesy of Marie Proulx-Meder, from her inspirational book: Many Faces One Mary: Discovering Homegrown Gardens and Shrines of Our Lady. She spent 3 years photographing and documenting the history and purpose of each garden.  Most of the gardens in the book are small and intimate, with a statue, flowers, and seating. They can be lovingly planted and maintained by one person, and enjoyed by many.   To order the book, which contains color photos and stories of 124 gardens honoring Mary, contact Marie at [email protected].

Peace shrubs in snow Mary & Martha Episcopal Buford
Flower Cross at Jones Chapel UMC in Danielsville Georgia

Signage and Billboard Plantings

Create a bold message in flowers proclaiming the faith. These plantings are viewed from the road. The flower cross is planted in front of Jones Chapel Methodist Church in Danielsville. The flowers are replaced twice a year by volunteers, usually begonias in summer and pansies in winter.  A message of Peace at Mary & Martha Episcopal Church in Buford is planted in Dwarf yaupon hollies.

Infiorata sacred art by KL Art Studio in Rockford Michigan

Decorative Art

This is the work of artist Kathryn Laffrey, who created the design for the flower Infiorata at her parent’s Catholic Church in Michigan.  She drew the design and had it enlarged in a banner which was rolled out in the Church isle. The flower petals, greenery, and hand dyed sawdust were placed by children in the church like a paint by numbers. They even adorned the sidewalk at the street with flower petals for the public to enjoy.  I can envision commissioning Kathryn to design a mosaic for an outdoor path or walkway.  Visit her website: to view her embroidery work for church alter linens and other sacred art.

Labyrinth on Palm Sunday at St. Anthony Episcopal in Winder Georgia

Walking paths of pilgrimage

Outdoor labyrinths and stations of the cross trails invite a mind-body meditation experience.  Here is a labyrinth we constructed for St. Anthony’s Episcopal Church in Winder, Ga.  There is also a walking path surrounding the labyrinth with Stations of the Cross signage. The Church keeps their grounds open to the public for prayer and meditation, even providing a printed prayer sheet for walking the labyrinth. They also have seating and an alter for outdoor services.

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Landscape renovation limb up camellia in Lawrenceville after

How to Renovate a Mature Landscape

Many of my clients have lived in their homes for decades, and I am delighted to return and do renovations to the landscapes periodically, say every three to 10 years.

I’ll start off by saying avoid this mistake: Cutting down all the overgrown shrubs with a chainsaw and hoping they will grow back smaller. This pruning technique may work on some plants, such as the dwarf yaupon holly, but generally you are destroying the natural beauty of the plant.

The first step is to take inventory of the plantings and decide if the plant should be removed, pruned, or transplanted.

Landscape renovation pruning in Sandy Springs before
Landscape renovation pruning in Sandy Springs after

In this example, the plants were overgrown and blocked access through the side path.  We chose to thin them out from the inside, removing larger branches instead of topping the plants.  Topping with a power pruner causes the plant to put out dense new growth where ever you make the cuts. For natural pruning, we layer the cuts and do the pruning by hand so we can control where the cuts are made.

A creative pruning technique is to change a shrub into a tree.  Here, we removed the lower branches of a camellia japonica. 

Landscape renovation limb up camellia in Lawrenceville before
Landscape renovation limb up camellia in Lawrenceville after

This is an effective technique when the plant is kept at 5’ to 7’ tall.  Any higher, and the new “tree” (they are called “standards” in the nursery trade) will become a maintenance nightmare involving climbing a tall ladder several times a year.

Here is an example of an overgrown espalier: attaching a shrub or tree to a wall.

Landscape renovation espalier sasanqua in Sandy Springs before
Landscape renovation espallier sasanqua in Sandy Springs after

Lastly, consider if any plants should be transplanted.  You can definitely divide and replant perennials and ground covers.  Some shrubs that are not too old and have dense root systems, such as boxwoods, are fairly easy to dig up and move. It is almost impossible to move a plant that is growing under large trees because their roots are intermingled with the tree roots.

Landscape renovation transplanting boxwoods in Hoschton

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Garden Landscaping

Landscape Design – First Step to Getting the Garden You Love

You have been dreaming of a lovely garden or landscape where you can sit and relax, or just enjoy viewing it from the kitchen window. You may have already gathered Pinterest pictures, or met with a few landscape contractors. But how do you get from the vision to creating the actual place? The first step is to put together a design .

Most landscape contractors offer design services, employing designers and landscape architects. Landscape architects have more education than landscape designers, and are licensed by the State. Be sure to look at pictures of their past projects, and the type of drawings and plans they produce to make sure you are compatible working together.

It takes time to create a custom design. The client and designer need to develop a synergy, or back and forth exchange of ideas, that allow the design to develop organically. The designer cannot read your mind. You need to communicate your vision for your project through words and pictures, as well as sharing some idea of what you want to spend. You will have practical concerns such as solving drainage problems, decreasing the amount of maintenance, removing grass that will not grow despite your repeated efforts to replace it, etc. You can provide a checklist of all the elements you would like in your plan, such as fencing, patios, seating walls, playset, water feature, lighting, and so on. A list of plants you like and don’t like is also useful.

A landscape architect is a generalist, skilled at choreographing a menu of landscape elements and fitting all of the pieces together. We have knowledge about many specialities, and should be able to communicate and coordinate with skilled tradespeople, general labor, equipment operators, plant and product suppliers, and anyone else needed to build your project. We know when to hire additional professional expertise such as engineers, arborists, and permit facilitators. on. The goal is to think ahead, and plan for everything you will need and want, even if the work will be phased over a few years. Planning ahead will eliminate both surprises and proceeding with the work in the wrong order. For example, building a patio too high or too low can cause the entire yard to need regrading.

The truth is, many potential clients call me after they have already spent time and money on their property with unhappy results. This is usually a result of the project not being communicated through detailed plans or 3-D depictions. A verbal or written description is usually not enough. They may have been rushed into proceeding with the work, and not been given the time to explore several possibilities and alternatives.

After installing several thousand landscape projects, I can assure you that although there are many “happy accidents”, the property owners with the right plan will end up with a project that creates happiness far more often than a property where projects have been done piecemeal.

In the end, you will end up with a finished project, an environment that you enjoy.

Marta Scherer Garland, reg. Landscape Architect, Georgia Lic# LA000664

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