A Sense of herbs - A Bible grove

April 07, 2003|b Dorry Baird Norris

"From Eden to Gethsemene, the Bible is a book of gardens. It is with a garden that Genesis begins, and with a vision of trees bearing fruit that the book of Revelation ends." - Eleanor Anthony King

"Bible Plants for American Gardens"

Our new Bible Garden is laid out. Cedar bark paths spread across the plot in the form of a fallen oak leaf, As with all new gardens, my first plantings will be trees, the bones of the garden. We don't have the space for the following three trees nor would the climate here in Hagerstown be appropriate for them, but we can dream.

There will be no towering date palm (Phoenix dactylifera). The date palm, mentioned often by the Bible scribes, was used for food and also played an pivotal role in what was to become Palm Sunday. "So they took branches of palm trees, and went out to meet him, crying, 'Hosanna! Blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King Of Israel!'" (John 12:13).


The gray, gnarled olive tree (Olea europea), whose branches are deemed a symbol of peace, will be missing as well. It was an olive branch that the dove carried back to Noah's ark, ". . . so Noah knew the waters had subsided from the earth" (Genesis 8:10). Olive oil was used in lamps, was important in the ritual life of the people and, then as now, an important and useful oil in the kitchen. In addition, it was used for anointing the body after bathing. Olive oil has always been a symbol of prosperity.

I'm sorry to say that the leathery-leafed and sinewy-trunked carob (Ceratonia siliqua) won't find a home here either. The edible pods of the evergreen carob are rich in protein and sugar and have been used for forage throughout the Mediterranean, especially in Palestine. Carob was not much esteemed for human use. We remember the parable of the hungry, prodigal son who ate the "husks" or animal food (Luke 15:10).

In our Western Maryland Bible garden, the cornerstone will be a king among trees, the cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani). With its knotty trunk and slightly weepy, melancholy branches, it is symbol of grandeur. The fragrant wood of this elegant tree was used to build Solomon's temple that was to be "exceedingly magnificent, of fame and glory throughout all countries."

Against the advice of the nurserymen, I will plant an apricot tree (Prunus armeniaca). I'm searching for one that is a late bloomer so that the buds won't be nipped by a late frost. Many Bible scholars believe that the apricot, which still flourishes throughout Israel, was the "apple" of the scriptures, and that it was this fruit of "the tree of knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis 2:16, 17) that led to Adam and Eve's undoing.

Our potted, 12-year-old, dwarf, pomegranate tree will fit in nicely, too. Even though it is tender, it winters happily in the living room. The elegant, red, trumpet flowers were often mentioned in the Bible as a decorative component. Its symbolism of fruitfulness is alluded to in the Song of Solomon (4:13): "Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all the choicest fruits."

We will try a fig (Ficus carica) tree although it is only marginally hardy here and will probably die down to the root. According to Matthew the fig, "as soon as its branches become tender and puts forth new leaves, you know that summer is near." (Matthew 24:32).

This is just a sampling of the trees that are appropriate for a bible garden. If you are interested in finding out about others, "Bible Plants for American Gardens" by Eleanor Anthony King and "Plants of the Bible" by Harold N. and Alma L. Moldenke are useful. Both are published in paperback by Dover Press.

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