It is important to me to have an outdoor area to meditate, reflect and pray. I’m not too picky on the location — it just needs to be an area without walls, a place where I can open my mind and be surrounded by the natural world. This can be my own backyard, a public garden or a trail in the woods.
For the last year and a half, Christ Wesleyan Church (CWC) of Winston-Salem has been constructing and cultivating a prayer garden. This space serves as an outdoor space where congregation members can come to pray, read scripture or simply enjoy the plants.
The garden was spearheaded by church member and master gardener Bill Bodsford. Once a conversation was opened about the possibility of a prayer garden, Bodsford tweaked the design with the help of a fellow gardener Ron Cloer. Construction of the garden started in January 2018 and was completed that June.
Christ Wesleyan’s prayer garden is nestled within a nook of the church grounds, the sanctuary flanking it to the west and classrooms to the north. The area was nothing more than grass and a couple of trees before the garden was built, so it was a perfect blank slate from which to start. A large hemlock was left and incorporated into the prayer garden.
The garden was planted by the church’s seniors, who are members of CWC life group “West of 55.” With its brick and stone paths, planting berms, and large fountain, the garden’s infrastructure was not easy task to install. This senior group has done some impressive work and implemented a very thoughtful design.
The garden has one direct entrance, leading visitors under a wooden pergola covered in coral honeysuckle. A planted berm meets one end of the pergola, which contains emerald green arborvitae and schip laurel. The goal at this entry is to create a secret garden, a living screen and blaze of color to mask the beauty that lies behind. Once the evergreens fill in a little more and the lonicera (honeysuckle) covers the top of the structure, this look will be achieved.
Bodsford explained how everything that’s gone into the prayer garden has been of no expense to the church. There were several donations made, including plant material, pots, irrigation, seating, and the wooden pergola. Church members, friends and businesses contributed to the project in different ways — with money, sweat equity or hard goods.
To raise money for the garden, Bodsford and other seniors sold memorial bricks that were worked into the walkway around the fountain. The bricks are engraved with the names of those who contributed or church members who have passed away. These brick pavers form a cross in the garden, leading visitors to a central fountain surrounded by benches.
“We placed the bricks where the oldest members or the ones that are deceased are as you enter,” said Bill Hunt, another active member of CWC’s West of 55 seniors.
The benches also were sold as a fundraiser, serving as memorial pieces in the prayer garden. The four benches flank the fountain, with a living carpet of mondo grass at the foot of each one. Surrounded by blooming flowers and trickling water, this is a perfect spot to sit and enjoy this garden.
“Right now a lot of the congregation goes there because it’s pretty,” Bodsford said. “I want them to go there because it’s pretty, but once they get there, the object is to pray. It’s also a memory garden.”
The CWC prayer garden has a sun garden and a shade garden, which flow into each other nicely. Roses, pots of annuals, daylilies and Lemon Candy ninebark draw color and texture to the sunny area around the fountain. Closer to the wall of the church sanctuary, hydrangea serrata, huechera, astilbe, ferns and mounds of hosta add depth and texture to the shady side.
The garden has many spots of interest for devotion and prayer. The shade garden has a 10-foot wooden cross, with a kneeler at its base. Also in this area of the garden, scripture plaques are paired with appropriate plants. A thorny poncirus accompanies a scripture about the crown of thorns. Lily of the valley plants and a tree sculpture are also paired with bibical verses.
One interesting addition to the CWC prayer garden is an information box. Similar in design to Little Free Library boxes, this information box contains spiritual readings, books, devotionals and prayer requests. The box’s door is a donated piece of handmade stained glass, created by an artist in King. The information box is situated under the entry pergola.
The garden hasn’t been without its problems, as any space has to go through a few trials before all the kinks are worked out. Last year’s heavy downpours exposed the need for better drainage in the garden, as water was pooling. Bodsford installed catch basins to deal with the problem.
“We would have water standing in here after one of those torrential rains,” Bodsford said. “The dry wells have eliminated a lot, it disperses the water quicker, because it goes down in the ground.”
Bodsford is a little keen on CWC’s prayer garden, as it’s been a labor of love for the last 18 months. He has every right to brag about the garden and the hands that helped build it. It is a beautiful space, and a peaceful spot to think, reflect and pray. Although it’s young, it is already an abundant garden.
“Before we ever started, I visited several prayer gardens, and I’ve looked online at every prayer garden I could find,” Bodsford said. “I hadn’t seen anything to match up with ours. We’re proud of it, and next year it will be even better because it will fill in some more.”
Bodsford will host an open garden day the the Christ Wesleyan Church’s prayer garden on June 8 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. He invites the public to view the garden and enjoy the space. The church is at 2390 Union Cross Road, Winston-Salem, N.C. 27107.