Church members might agree that a book is poorly judged just by its cover. Attractive landscaping, however, can contribute to the welcoming atmosphere of a church, strengthen its missions and enhance its role in the community it serves. Improved landscaping also may encourage people to venture in to seek out the inner gifts the church has to offer.
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Planning and Resources
Start the church yard design with any denominational or congregational tenets of stewardship and community involvement. For instance, the way the denomination addresses environmental stewardship may offer compelling guidance on the plants chosen and their care. The Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota's Environmental Stewardship Resolution specifies that environmentally responsible church property designs increase use of native flora and decrease use of pesticides over conventional landscaping practices. Planning and caring for the landscaping also can provide opportunities for church members to express their faith in a new way.
Access and Welcome
Making a church entry area seem welcoming often takes a combination of landscaping and hardscaping. Balance the beauty of plants against the need to let people know where to enter the building. A compact evergreen like a "Hillside Upright" spruce, at 10 to 12 feet high and 6 to 8 feet wide, hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 8, makes a fine guidepost because its branches do not obscure church signs. Frame a broad walkway with narrow flower beds so plantings do not crowd the path. A low herbaceous perennial like variegated lilyturf (Liriope muscari "Variegata"), hardy in USDA zones 6 through 10, creates changing seasonal interest with variegated foliage, flowers and berries at a tidy height of 6 to 12 inches. If possible, paths should be designed to accommodate at least two people walking side-by-side to enhance feelings of fellowship.
Rest and Refreshment
A church can offer quiet, refreshing spaces throughout the week, not just during religious services. If the church is close to public transportation, placing a bench under a shade tree offers a restful place for people to wait for a ride. If an urban church is close to the street or most of its open space is needed for paved parking, incorporate big planters full of bright annuals like geraniums (Pelargonium x hortorum), hardy as an annual in all USDA zones, perennial in zones 10 and 11, as attention-drawing welcome signs. Center a small evergreen in each container and change annuals with the seasons for even more visual appeal.
Meditation and Reflection
An area for outdoor prayer and contemplation does not have to be large, but it is a good idea to provide some separation from other outdoor activities. If the churchyard contains a memorial area, columbarium or graveyard, locating the quiet area close by makes it easily accessible for the bereaved. For a small space, put up trellises or an arbor to frame a seating area with privacy-screening climbers like clematis (Clematis spp.), different varieties of which are hardy in USDA zones 3 to 5, through 7 and 8. Incorporate a small fountain or pool as the focal point of a meditation area. Surrounding the meditation area with a low wall or hedge lets people gather on both sides, expanding the use of the space for outdoor services or larger gatherings.
Landscaping and Mission
From a gardeners' guild to a food-pantry vegetable garden, the landscaping plan can include mission goals for the congregation and the larger community. Create an area for toddler play or senior citizen relaxation with plants that attract butterflies or touch-friendly varieties. These special-use areas may need fencing for security, so select vinyl-coated metal mesh or another variety that does not obstruct a view of the surrounding space.