For the first time in about two decades, the Manteca Garden Tour is going from a garden of domesticity to the divine. From the home of mere mortals to a house of God.
That house is St. Paul’s United Methodist Church on the southwest corner of Powers Avenue and East North Street. It is one of five gardens that comprise the five private Edens being offered for public viewing on Saturday, May 7, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. by the Manteca Garden Club.
Credit club and church member Tom Savage for the inclusion of St. Paul’s garden in the tour itinerary.
“It’s a very distinctive and unique garden,” Savage, a retired university professor, said of what visitors can expect to see at this particular garden tour destination.
While a church garden may be new to the Manteca Garden Tour, Savage said this has been done in other places including areas where he and wife Marsha have lived in years past.
And while Savage uses the singular form in describing the horticulture sights St. Paul’s has to offer, the church has several distinct gardens scattered all over the place. However, it’s usually the Biblical Garden that immediately comes to mind.
And that is quite easy to understand. There are many who consider this religious-themed landscaping the only one of its kind here in the Family City.
It was about three decades ago when the idea of a Biblical Garden planted in the small but cozy area behind the sanctuary was put into motion. Leading the charge were the late Dr. Claire Weast and his wife Elsie. The purpose of the project was not only to put the small vacant space surrounded by the church, office and school buildings to spiritual good use but also to establish a teaching garden based on the scriptures. To that end, trees and plants that are mentioned in the Bible were selected with each one bearing a tag that includes the Biblical chapter and verse where the plant variety can be found in The Good Book, e.g.: Rose, Wisdom of Solomon 4:13; Pine, Isaiah 60:13; Pomegranate, Song of Solomon 4:13; Fig Tree, Matthew 14:32; Olive Tree, Psalm 52:5; Bay Tree, Psalm 37:35; and Rock Rose-Myrrh, Genesis 43:11.
The focal point of the Biblical Garden is a circular planter with a wooden cross planted in the middle surrounded by multi-colored alstroemeria. The tag identifies this feature as Biblical Well, Numbers 21:17. This was built by Dr. Weast who used rocks he brought from the foothills where he and his wife had a vacation home to accentuate the well’s outer wall.
New additions to the garden are a pair of black custom-made metal benches, and a louvered shade over the seating area which is being installed in time for the garden tour. Church member and garden volunteer Jim Murchie said the additions are all funded by donations, with all of the maintenance provided by a crew that strictly works gratis.
On the wall on the back of the sacristy facing the garden is a plaque with the words, “St. Paul’s Biblical Garden. Dedicated: April 16, 1995.” It replaced the first plaque, which was stolen, and which contained the name of Elsie Weast.
A church of many gardens
While the St. Paul’s tour destination touts the Biblical Garden, visitors will be able to enjoy other visual treats here as well. Among them:
The Maze or Labyrith located between the church and the social hall. Like the Biblical Garden, it’s one of its kind among churches in Manteca. While serving as a meditation location, it has also been used as the setting for weddings as well as special services during the Lenten season. Behind the labyrinth is another seating area with inviting benches where one can sit and do some reflection. The woodsy setting of the labyrinth is, in part, the effort of garden club member Eric Teberg who is an award-winning professional landscape artist whose work has been featured in Sunset Magazine.
The Rose Garden on the west side of the social hall and classrooms where about 40 showy roses thrive year-round. Murchie said Savage is the rose expert in charge of these plants. “I learned about roses while I was growing up,” explained Savage, with his grandmother who lived next door as his mentor. He is putting his knowledge of rose care to good use not only at St. Paul’s but also at the garden club’s memorial rose garden at the Manteca Senior Center.
The Camelia Garden which consists of camelias that hug the east and west sides of the church. These profuse bloomers, whose flowers resemble roses, have been there for decades.
A volunteer crew made up of church members like Savage meets every Friday to take care of garden maintenance for several hours in the morning.
A fund-raiser for civic projects
The annual garden tour is the only fund-raiser put on by the Manteca Garden Club. Funds generated are used by the non-profit group to award scholarships to high school seniors — Savage is the current chairman of this effort — beautify the city in the form of donated trees planted in public parks during the annual observance of Arbor Day and landscaping of public places such as the Public Library, and other civic projects.
Tickets to the garden tour are $15 apiece and may be purchased at the following locations: Sadie’s Salon, Delicato Winery, Ed’s Rockery, Rainforest Nursery, German Glas Werks, Tipton’s Stationery & Gifts, the Manteca Senior Center, and Manteca Visitors Center at the Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley, all in Manteca, and at Park Greenhouse Nursery in Ripon. Each ticket comes with a brochure containing a list of the featured gardens. Refreshments will be served at the last home where an opportunity drawing for various garden items will be held.
For more information about the Manteca Garden Club, visit the group’s website at www.mantecagardenclub.org.