By SARA ARTHURS
With spring comes time, at last, to get into the garden. This is true not only at homes but also at churches, where many volunteers are busy sprucing up the landscaping.
Tim Brugeman, who helps plan and maintain the landscaping at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, said church landscaping is in some ways similar to that of a business, but he said a church needs to particularly pay attention to the need to be inviting and welcoming. Churches should aim to be part of the neighborhood and shouldn’t look like a commercial building, he said.
The goal is to create landscaping that is easy to maintain, affordable and has the “same type of curb appeal” as a home.
On a recent afternoon, a group of fifth- through eighth-grade students from St. Michael School helped plant flowers on the grounds of the Bright Road church. This was the third year that students helped adult volunteer landscapers.
Brugeman said volunteers select plants that fit the church’s established landscape design. Some of the flowers planted decorated the church’s altar for Easter, including tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and hydrangeas.
At Gateway Church, volunteer Chad Hepp plants different flowers each year and tries to make sure members and visitors see something new.
This year, he and other volunteers planted a mix of petunias. There are also planters near the church entrance.
At St. Michael and Gateway, the harsh winter was hard on some plants. Both Brugeman and Hepp said boxwood shrubs were particularly hard hit. Hepp noted that holly, too, has struggled.
“They are coming back, albeit slowly,” he said.
Brugeman said landscaping can be a lot of work for volunteers but he has found people willing to do it, from students to retirees. For some, working on the landscaping together becomes “their social outlet” and a “chance to give back.”
And, the work can be rewarding.
“There’s a sense of pride,” Brugeman said, and seeing the spring colors brightens people’s spirits.
“You want to come to church and feel good,” Brugeman said.
Hepp enjoys feeling like the effort helps the church to make a good first impression.
“Of course this is the Lord’s house, so I want to do it first and foremost for the Lord,” he said.
Joyce Sullivan, a volunteer at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church, said she likes “just to make the church beautiful.”
Sullivan said about a dozen volunteers, known as the “Gardening Angels,” will plant about 200 geraniums on June 2, following the advice of master gardeners in the group to plant later this year than in the past.
The volunteers are also responsible for pulling weeds, deadheading and watering. They usually deadhead on Saturday so the dead blossoms are gone before church on Sunday.
St. Andrew’s will also have a small area focused on flowers of the Bible, including lily of the valley.
Sullivan is a gardener at home, too.
“The people that are helping, they just all like to garden,” she said.
Brugeman helped with the original landscape design when St. Michael’s renovated its downtown church. The retired director of the Hancock Park District, his background is in landscape architecture. Brugeman has also assisted other churches with their landscaping including St. Andrew’s.
Hepp said landscaping around Gateway has to take into account the church’s location and design, including that it is often windy, and that the asphalt of the parking lot can generate heat.
There are already trees behind the church and more will soon be added to serve as a windbreak, as well as to provide shade. A parishioner’s son will plant trees as an Eagle Scout project. Hepp said several types of trees have been chosen, including spruce, tulip tree and honey locust.
Just like home gardeners, church landscapers can run into pest problems. Hepp said some maple trees on Gateway’s campus have been attacked by maple borer and he plans to replace them with other types of trees.
Trees at St. Michael include honey locusts, flowering crabapples and evergreens.
“We try to pick the right plants for the right place,” Brugeman said, adding that doing so means not having to trim as much.
Church members have donated some of the shrubs, flowers and trees on display outside St. Michael. Brugeman said not all of the donated plants live.
“Mother Nature’s kind of selective,” he said, so this spring he and his volunteers are cleaning up a lot of dead plants.
Many of the shrubs at Gateway have been there since 2007, shortly after the church was built.
Hepp said determining what to plant has been “trial and error.” Sometimes one plant does much better than its neighbors and will overtake an area, but he strives for balance.
St. Michael has a couple of dozen adult volunteers who do everything from mowing grass to spraying weeds. Volunteers take care of the flowers and plants at the Bright Road campus, with another group planting flowers at the church on Western Avenue.
Shrubs at the church are trimmed several times a year. Other maintenance tasks include cleaning up dead leaves, replacing plants that die and fertilizing. This spring St. Michael spent more than $1,000 saving trees affected by bagworms.
“There’s always mowing and trimming and weeding,” Brugeman said.
He said good lawns that are mowed and trimmed regularly “help make a nice landscape.”
Hepp said maintenance is done throughout the season at Gateway. He is at the church about once a week to weed, and there are church members who are professional landscapers who do trimming and mulching when their schedules allow. Watering is done about twice a week.
Hepp fertilizes with a sprayer every two weeks, and said this makes the flowers “just explode, and pop.”
Hepp tries to have a mix of colors, including some plants with darker foliage in colors other than green.
Gateway is undergoing an expansion and will have a new worship center and children’s Sunday school area. This will mean opportunities for additional landscaping. Hepp said if the building committee decides it wants to do this in house, he and his volunteers are ready and able “to meet that challenge.”
Hepp works for Kohl’s department store, which has an “Associates in Action” program that allowed him to apply for a $500 grant because of his work landscaping the church, which will go toward children’s ministries.
Hepp finds the work rewarding.
“Once everything is done I see the end result,” he said. “I see how beautiful it is.”
Arthurs: 419-427-8494 Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs
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