Meditation Garden

 The Meditation Garden is a native plant garden located on the west side of the church building (near SE corner of the west parking lot). This delightful garden, dedicated in 1992, reminds us in all seasons of the beauty of our local ecosystem, and helps us learn to live in harmony with the 7th of the UU Principles, "respect for the interdependent web of which we are a part." A history of the Meditation Garden follows the photographs below.





 History of the Meditation Garden at Unitarian Universalist Church West
by Caryl Sewell, October 2008

Once, they had their photo taken while standing in a hole.

They did backbreaking work hauling flagstone and laying a patio. They dug up a rock so big it couldn’t be moved by hand. And that was just during the first year --when they both were 70 years old. Loretta Hernday and Nada Bevic, now 87, began the work of creating the Meditation Garden in 1991.

It all began with a letter

Sometime in early 1991, the UUCW Board of Trustees sent a letter appointing longtime member Nada Bevic as Chair and asking her to recruit members, establish a committee, and create a garden using some of the funds member Alice Holz had left to the church in her will.

Nada recruited Loretta Hernday, who soon became co-chair of the committee, as well as Cheri Fredrick Briscoe, Nate Swearingen, Joan Deardorf and Helen Ambuel to help.  Other strong supporters from those days included Mary McCanna, Karen Huth, Nancy Mathison, Floyd Olsen, and un-official helpers – their husbands – Ray Hernday and Lou Bevic.

After many meetings and consideration of numerous alternatives (including the idea of building a formal garden with a fountain in the center), they decided to create a native garden. Loretta, already a follower of Wisconsin natural gardening authority Lorrie Otto, said she wouldn’t be involved unless it was going to be a native garden. “The 7th principle is what brought me to UUCW. When I first heard it I thought – this is my church!” Loretta said. Or as Nada put it, “the 7th principle was our guiding light.  (“Unitarian Universalists affirm and promote ‘Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.’”)

IMG_3169.jpgLocation and preparation

Originally, the committee wanted to locate the garden near the back door on the lower level. But that spot was a play area for children and a picnic area, as well. They had to settle for the space near the parking lot. On July 3, 1991, they began. But their progress was frustratingly slow and they ended up spending the first year preparing the soil and laying the patio.

“The plans were in place. The garden was marked out; the machinery was on hand,” Nada said. Unfortunately, the ground was so compacted and dry little progress could be made. “We were very gung-ho,” Nada said. “But the ground was very rocky and hard.” Apparently, it had been packed down with a bulldozer during construction of the church addition. They finally hired someone to plow it up. But even then, he broke a rototiller. Ray and Loretta Hernday finally used their own equipment – spending countless hours going back and forth over the ground.  “I don’t know how many times we went over it,” Loretta said. “Then, we added topsoil.”

Using Wisconsin limestone from the Halquist Stone Company in Sussex, Nada, Loretta and and Cheri Frederick Briscoe put in a patio.  They also laid out walkways with shredded bark.

The Garden

In the spring of 1992, the second year of the garden, they began to plant. And by summer, according to Nada, the garden was “a riot of colors … plantings beyond our wildest dreams.” That fall, on October 7, Halquist Stone Company arrived with another delivery – a stone bench and a 350-pound Wisconsin fieldstone which now holds a plaque that says: “Meditation Garden. Celebrating Life, 1992.”

While the equipment was there, Nada said, they also hoisted up and moved a large rock they had found while loosening the soil. That “sitting rock,” as Loretta called it, is still there, in a perfect place to sit and contemplate.

By the third year, it looked like a garden. According to Loretta, diversity was a major goal, so they planted more than 70 different kinds of plants, including: Nodding Wild Onion, Tall Bellflower, Prairie Smoke, Sneezeweed, Wild Beardtongue and Heartleaf Golden Alexanders, to name a few.

Dedication ceremony

On May 16, 1993, Nada led the congregation and minister David MacPherson, in dedicating the garden. They unveiled the plaque and the choir sang a choral benediction.  Loretta and Helen Ambuel distributed wildflower seeds. Work developing the garden continued and that fall, Loretta and Ray Hernday laid a stepping-stone path from the garden to the sidewalk.

In the spring of 1994, committee members planted a tree (Downy Hawthorne) and shrubs (American Cranberry Vibernum). They also began developing a woodland area with additional shrubs (Common Snowberries) and removing invasive plants such as Honeysuckle. In May, Lou Bevic built and donated two wooden benches using a modification of a design by environmentalist Aldo Leopold.

According to Loretta, the garden provides nectar for bees and butterflies, seeds for birds and cover for animals (a newborn fawn was spotted once in the garden). It improves the soil, doesn’t require mowing or pesticides or fertilizer and thus does not pollute the air or water.

However, a native garden is not work-free.  After ten years of handling the books and helping with the gardening, Nada had to quit because of her advancing arthritis. Luckily, Loretta was able to continue gardening for another seven years – adding plants and removing unwanted species and spreading her passion for native gardening to others.

As Loretta pointed out, unlike cultivars, or regular garden plants, these plants all reproduce themselves every year. Also, the Meditation Garden has plants in it that never would all grow together in nature. Because diversity is a goal, it means there is some work involved in keeping the slower growing plants from being crowded out. Without this attention, the garden might otherwise have only one or two different types of plants.

One of the joys of a native garden is checking out what is growing every spring. Another yearly ritual is the burning of the garden. At first, they burned it every other year, but a native plant expert assured them burning every year is beneficial.

In April of 1996, members and friends conducted the first “prairie burn,” an event that was noted in an Earth Day article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on Sunday, April 14. Another noteworthy prairie burn took place in April of 2002 with young women who participated in a mentoring program at UUCW.

“The garden lifts the spirit,” Loretta said. “It is very colorful. It improves the air and is very low maintenance because the plants are adjusted to the climate and soil. Water stays on the land and does not run off.” According to Loretta, they are continually tending to the diversity of the garden. “It’s always a very happy thing to see a plant come back each spring, because you never know if it will make it or not.”

Keeping the paths clear is another important job. “We remove alien plants – plants that go to seed such as the aggressive Canadian Goldenrod and thistles. Because we want people to walk through the garden, we have to limit ourselves and not put in plants with burrs, for example, that will stick to everyone’s clothing,” Loretta said.

After 17 years, both Nada and Loretta love to see what comes up in the spring. “They are so new and fresh. It is so much fun to see what is there,” Loretta said.

And now that the heavy work is done, they can just sit back and enjoy the garden.
* * * * * * * * *
On October 26, 2008 – Sarah Frey and Kathy Brenner were vested with the “Trowels of Garden Stewardship” by Loretta Hernday.

You are invited to join the Meditation Garden Team, and be part of keeping our native plant garden healthy and strong!


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