Other Unfinished Garden of God's
By Dan Hardison
mountains of Tennessee, in a valley just twelve miles from the
University of the South at Sewanee, sits
Episcopal Church. And just outside its doors is the Mission
Garden. Though it was for all to enjoy, this garden was
different than most, it was built and maintained by the young
boys and girls of the Mission.
Begun in 1938
under the guidance of The Rev. George W. Jones, the garden was
built over a number of years as a way to occupy idle time, to
provide needed income, and to bring beauty and inspiration to
the people of the valley. From the hauling of fertile soil by
wheelbarrow, to the casting of blocks and bricks for the walls
and walkways, the boys constructed the garden and then the
youths became the gardeners who tended it day to day.
It would become a walled garden
covering an area of 16,000 square feet in a Spanish Mission
style. Within its ivy covered walls were pools with fish,
fountains, bricked walkways, and an open-air chapel. The chapel
was within a colonnade with a large statue of Mary holding the
infant Lord behind the altar, and would become known as “Our
Lady of the Hills” chapel.
In the garden,
there were a variety of flowers, shrubs, and even vegetables.
Work was balanced with play and there would be time for
horseshoes, baseball, and good-natured fun. As Father Jones
recalled, “The wheelbarrows have all but never stopped rolling.
They must have rolled as far as around the world and moved
incalculable tonnage. And if they are ever unemployed in work,
they become the pleasure cars of small boys who never ever tire
of riding each other over the garden walks and often all over
the town. That is a nuisance! But both nuisance and extravagance
are well endured because the keen delight ... is harmless and
wholesome and long since has equaled in value the wheelbarrows'
weight in gold.”
During World War II, many of the
boys who had been the builders of the garden left to serve our
country, but they never forgot the memories and lessons learned
in the Mission Garden. The young soldiers would correspond with
Father Jones, reminiscing and longing for the Mission and its
garden. As one young soldier wrote, “When I think of home I
always think of the garden. That place means lots to me although
I did not know it when I worked there. If I were an artist I
could draw it perfectly from memory to every last brick and
across the country would visit the mission church and its
garden. But after struggling through the Depression and World
War II, the area fell victim to a lack of employment and most of
the people would gradually leave the valley in search of work.
As the population dwindled, so did the membership of the church.
The Mission Garden could not be maintained and most of it has
been lost. But Epiphany Mission is still active today and “Our
Lady of the Hills” chapel still stands – a testament to its
In the words of
Father Jones, “In the garden spiritual and material needs are
determined in all manner of people, heavy and gladsome hearts
come and go. Marvelous indeed is the measure of parochial life
that can transpire in a garden closely linked to an altar throne
Editor, The Episcopal Church and Visual Art