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Memorial Garden

Hidden Treasure — Creating a Memorial Garden

Most gardeners will tell you that they’re devoted to their plot of earth, but tucked away in a corner of Greenfield Hill is a garden that is devoted to people: the memory of those who have passed away, that is. The Memorial Garden at the Greenfield Hill Congregational Church turns 20 this year, and is still fulfilling its original promise—to offer a place of peace and respite for those who are grieving the loss of loved ones, or who simply want a gentle space for meditation and remembrance. Parishioners also gather there for memorial services and interment of ashes, in addition to weddings or activities with the youth organizations.

First envisioned by parishioners at the church, a garden committee set their sights on an unused two-acre property, purchased after World War II for a few thousand dollars. Once an apple orchard within the old Milbank family’s farm, over the years it had become a tangle of growth, full of over-grown native plants and escaped exotic species.

Long a haven for wildlife and songbirds, the garden was purposefully designed with native trees and shrubs to encourage their wild neighbors to continue to live and nest there. Today it is a secluded arboretum in miniature, where the music of cardinals, wrens, finches, and sparrows creates a soothing symphony. The hum of bees and the colorful wings of butterflies contribute to the garden’s peaceful feeling with the later addition of a butterfly garden, placed at the rear of the property.

Visitors enter the garden from Old Academy Road through a hand-forged naturalistic arch, made by noted local sculptor David Boyajian, from the Silvermine Guild in New Canaan. An outstanding selection of specimen trees and shrubs is planted there in honor of members of the church. From the gate, there is a view across to the garden’s centerpiece: a stone wall, four sections of which form a circle.

Gino Vona, a local mason and Fairfield resident, donated the granite stones from his upstate farm, and designed and built the wall. That’s where congregation members can place the ashes of their loved ones, along with small plaques with their names. A Japanese maple (‘Red Dragon’) grows in the center of the memorial. A wide variety of flowering shrubs, roses, and perennials give color to the space year round, and provide fall berries to sustain the birds throughout the year.

Past the stone memorial, the religious nature of the landscape is recalled by a large, striking cross, also created by artist David Boyajian, bordered by a wall of evergreen hemlocks. The cross was constructed from oak beams taken from an old warehouse in Harlem. That area of the garden is occasionally used for outdoor services in summer.

Although well-known actors and longtime church members Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy do not rest within the stone wall, both have trees lovingly placed in their memories. Mr. Cronyn’s sugar maple grows within the garden, as does Ms. Tandy’s Korean ash, both marked with metal plaques. Another tree nearby recalls a couple “waltzing in heaven.” Stately Norway spruce trees were retained to anchor the east side of the garden axis. Teak benches placed throughout offer a seat for quiet contemplation.

Memorial Garden visitors

Neighbors love to visit the gardens.

It took the work of many people to create the garden. Charlie Stebbins, Bob Dies, and Cynnie Goldrick worked with Oliver Nurseries on the original horticultural plan, with the support of the church’s board of trustees. At the garden dedication in June 1998, actor Hume Cronyn spoke about the beauty and peace he remembered from his childhood in Canada.

The garden continues to grow and change. A bronze gate was added at the Bronson Road entrance, along with an extended stone walkway. That pathway makes the garden more accessible for people who may use canes or walkers. This holy place, dedicated to reverence and reflection, is open to the public.
Always replacing existing plantings and adding new specimens, the Memorial Garden Committee works year round. With an annual operating budget of $20,000, donations to the garden fund are appreciated, and help sustain this hidden treasure.

 

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