The Garden Community


Linda Christman


Peace must be achieved in our own backyards, villages, towns, and cities before it can be obtained worldwide.  Some people, like M. Scott Peck who wrote The Different Drum, believe that communities, both locally and globally, are key elements in obtaining this peace.  He states:

…without global community, world peace is unattainable.  In and through community lies the salvation of the world.  Nothing is more important…Perhaps peacemaking should start small.  I am not suggesting for a moment that we should abandon global peacemaking efforts.  I am dubious, however, as to how far we can move toward global community—which is the only way to achieve international peace—until we learn the basic principles of community in our own individual lives and personal spheres of influence.  (17-18)

So what defines a community and how do we become one both locally and globally?  Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines a community as “1) a unified body of individuals, 2) the people with common interests living in a particular area and 3) an interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location” (228).  The interaction of people is one of the most important elements in establishing a community.  This interaction determines how people become a “…unified body of individuals” living in peace and harmony.

Clearly, there are some typical interactions that take place among people that can be considered important community events, for example, social gatherings like 4th of July picnics, festivals, school activities, meetings, and sporting events.  However, there is one interaction among people that I believe would be an absolutely wonderful idea in uniting people:  the growing of a community garden.  I would like to take credit for this idea, but in fact, it was my 9-year old son who thought of it.

While waiting outside the house for the bus to pick my two sons up for school, I asked my nine-year old son, Garrett, what he thought made a community?  He said, “A community is made up of houses, churches, schools, playgrounds, baseball fields, stores, streets, and people.”  I asked him to think about the people in the community and what they needed to do to get along with each other?  He stopped swinging his baseball bat, looked up at me for a moment, and said, “they could plant a ‘peace garden,’ everyone plants the garden together.  It would have all kinds of flowers, a waterfall, and a sign with the word ‘peace’ on it.  It would be a tranquility garden.”  I asked him “Why a garden?”  He replied he saw it on a television show, and “In the show, the teacher told the kids in her class to plant the garden together, agree on where it was to be, and what was to be planted.”  Garrett thought planting a garden would give people in a community something to do together to get along.  If people get along, they won’t fight and there will be peace.

Although Garrett’s idea on peace is simplistic in its content, there is much to be said about the growing of a community garden.  Gardens are a great way for people to interact but it is the garden itself—what is grown, how it is planted and maintained—that symbolizes a community.  Gardens and communities have common elements, and therefore, are alike in many ways.  Gardens have a diverse population in the plants that are grown.  There are flowering, and non-flowering plants that vary in sizes, colors, shapes, and textures.  Each of these plants, although unique, grows in one area.  Communities, especially ones in larger cities, have diverse populations as well, with people of all races, ethnicities, religious, and cultural beliefs each having their own history—yet living in one area.

How does a garden and community survive the diversity and live to grow together in one area?  Every garden no matter its size has the same basic elements:  the land, topsoil, fertilizer, seeds or plants, and water.  Every variety of flower needs these same basic elements but also specialized care.  To have a garden looks its best where each plant thrives, it is critical to provide the specialized care each individual variety needs.  For example, some plants require more sun and space than others to grow.  They may need a different fertilizer, amount of water or pruning.  If the time is taken for this individualized care, the result is a magnificent garden with a variety of plants growing and thriving together. 

The people in a community are similar to gardens and can be thought of as a group of diverse “plants” requiring their own space and care but needing to grow and thrive together.  Each person requires basic care as a human being such as, a place to live, food, water, and clothing, but there are specific needs, wants, and beliefs of each race and ethnicity.  It is critical to allow people their differences.  They need to be able to express these differences through the celebration of religious and cultural holidays, the right to attend their own churches, and the right to wear the costume of their country.  As Scott states:

Anyone who believes that world peace won’t be established until religious and cultural differences are obliterated—until all Jews become Christians or all Christians Muslim or all Muslims Hindu--is thereby contributing to the problem rather than the solution.  There simply isn’t time for that.  Even if there were—even if ‘one world’ meant a melting pot in which everything comes out a bland mush instead of a salad of varied ingredients and textures—I’m not sure that an outcome would be palatable.  The solution lies in the opposite direction:  in learning how to appreciate—yea, celebrate—individual cultural and religious differences and how to live with reconciliation in a pluralistic world.  (19-20)

Communities that embrace these differences, and expressions of their people, have the ability to become the “…unified bodies of individuals,” living in peace and harmony.

Is the planting of a garden really a good way of uniting people in an effort to build a community and in obtaining peace? My son Garrett seems to think so and several other people who have begun to grow ‘peace gardens’ throughout the world.  For example, in the article “A Peace Garden Sprouts in Weymouth,” Eunice Kim writes, “A group of North Weymouth residents [are] hoping a tribute to the past brings peace in the future” (11).  The residents planted vegetables like corn, pumpkins, and squash that were once harvested by the Massachusetts Indians on a site where fighting between the Indians and the first settlers occurred.  The article reports:

The garden is thriving in the area where blood was first drawn in New England between the two groups in 1623.  That event, the Wessagusset Massacre, is not lost on the North Weymouth residents today.  ‘It’s almost 400 years later.  Heads are still being severed, ‘[Jodi] Purdy-Quinlan [vice-chairman of the historical commission] said, referring to conflicts and wars across the world.  ‘This garden is a way of saying, when is the bloodshed going to stop?  When is the human race going to finally end conflict?’  The nearly 50 corn stalks growing in the garden are also symbols of peace as the 1623 massacre started as a dispute over corn seed, she said…’We’re hoping it brings peace in the area and worldwide,’ Dorsey [resident of the town] said.  ‘It’s already helped’.  (Kim 11)

The planting of the garden in Weymouth not only gave the community a common interest, but it continuously reminds them of the tragedies of war and the importance of peace.

The town of Cowra, in New South Wales, Australia, has promoted itself as a center of world peace.  Like in Weymouth, it to has remembered the tragedies from the battles fought there.  Jim Eagles, a writer with the New Zealand Harold, said in his article “Peace Grows in Cowra’s Garden” that, “Most people visit Cowra to see its glorious Japanese garden and investigate its role as a center for world peace.  But the garden and the culture of peace had their origins in one of the bloodiest incidents in Australian history” (Eagles).  In World War II, the town of Cowra had a prison camp that held “German, Italian, Japanese, Formosan, Javanese, and Korean soldiers” (Eagles).  There was a horrific incident on August 5, 1944 between the Japanese prisoners and the Australians.  It resulted in the death of four Australians and over two hundred and thirty-one Japanese prisoners.  The people of Cowra buried the Australians and Japanese adjacent to each other and the returned Australian servicemen took care of all the plots, even the ones of their enemies.  According to Jim Eagles,

The news of this gesture spread – particularly by relatives who came to see where their loved ones were buried – and in 1964 the Japanese Government asked if all its warriors buried on Australian soil could be interred in [the] town which had shown them such honour.  Visit Cowra’s graveyard now and you will find a small plot for Australian war dead and a large Japanese War Cemetery—the only official Japanese War Cemetery in the world, apparently – with 552 graves and a small shrine…(Eagles)

Japan and Cowra developed other relations over the years as a result of the Japanese War Cemetery.  They established an exchange program with their high school students and hold Youth Forums discussing the building of peace.  However, one of the most important steps in the relationship was Cowra’s decision to build a Japanese garden.  The garden was designed by a Japanese architect and was completed in 1979.  It is at this garden where many of the town’s events take place.

Cowra went a step further and “…has promoted itself as a center for world peace.  It holds an annual Festival of International Understanding and a Peace Poetry Competition, and the Cowra Rotary Club has written into its constitution that the town is a Peace City” (Eagles).  In 1992, Australia was awarded with the World Peace Bell and erected it in Cowra.

In Edmonton, Canada, like in Cowra and Weymouth, there is yet another peace garden.  The article, “Gardening for Peace,” by Harold Retson, tells the story of Marion Rosborough, who, after seeing the devastation of the terrorist act on the twin towers of the World Trade Center, in New York City, was inspired to grow a garden known as the ‘Peaceful Spirit.’  The garden was described in the article as:

…a circular garden…[with] bright floral symbols representing many of the world’s major religions:  the Christian cross, Islamic crescent, Judaism’s star of David, the Buddhist dharma wheel of law, the aboriginal medicine wheel, [the] Egyptian ankh, [and the] Hindu om and Taoist yin yang.  Rosborough, 72, says the main objective in creating ‘Peaceful Spirit’ was to stress that each of us can make a difference for peace in the world.  ‘The time has come to understand that many cultures and religions believed in the unity of mankind’…(Retson)

Like others, Rosborough’s garden reminds people of the tragedies of war and the importance of peace.

In another article, “What Washington Needs Now,” Theodore M. Hesburgh tells the story of why one lady, Elizabeth Ratcliff, proposed a National Peace Garden Monument to be built in Washington D.C.  Elizabeth Ratcliff wanted a monument that represented the future not the past.  She conceived the idea to build a “…national monument that would honor America’s commitment to peace and, more important, would inspire future generations of peacemakers.”  (Hesburgh)  In 1987, Ms Ratcliff was granted ten acres for the monument.  She states:

I have joined a committed board composed in part of former Peace Corps volunteers in the effort to build the National Peace Garden Monument.  I see it as an opportunity to demonstrate to ourselves and to the world our commitment to the potential for peace.  It will encourage thinking and actions that produce solutions to threats of violence at home as well as abroad…on the eve of the 21st century, we have a chance to build one of the last major memorials in Washington, one dedicated to our belief in the possibility of peace on earth.  It will be our gift to the future.  (B8)

This proposed monument by Ms. Ratcliff also reminds people of the importance of world peace.  Yet rather than focusing on the tragedies of past wars, her monument represents the hope of the future—a future that is void of violence and war.

World peace is an enormous feat that to this day has not been obtained, and yet the theory of how it can be achieved is really quite simple.  As my son Garrett said when referring to the planting of a community garden, if we do something together, we’ll get along, we won’t fight, and there will be peace.  We just need to figure out what we can all do together in the world to get along because “getting along” is the answer to world peace.  Maybe the solution or at least the first step—a place to begin to find common ground—is the interaction of people in planting community gardens throughout the world.  These gardens will symbolize diversity and unity of the communities.  In addition, the gardens will be constant reminders of the tragedies of war and the hopes of all people, in small towns, villages, and cities, that peace is obtainable!

Works Cited

“Community.” Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. 8th ed. 1977.

Eagles, Jim. “Peace grows in Cowra’s Garden.” The New Zealand Herald 23 June 2005: Thursday, travel, general. LexisNexis Academic. Buffalo State Coll. Lib., Buffalo, N.Y. <>.

Hesburgh, Theodore M. “What Washington Needs Now.” Christian Science Monitor 88.249 (1996). Academic Search Premier. Buffalo State Coll. Lib., Buffalo, N.Y. <>.

Kim, Eunice. “A Peace Garden Sprouts in Weymouth.” The Patrtiot Ledger 22 July 2005:  Friday, City ed., news: p. 11. LexisNexis Academic. Buffalo State Coll. Lib., Buffalo, N.Y. <>.

Peck, Scott M., M.D.  The Different Drum:  Community Making and Peace.  New York:  Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1987.

Retson, Don.  “Gardening for Peace:  Flower Bed Promoting Harmony Among Faiths was Inspired in Part by 9/11.”  The Edmonton Journal 20 August 2005:  Final ed., news:  p. B8. LexisNexis Academic.  Buffalo State Coll. Lib., Buffalo, N.Y. <>.