Washington, D.C., has a new garden, a sheltered space set six stories up in the air, a sanctuary in the city’s skyline.
These days, most urban rooftops are gardened for produce, providing caches of vegetable crops in raised beds. Instead, this garden offers the simple pleasures of refreshment and rest, a place for pastoral pause. It is the rooftop terrace at the Museum of the Bible, which opened in November a few blocks south of the U.S. Capitol.
Bible verses are not depicted on signage, nor are there any words graphically displayed in the garden. Yet perceptive Bible readers will quickly recognize one large tree in the center of the garden, the tree of life. From the words from Genesis: “In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life.”
Beginning and end
Working with a relatively small space and the windswept challenges of the urban location, landscape architect Doug Hays, principal with Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, wanted to impart the overarching continuity of the tree of life, the garden element prominent in the Bible at beginning and end.
“Biblically, the history of man begins and ends in a garden,” Hays says. “Both of these gardens are defined by the central elements of water and the tree of life, which establishes common ground and dawns a desire to draw near to God. It speaks to the soul’s yearning to be restored.”
The tree of life is most often described as planted by a river, thus Hays selected a riparian species, weeping willow, as the arboreal focal point of the garden space. The willow’s graceful, gentle boughs communicate an approachable, welcoming beauty, with the invitation from the end of Revelation, “let the one who is thirsty come.”
Beside the tree, a wall of water cascades into a reflection pool. The water wall depicts the vitality of moving water and trickles down into pensive, quiet waters that refresh the soul. The water feature also encloses the southern side of the garden, giving visitors a translucent view of the city through glistening droplets.
Flowers of the field
No garden is complete without flowers, and Hays called on the “flowers of the field” to enhance the pastoral setting. Atlas Fescue, an African pasture grass, along with Prairie Dropseed, a tufted ornamental grass, are ground covers for the garden beds surrounding the terrace.
They are dotted in spring and fall with a succession of wildflower-like display: anemones, bluebells, coreopsis, gaura, hellebores, lilies, tulips, windflowers. This would have been the setting for many of Jesus’ open-field teachings, a small vignette to acknowledge the expansive reach of his words that inspired the museum below.
The Museum of the Bible includes multiple permanent and temporary exhibits, including discoveries from the Israel Antiquities Authority, treasures from the Vatican Library, and interactive walk-throughs of ancient cities. Entry to the museum and access to the sixth floor Bible Garden are free. Visit museumofthebible.org for more information.