The path to peace—global, local, and personal—seems always paved with contention. In late 1990, when tension and conflict escalated in the Persian Gulf, my wife and I, residents of Loveland, Colorado, discovered a small, newly formed local group whose members shared our concerns for the welfare of all people involved. The first few meetings of what became known as the Loveland Coalition for Peace were somewhat depressing, but we soon began to direct our feelings into positive action. Of all the activities we initiated, the most positive and lasting has been the Loveland Peace Garden.
The central element of this garden was also its inspiration: Edward F. Hoffman III’s life-sized bronze statue called Child of Peace depicting a naked young boy holding a dove to his breast and balancing on one foot on the back of a tortoise. Standing atop a rise at the edge of a large, well-kept lawn, the statue overlooks a broad flagstone plaza that surrounds an ornate brick gazebo. It is part of the 18-acre Benson Sculpture Park, which belongs to the City of Loveland. The park grounds are kept up by the city, but civic organizations that “adopt” statues design, plant, and maintain gardens surrounding them. The city provides plants, soil amendments, and other materials, such as bricks and flagstones. It seemed only natural that the Loveland Coalition for Peace should adopt the Child of Peace sculpture and plant a garden around it.
With advice from Betsy Strauch, The Herb Companion’s assistant editor and a Master Gardener, I designed the garden to include perennial herbs that are hardy in our Zone 5 climate and that carry connotations of peace and harmony, based on the Language of Flowers: A Book of Victorian Floral Sentiments, by Kathleen Gips (Chagrin Falls, Ohio: Pine Creek Herbs, 1990). We planted lavender (for “distrust” but also for “loyalty”) in front of the statue as a backdrop for the bronze nameplate. To the sides and front of the nameplate is a ground cover of thyme (for “courage” and “happiness”) and golden oregano (for “joy”). Rue (for “purification”, “virtue”, and “understanding”) grows on either side of the statue. A large mound of southernwood (for “perseverance”) rises behind the statue, flanked by smaller mounds of gray santolina (for “protection”). A low, heart-shaped hedge of germander (for “faithfulness”) encircles the garden, and the corners and edges are filled in with thyme. A brick mowing strip allows a lawn mower to get right up to the garden’s edge without damaging the plants.
The city designates one weekend day each year, usually in mid-June, for the adopting organizations to groom and plant or replant their gardens. On a sunny June 20, 1991, the Loveland Coalition for Peace members (including several children) came out with gardening tools and picnic lunches to till and plant the garden. Within an hour after removing the sod, the enthusiastic group had thoroughly loosened the soil to more than a spade’s depth and worked in a large bale of peat. By lunchtime, the 9-by-9-foot garden was completely planted. The last task—positioning the germander plants for the heart-shaped hedge—required some measurements that seemed overly picky in the celebratory mood of the moment, but the ultimate symmetry of the hedge was worth the work.
Paul Sypian, a coalition member and an expert mason, showed us how to stabilize the brick mowing strip by thoroughly compacting the soil that would underlie it, then setting the bricks on a layer of coarse sand with additional sand between the bricks. Nearly four years later, settling is minimal in the mowing strip, although ants have made homes in the sand between the bricks.
Anticipating the empty appearance of the newly planted garden during its first year, we had brought more than a dozen packets of nasturtium (for “patriotism”) seeds and poked the fat seeds into the soil at fairly wide intervals over the entire garden. The city’s automatic watering system, calibrated for lawn maintenance, gave the nasturtiums enough moisture to complement the intense Rocky Mountain sunlight, and by season’s end, we had a tangle of nasturtiums that had stunted the growth of many of the perennials.
The garden still looked sparse the second year, and at the city’s request, we doubled the overall planting density of the herbs. The progress of the plants during that second season demonstrated not only that the drainage at the site was excellent, but that the garden would eventually develop according to plan.
When the herbs emerged early in the third season, we knew that the Loveland Peace Garden was a success. The frequency and intensity of coalition meetings and activities have waned somewhat, but the garden remains as a lasting statement of our concern for human welfare. It is a focal point around which we gather occasionally to trim, weed, and fertilize, and to celebrate the peace that we preserve in our hearts.
The Benson Sculpture Park, where you’ll find the Loveland Peace Garden, is open daily. A sign at each statue identifies the statue and the adopting organization.
David Merrill, formerly special projects editor for The Herb Companion, is a freelance writer and editor and a conscientious objector.