Religion & Garden Design

October 1, 2010

I had an interesting experience yesterday with a client that is still on my mind today.   I am putting final touches on a project where my clients are a team of house flippers.   This particular house is a very upscale Victorian home that will hit the market later this month in the the range of 1.5 mil.

My plan, which is purely planting based, called for a palette of deep purples and bright fresh greens (in foliage) and in flowers, sophisticated whites and a smattering of bright red (in landscape roses) .  As it is typical and generally should be expected, the best laid plans can be thwarted when you show up at the nursery — especially late in the season.  Some things just aren’t great and given that this needs to look hot on day one, and the client has less concern for how it ages,  the ‘right now wow’ needs to work.

The roses at the nursery just weren’t cutting it….and in need of red — or a brighter color in general, to get us from October to the, hopefully soon, sale date in early winter, I came up with a few subs.  One was Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and the other Callicarpa dichtoma ‘Early Amethyst’.

callicarpa early amethyst and winterberry by gardensoevye via

image from

We discussed and I have to admit, I truly liked both….but sticking with the color scheme, I thought that we would go with the Winterberry….even though I admit that the Callicarpa — while not the original plan color– actually was prettier in place.  My reasons for preferring the callicarpa were based purely on trying to be true to the plan and on what looked best.  But my client’s were, however, slightly different.   He liked the callicarpa better too — but he followed with an explanation that still has me thinking.

Seems, in this particular neighborhood, there are alot of Jewish people, and they expect that the eventual purchaser of the house will likely be a Jewish family.  And, he explained, because of this fact, the winterberry was just too Christmas-y and would be less desirable to a Jewish buyer.

I have to admit, this is a realm of design I have never given much thought to.  That is, the effects of our religions have on the choices we might make for our gardens.  Admittedly, there are many religious based gardens in the world and  the beauty of nature is consistently and commonly tied to divine interpretations.  But on a more practical level I never thought that Jewish people might not like plants that have some symbolism associated with Christian holidays.  It has me wondering what other cultural or religious reasons might be behind other plant preferences or even design choices in general.  I feel like, in thinking about this, I am just scratching the surface of a huge vast area of design that I had never before considered.

What do you know about this?  Do you have specific preferences that you can attribute to your religious or cultural background?  How do you see the manifestation of our personal cultures in residential garden design?

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  1. S@sha says:

    Wow, interesting. I’m hoping you get lots of response to this because it could be an interesting discussion. I’m not Jewish, but I have a hard time imagining that Jews would automatically equate red berries with Christmas, or dislike them as a result. I have encountered people who don’t like cypress because it reminds them of cemeteries, which might have religious ties, or easter lilies because it reminds them of funerals.

  2. Your client is correct.
    S@sha, it has happened to me too!
    I had that same experience with a client who was offended when I planted holly shrubs in his front garden. They reminded him of Christmas wreaths , and being Jewish, he felt it inappropriate to grow them in his garden.
    Whenever a plant becomes associated with a religion or a religious holiday, there is a strong possibility that it will become offensive to members of other religions. In some belief systems, it is prohibited to associate with objects or symbols that are representative of other religions. The prohibition is based on the real fear that, on a fundamental level, all religions compete with each other for adherents. Think of the power of the golden calf in the days of Moses. Embracing other religions symbols, hypothetically, may weaken commitment to one’s own religion, and therefore is a sign of disrespect to ones own religious community.

  3. Very interest topic!

    This question of faith has crossed my mind when designing a client’s landscape but admittedly the thought is fleeting, and mostly surfaces when I am suggesting a plant that can be cut for Christmas deco. In the instant that I begin to make the suggestion, there is a moment of hesitation and I usually will not continue unless I am sure I will not be offending the client.

    I am looking forward to this discussion!

  4. Billy Galanis says:

    I had to design, rather a revamp done quickly to an entrance to a residence that was getting ready for a tradition indian wedding reception that was being held at the house. For years ive been trying to geth them to update. Now that the wedding was planned, the blue color glazed pots were ok, lots of orange, yellow, reds were used. I agree with scott, when a discussion is added about clipping a nandina, or holly for the winter mantle or pot I loose them. I really enjoyed this family coming “out of their shell” for this one time 2 day affair. It also got me closer to them and led to more detailed discussions of the culture and colors they like and dislike.

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