St. Alban's Church labyrinth garden welcomes all

A Cleveland Heights family searches for the geocache log at the center of the labyrinth. 

The sign at the corner of Euclid Heights Boulevard and Edgehill Road reads: “Labyrinth. Garden. All Are Welcome.”

It is a high-traffic area for runners and cyclists, elderly couples, moms with strollers, and students. Until April, it was an empty, grassy triangle in front of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church.

That’s when Agape members Jessica Miller and Josh Handley attended a workshop on straw-bale gardening at a local plant store. They dreamed up a way to construct a straw bale garden in the form of a labyrinth that would incorporate food, beautification, sacred space and a community project. Agape is the young adult community at St. Alban’s.

“We got pretty excited about the idea of a low-maintenance garden,” said Handley.  “We thought that building a labyrinth out of the bales would make it something that we’d be more likely to spend time working on. And then we thought we could use it to become a more visible part of the neighborhood.”

“Straw-bale gardening,” said Miller, an environmental educator at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, “involves planting or seeding plants directly into conditioned bales where their root systems expand and thrive in the decomposing straw medium. We constructed our labyrinth garden to explore straw-bale gardening not only to produce an edible crop, but also to facilitate community, bring beauty and curiosity into our neighborhood, and to provide a peaceful and centering reflective space to walk, sense, and partake.”

The labyrinth caused a stir on the street with drivers calling out, “Why are you watering that hay?!” or “How long have you been lost in that maze?!” After planting the seeds, which were started inside under grow lights, it wasn’t long before the labyrinth looked less like a hay maze and more like a lush garden.

Neighbors are encouraged to reap the harvest as they walk by: the bales are overflowing with vegetables, herbs and flowers—basil, strawberries, cucumbers, kale, okra, broccoli, a variety of squashes and peppers, and hundreds of grape tomatoes.

The space continues to grow. At the center of the labyrinth, a glass-topped box holds poetry, information and centering prayer, seeds and found objects. A notebook in the box holds messages from visitors who have reached the center, such as “It’s my first weekend in Cleveland and I feel SO welcomed! Thank you!”

Other stamps and signatures record those who have discovered this registered geocache site. Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunt game using GPS devices. Participants navigate to a site, like this one, and then try to find the geocache container hidden there.

Children from nearby Roxboro Elementary School learned how vegetables are grown and helped plant and water at a St. Alban’s back-to-school event in August.

The success and momentum of the labyrinth project inspired the Heights Community Garden Network to request a workshop on straw-bale gardening, which St. Alban’s hosted in early September.

Anna Risch

Anna Risch is a member of Agape, the (mostly) young adult community at St. Alban's Episcopal Church. She recieved her BA in English in 2012, and now works as administrative coordinator of Greater Cleveland Congregations. She's been a resident of the Heights since March 2014 and plans to stay.

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Volume 7, Issue 10, Posted 10:05 AM, 09.30.2014