MOUNDSVILLE — Atop a high, green hill in Marshall County is the kind of place gardeners dream about. Think late May and a sea of green buds ready to explode into every color of rose that is possible. Think not a single dead cane or yellow leaf in sight.
Think, too, of gardening at a level that amounts to religious devotion. That – which plays out as two full-time gardeners and three to four part timers — is what it takes to maintain more than 100 varieties of roses and more than 400 individual plants at New Vrindaban, a Hare Krishna community outside Moundsville. “Part of our tradition or our philosophy is recognizing that everything that is around us is a creation of God or a higher power,” explained Sarah Ferrer, a devotee and community spokesperson. “It’s about offering beauty back to God.” Ferrer noted that while roses and other flowers are offered to the Hindu God Krishna and a multitude of demigods as part of worship for this branch of Hinduism, those blooms are grown in high-tunnel greenhouses. The rose garden outside the site’s Palace of Gold is more about pleasure and honoring the memory of Swami Srila Prabhupada, who brought Krishna worship to the United States in the 1960s, she said. “Roses have always been essential in this because of their beauty, their symbolism of youth and their fragrance,”said Ferrer, who is watching the garden come back to life for the first time. She previously lived in Florida and California and had seen the garden only in winter.
BEAUTIFICATION Ferrer said the pleasure factor of the garden has grown in meaning to the community since COVID began. “It’s very uplifting for the residents and the visitors that come.” And, like two summer festivals, she said the garden is meant to be a point of connection both inside the residential religious community and among various other communities in the Ohio Valley. “We wanted people to come and visit and feel a common solace and peace.” Ironically, that camaraderie has long been a factor in the garden’s creation and care, she noted. Betty Hickey, a Wheeling gardener who was not a devotee, simply loved the space and worked the roses into an award-winning state over 25 years of volunteerism. Hickey, who died just as the garden shut down for the winter in 2020, trained the current gardeners and will be honored with a bench when the roses fully awake this season. Her ethic remains visible. Beds are nearly weedless. Wheelbarrows and flats of such companion flowers as the highly fragrant sweet alyssum are ready to spring into action. Rose varieties such as Love and Peace, Brass Band, Carefree Delight and Chrysler Imperial are expertly pruned.
SLOW GARDEN Visitors often enjoy the garden as a side tour of the adjacent Palace of Gold, which was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. But, COVID made it possible to extend a garden stay, Ferrer added. In summer 2020, the community decided to open the garden gates a bit wider to visitors – not to mention the free-roaming peacocks that call New Vrindaban home. The hope, Ferrer said, was to create a sense of another place during a time when most travel was impossible. Sunday brunches – offered at small tables or picnic style – began. “People just wanted to get out again,” Ferrer said of the early days of the brunches. “They wanted to have brunch in India.” She added that the south Indian side of the fusion menu tends to be more popular with guests as a result. Croissants, mueslix and their kin are on the buffet line. But, the savory side reigns. There is street food such as ragra pattice, a savory muffin covered with a thick legume soup. Also on the menu are idli, a bread-like product made from fermented mung beans and cooked by steaming; chutneys; and dosa, a crepe-like food that is filled with potatoes. Sharing such food and a beautiful space with people of other faiths and philosophies feels especially good in the COVID era, Ferrer said. “It’s an opportunity to evolve out of it to the better,” she said. “The whole world has grown.”