TRAVERSE CITY — The Garden of Remembrance has been embracing souls for 25 years.
Under the meticulously tended flower beds are the ashes of 236 people. The garden, on the grounds of the First Congregational Church on Center Road, is a place for their loved ones to visit and remember.
But the garden isn't all about grief. Weddings and church services and baptisms take place there, too.
Betty Parker had the idea 25 years ago to transform a barren field into a memorial garden, said Karen Hogue, communications director. The group of gardeners drew up plans, dug up trees and planted flowers and shrubs.
Liz Clous, a master gardener and current chairman of the church's Garden and Landscape Committee, said some of the plants had to be moved around.
"In one part, there was a small white birch and some peonies," she said. As the tree grew and created more shade, they had to move to peonies. That bed now features hostas and ferns.
The volunteers also realized, as more ashes were interred, that they need a grid system.
"After the first year, they realized they needed it gridded out in 10-foot increments," she said. Now, discretely placed among the bushes and plants, there are silver markers for ashes and gray markers for the grid system.
There are six beds in the garden, taking up about 30,000 square feet, Clous said. Now, with the grid system, which uses letters for the north/south directions and numbers for the east/west directions, a person can look for "A-10," for instance, to find a loved one's memorial.
Barbara Kausler has been volunteering steadily for two years and has been a member of the church since 1976. She's helping plan the July 11 service that will mark the anniversary.
"We'll talk about the garden, its beauty and God's presence," she said, and sing hymns — including "Morning Has Broken" and "In the Garden" — that they sang 25 years ago, when the garden was created.
There will be a dedication of a new wall and steps and, after the service, Kausler said, there will be a garden walk, music, a plein air artist and refreshments.
Kausler already has reserved a spot to be interred, next to a spice bush — "because I'm a spicy girl" — and near the church, per her husband's wishes.
A group of volunteers holds work bees every Tuesday morning. Two gardens were recently added to the two small courtyards in front of the church, as well as a kitchen garden outside the kitchen door. There are also 21 garden islands in the parking lot.
Pam Evans volunteered for the first time on a recent brisk Tuesday, laying newspapers under woodchips for mulch.
"I've been wanting to come but had grandchildren duties," she said. "Plus, they were crying for help."
The Garden of Remembrance also will be featured in the Friendly Garden Club's annual Garden Walk, scheduled for July 15.
The anniversary celebration is scheduled during the 10:30 a.m. service Sunday, July 11, at the church to honor the founders and volunteers throughout the years.
All are welcome at the celebration and the Remembrance Garden is open to everyone.
The church is at the base of the Old Mission Peninsula on Center Road (M-37), just north of the intersection of Peninsula Drive.
For more information, call 947-6698 or go to www.fcctc.org.