2016-06-10 / Front Page

Secret’s out

South Portland’s ‘secret garden’ opened to public
By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Members of Congregation Bet Ha’am, from left, Teri Terenson, Jerri Donn, and garden committee Chairman Toby Rosenberg, enjoy the temple’s sanctuary garden. Located at 81 Westbrook St., the garden cannot be seen from the street, but will be opened for a public tour on Sunday, June 19. (Duke Harrington photo) Members of Congregation Bet Ha’am, from left, Teri Terenson, Jerri Donn, and garden committee Chairman Toby Rosenberg, enjoy the temple’s sanctuary garden. Located at 81 Westbrook St., the garden cannot be seen from the street, but will be opened for a public tour on Sunday, June 19. (Duke Harrington photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – One of South Portland’s hidden gems, the so-called ‘secret garden’ located at Congregation Bet Ha’am, will be opened to the public for a garden tour on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 19.

Created about eight years ago, the garden originally had a very utilitarian function – to act as a visual buffer between the Reform Jewish synagogue, since awarded national acclaim for its own architectural splendor, and the urban bustle and blight of Route 1.

“Initially, this was a flat, characterless piece of land,” said Toby Rosenberg, chairman of the congregation’s eight person garden committee. “Our architects put in a berm and a fence, and plantings inside and out, creating this wonderful, secluded, hidden garden. Certainly, when we’re worshiping, having nature be a part of that, it just comes right into the sanctuary.”

The garden is designed as a Maine woodland garden, with native species of flowers, trees and shrubberies – with a few added touches, such as the rose of Sharon and other plants mentioned in the Bible and the Torah.

“So, it’s not a garden that’s exotic and shocking,” Rosenberg said. “It’s sort of soothing and familiar. And it allows us to watch the seasons pass, and now we have several types of birds that have made this their home, so it keeps us close to nature.”

“I remember when we first started, putting in just little plugs of things and having lots of space between then, and now everything is really lush, and that’s part of why we want to show it off, because everything has really grown and matured in a wonderful way,” Rosenberg said.

Featured in the sanctuary garden is a year-round reflecting pool, which adds a note of tranquility but also serves to radiate the temple as light bounces off the water and natural wood of the temple’s sweeping concave roofline.

“When the angle of the sun is right, like in the winter, that reflection and dappling of light goes halfway into the room, so you’re sitting there and can’t help but watch the natural light dancing on the ceiling,” Rosenberg said. “That’s partly why the pool is very contemporary, rather than a more pond-like structure that we might have built.”

Still, the pool only serves to compliment the gardens, one of three that will be part of the community tour. Also on display will be the temple’s bio-retention pond – filled with species that thrive in the alternately bone dry and extremely wet conditions, creating an oasis that hides the structure’s true utilitarian function, to filter road salt and other chemicals from the parking lot’s stormwater runoff – and the entryway garden, which Rosenberg describes as “almost a giant planter,” filled will several rare species that will delight local garden aficionados.

“It’s a lot of garden, a lot of landscape,” Rosenberg said. “Our hope is to bring people from the public in who are interested in different kinds of gardens, and to share something that we enjoy so much which is normally kind of hidden from public view.”

All of the gardens are handicapped accessible.

The garden tour is a fundraiser for Congregation Bet Ha’am’s general fund. Tickets for the event, which runs from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on June 19, are available at the temple office, or online at eventbrite.com. For more information, visit the congregation’s website, bethaam.org.

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