"Naples Garden Promotes Discovery, Contemplation, Peace"

By Ann Fullarton, Member, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greater Naples 


Unitarian Universalists have had a long history of communion with nature. Unitarians Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Muir, for example, cultivated this strong spiritual connection. Muir wrote: “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”


A deep appreciation of the natural beauty around us and a desire to inspire young people to learn how to cultivate and preserve it motivated the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greater Naples (UUCGN). This and a generous donation from Fred Fenner for a children’s garden made it possible for the congregation to expand its gardens and make them a place for children to discover nature and learn from it.


The UUCGN congregation is fortunate to have a large, beautiful piece of land with a grove of bald cypress and slash pine. Although parts were wild and overgrown, it was not undiscovered or unappreciated. 


A faithful group of volunteers led by Harlene Richardson have created a peaceful Memorial Garden, carefully tended and nurtured with gifts of bromeliads, orchids, bulbs, and seating. It is a place to honor and remember loved ones gone, to feel a part of nature, and to be inspired by the new life springing up all around. 


Fred Fenner wanted a new generation beguiled with their technological toys and materialistic preoccupations to come to know the beauty and inner peace that comes from communing with nature. His donation enabled the congregation to take their Memorial Garden and surrounding areas, purge them of invasive plants, and bring back native trees, shrubs, and plantings that attract birds and butterflies to enjoy and enthrall.  


A pile of limestone covered with weeds is no longer there. Out of it a beautiful waterfall was born.


A lovely gazebo, driftwood benches, and winding paths now enhance the gardens and invite children as well as adults to come in to find peace and leave refreshed by the joy of nature.


Drawing on talents within the church community, UUCGN member Kathy Ripin of Gardens for the Spirit developed and implemented new garden designs. She was assisted by a talented group that included naturalists and landscapers who worked on the garden areas and waterfall. When a problem later occurred with the waterfall, Nic Provenzo recommended Juan Gonzalez, who redesigned and rebuilt it.