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Campus & Community

Listening Garden Dedicated at Memorial Chapel

Space Encourages Visitors to Engage With Nature and Each Other

By Sala Levin ’10

"INSPIRE" written on granite bench

Granite benches engraved with words related to dialogue are the primary features of the new Listening Garden behind Memorial Chapel. The bench etched with the word "inspire" honors the memory of late UMD student Kylie Dawson. Paisley Brockmeyer '25, chair of the Student Facilities Fund, cut the ribbon at Thursday's dedication ceremony (below).

Photos by Riley N. Sims Ph.D '23

Nestled behind Memorial Chapel, red tulips, glossy-leafed magnolia trees and neat rows of boxwoods beckon to passersby on foot, scooter, bike or by car, inviting them to pause, together.

The University of Maryland dedicated its new Listening Garden on Thursday, officially opening a space where visitors are encouraged to hear nature, one another and their own thoughts.

“Our team constructed a space that by design encourages people to be close to each other, to look at each other and to be across from one another,” said Marsha Guenzler-Stevens, director of the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, which includes the chapel.

That goal is reflected in the layout of the garden’s seating: After their installation next week, pergolas will envelop four sets of granite benches, creating a sense of intimacy, and some of the seating is engraved with positive or comforting words like “gather” and “empathy.”

“When I walked around here just now, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace,” said Paisley Brockmeyer ’25, chair of the Student Facilities Fund, which gave financial support to the garden.

woman cuts ribbon at Listening Garden dedication ceremony

The garden complements the neighboring Garden of Reflection and Remembrance on the south side of the chapel. Inspired partly by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, that garden and its signature labyrinth were built in 2007 to stimulate inward-looking meditation, said Guenzler-Stevens.

Over a decade later, Guenzler-Stevens and Denise McHugh, Memorial Chapel manager, began thinking about creating a garden that would celebrate both self-reflection and dialogue with others. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, they worked with Dennis Nola, a lecturer in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, and one of his undergraduate classes to come up with preliminary designs. “That was a great way for us to begin thinking big about the garden,” said McHugh.

Colleagues from Facilities Management and the Division of Student Affairs joined McHugh and Guenzler-Stevens’ team to reimagine what the space behind the chapel, which previously had some small plantings, might look like. They revamped and expanded the area’s brickwork, planted new bulbs and greenery, and refurbished the areas surrounding two decades-old magnolias.

The benches play an essential role in the garden. They are made of granite mined from Maryland, and students selected the words etched into them. “We wanted some words that would exhort people to come together,” said McHugh.

One word, “inspire,” was selected by friends of Kylie Dawson. Dawson was about to start her junior year at UMD in 2019 when she was killed in a car accident, along with her father and brother.

“Kylie’s mom and her friends get to come back and know that on any day, they could sit on Kylie’s bench and be in her midst,” said Guenzler-Stevens.

The nonprofit organization Nature Sacred, which creates green spaces in urban areas, also contributed to the Listening Garden, donating two additional benches with spaces underneath holding journals, in which people are free to write anything they’d like about their experience in the garden. (Several such benches are already in the Garden of Reflection and Remembrance.)

Former UMD Lutheran Chaplain Beth Platz, who was a key figure in developing the plan for the garden before her retirement, came from her home in Ohio to attend the dedication ceremony. She wrote the short poem that’s displayed on Plexiglass at the entrances to the garden; it urges readers to listen to one another with open hearts and minds “so our community may live not divided, but rich in diversity.”

At the dedication, Platz invoked a teaching from the Lakota people that resonated with the garden’s purpose: “Listen, learn, wisdom—in that order.”

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