The Daily Telegraph - Saturday
Find a garden, press pause… and give peace a chance
Now 50 gardens around Britain have corners reserved for quiet contemplation, says Madeleine Howell
A public garden makes no demands of us. In a peaceful open air spot, we can allow ourselves to simply “be”. In green spaces, whether we are religious or follow a spiritual path or not, our inner selves can settle, be soothed and find calm.
Just recently, my sister visited Wakehurst, West Sussex, without her children. It gave her a welcome opportunity to explore its quieter spots on her own, such as the flower-carpeted Bloomers Valley meadow, the whimsical Iris Dell, and the secretive Rock Walk, with its mossy sandstone and gnarled yew tree roots. For me, the churchyard garden of St Dunstan in the East, set in the ruins of a church destroyed in the Second World War in
Billingsgate, between London Bridge and the Tower of London, is an oasis that gives me a chance to breathe.
Tranquil gardens can offer great solace to the bereaved. A moment of rest in a garden can also grant us a joyous sense of appreciation for nature. Recently Sir David Attenborough urged people to spend a few minutes contemplating the glories of the natural world, explaining that “extraordinary things happen” when you are alone in nature.
“One of the simplest things that you should do if you get the chance, when you get the chance, is just naturally to stop,” the naturalist, 94, recently encouraged listeners of the new Call of the Wild WWF podcast, hosted by Cel Spellman. “Sit down. Don’t move. Keep quiet. Wait 10 minutes. You’ll be very surprised if something pretty interesting didn’t happen within 10 minutes.”
Silent Space is a small charity founded by the garden writer Liz Ware, which encourages gardens open to the public to keep an area for quiet reflection. Trialled in 2016, the concept has been growing ever since.
It now has more than 50 garden spaces in the UK, and has expanded worldwide, with its first Silent Space in New Zealand at Dunedin Botanic Garden (silentspace.org.uk).
“Psychologists tell us that our brains need time to reflect, digest and make sense of whatever is happening in our lives,” says Ware. “Unfortunately for our brains, constant communication and activity are the norm. It can be difficult to step back for long enough to find solutions to problems, or to feel gratitude for the good things.”
For some, lockdown has made it harder to appreciate the quiet. “As some of us have experienced during isolation, silent time isn’t always comfortable. We’re just not used to it,” she says. “In nature, it’s easier. Birdsong and the sound of the wind in the trees relaxes us, providing gentle distraction, leaving us feeling rested, renewed and refreshed, perhaps with the answer to something we’ve been mulling over, or with a greater appreciation of nature and our place in it.”
The most recent UK additions to Silent Space’s collection of gardens include quiet spots in Castle Kennedy Gardens (Dumfries and Galloway), Middleton Hall and Gardens (Warwickshire) and Snowshill Manor and Garden (Gloucestershire). Many gardens have now reopened with social distancing measures; check websites carefully before visiting.