The Daily Telegraph - Saturday
Seek solace and strength in the natural world
“People want to spend time in a low-key, relaxed space they feel is their own” 50, head gardener at Ham House and Garden, Richmond
A year ago, we moved our Silent Space to our Wilderness, a woodland garden with summer houses, surrounded by hedges. I’ve been displaying contemplative words in them, which change from month to month, and invite people to sit in them.
I’ve asked our team to choose the words. Mine were from Walt Whitman about finding solace and strength in the natural world. They’re simple, personal and short, and struck a chord with visitors.
That idea of taking a moment of respite from everyday life to experience the present is something people have become far less cynical about over the past year. Some visit us almost daily. More than ever, people want to spend time in a low-key space that they feel is theirs. Silent Space gardens offer that.
Previously, people might have taken a book out or put on headphones, but recently, I’ve noticed them sitting, lost in their own thoughts, listening to birdsong. Early spring is a hopeful time, with anticipation and potential: there’s naturalising daffodils and hellebores, and cherry plum coming into blossom.
It’s good for the heart and soul to see those new
beginnings come around again, after the year we’ve had. Now, more than ever, it’s our focus to share the garden and make spaces that make the day feel better.
Here, we’re guided by history and heritage. The garden has always had spaces for different things: some for parties, showing off and being seen, and others in which to be more private, even secretive.
The wilderness area has always been about finding sanctuary and immersion in nature, away from ostentation and the flamboyant, wide gravel paths. As a gardener, thinking about how to make these spaces work in tune with the changing of the seasons and the national mood is my favourite thing.
The zeitgeist has an effect on the way people respond
to the garden, which has been fascinating to observe this year. Needs changed; people are taking the time to enjoy gardens for emotional benefit, rather than just walking through them.
Any garden can have a space for reflection and to step back. It could be public or private: my own garden is tiny, but I’ve put in a bench as my space to sit.
People who had hectic social lives are getting it now, too, and discovering the quiet joys of gardens. It’s heartening for those of us who have always found pleasure in them. Gardens are inherently optimistic spaces, forever changing and growing. During periods of loss, the knowledge that a rose will go through the cycle of the seasons and bloom again can be incredibly comforting.
30, food and beverage manager at Ham House and Garden
I’ve been covering maternity leave, running the café at Ham over the past year. The Silent Space there wasn’t something I’d gone looking for, but when I stumbled across it, I found myself taking a moment to myself. It took me aback. I hadn’t realised I needed it.
It’s an escape and a release on a busy day and I think what I’ve learnt from the pandemic is that the small things in life add up.