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For reckoning sweet and wholesome hours

12 August 2022

Sarah Meyrick hears about the fortunes of the Quiet Garden

The Revd Annie Henry Holland’s labyrinth in Cornwall

The Revd Annie Henry Holland’s labyrinth in Cornwall

THE Quiet Garden Movement is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

It was a simple concept: the idea that people could find God in the garden. Hosts in the Quiet Gardens network help this to happen by providing outdoor space for prayer, contemplation, rest, and refreshment, and inviting people to share it, either regularly or occasionally.

And it caught on. Over the past three decades, quiet gardens have been established in private homes, churchyards, schools, and hospitals. Some are rural, others urban. Today, there are 289 around the world, all owned and run by local hosts and used by the community.

The movement was founded by the Revd Philip Roderick, who experienced a profound sense of God’s presence when he was walking in nature as a teenager (Feature, 13 April 2017). His vision evolved over many years, but, in 1992 — by which time Fr Roderick was ordained — he was offered the use of a garden in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, near the church where Thomas Gray wrote his “Elegy in a Country Churchyard”.

The first Quiet Garden opened in September 1992, and it quickly became clear that this simple idea of low-cost retreats in people’s homes and gardens could be replicated anywhere in the world.

“The Quiet Garden Movement flows from the example of Jesus’s withdrawal to natural places to pray and his invitation to ‘come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’ (Mark 6.31). If Jesus regularly and consistently needed such space to just ‘be’, then so do we,” the organisation’s website says.

QGTBriggflatts, Cumbria

The intention is that quiet gardens should be accessible, friendly, and adaptable to local needs. “The outdoor space and garden act as both a context and focus in which to share the inner search for wholeness, natural beauty, and silence, and in which ancient Christian wisdom and the contemplative tradition can be explored.”

The charity co-ordinator and administrator of the Quiet Garden Trust, Sarah Jane Godson, says that quiet gardens offer something very niche. “There are lots of charities that offer something similar, like Caring for God’s Acre, and Eco Church. But I think it’s the hospitality and generosity of the people that are opening their gardens, and providing the space for people to have time in a quiet environment, that is unique about us,” she says. “If it wasn’t the generosity of those people, then the charity wouldn’t exist.”

There are two categories of quiet gardens. The affiliate Quiet Garden Scheme is for those who want to open a garden as a quiet space, as well as for individuals who lead and organise retreats and quiet days in the outdoors. “Associate” quiet gardens are those in settings such as schools, hospitals, or community gardens. While not directly connected to a faith, there is an understanding in the organisation of the benefits of providing outdoor space for quiet and stillness.

What is on offer is diverse. “If it’s a church, you may just wander into the churchyard and spend some time sitting in a peaceful place,” Mrs Godson says. “In the majority of private gardens . . . those hosts open them either seasonally, or upon request, or have very specific days of the year that they provide a retreat day or morning.”

Hosts are required to submit a formal application and provide references. There is a welcome pack, explaining what is expected, and with information on safeguarding, health and safety, and insurance. Some hosts offer drinks and provide lavatories, but there is no stipulation on this.

“There’s quite a lot of flexibility for the host to play to their strengths and to their particular setting,” Mrs Godson says. “And that’s really important, because, if it was too specific and prescriptive, I think that would put people off.”

In practice, this means what is on offer can be as simple as a garden bench or as sophisticated as an entire creative programme. “It’s very flexible and varied. I think that’s a selling point.”


THE network is now international. One of the most unusual is “a beautiful garden in Spain that is part of a vineyard”, Mrs Godson says. “There’s another one in northern Spain that is a sort of a forest area.”

Many of them are urban: in London, for example, you can find quiet gardens at St Katharine’s Royal Foundation, in Limehouse; and at St Edmund, King and Martyr, and St Joseph’s RC Church, both in the City of London. While some of the rural gardens are difficult to reach without a car, many more are on bus routes or near railway stations.

QGTTrinity Street Quiet Garden, Shrewsbury

“There’s quite a variety in urban areas, and we are in the process of working with the National Estate Churches Network to create a community garden on an estate in a deprived urban area,” she says.

Community gardens — which are created and tended by volunteers — are often associate members, because they are open to everyone. There were, at one time, quiet gardens in prisons, but that is no longer the case. Somewhere they have thrived is in hospitals: there are quiet gardens at Hinchingbrooke Hospital, Cambridgeshire; Frimley Park Hospital, Surrey; and the Chapel Garden at the George Eliot Hospital, in Nuneaton.

Feedback suggests that this meets a pastoral need. “Thank you for providing this amazing space. It was the last time my husband left the hospital before he passed away the next day,” a visitor to the Frimley Park Hospital garden wrote.

The organisation does its best to collect data on their visitors. “Most of the people that come to gardens are faith-orientated, and come for that reason to spend some quiet time in a garden with God to pray,” Mrs Godson says.

“There are other groups who come for some silent reflection, without necessarily using prayer as part of that. So there’s a bit of a mix; but I’d say the majority of folk that come in do so because they know the person who is running the garden, and they’re part of a church group.”

A look at the feedback shows that many visitors point to the beauty and quiet of the garden; the closeness to nature; the peace and tranquillity; and the welcome that they receive. Others mention finding a source of comfort at times of stress, and feeling the comfort of the presence of God.

Occasionally, there is a little nervousness about what to expect. “People sometimes say, ‘I was really unsure about this, but I loved it because I was left alone to do what I wanted to do.’ Some hosts are really good at that,” Mrs Godson says.

Even if it is not a formal retreat, many hosts offer a starting prayer and then leave people to wander, or sit quietly and read, or do something creative with paints or clay. “We have some very good artists and workshops that people can join in, but we’re not forcing people to participate.”

Quiet-garden visitors tend to be at the older end of the demographic. “I think there’s a time element involved; so it suits retirees. I also think folk that open their gardens are of that age group, and it’s their friends who are attending.”

Publicity tends to be local — although there is an international following on Instagram — and many people hear about quiet gardens by word of mouth, she says. “People often find us just by chatting to somebody.”

The funding needed is minimal: hosts are invited to make a donation to fund the administrative costs of supporting the network. One-off donations and legacies help. Most hosts don’t charge their visitors. “If they open a garden and folk come in and want to donate, then we might have part of that, if they wish to pass it on. But we don’t stipulate that that should happen.”

QGTTrinity Street Quiet Garden, Shrewsbury

The charity is never going to be huge, but it trundles along “like a little slow river”, Mrs Godson says. The current strategy is to build sustainability through strong strategic partnerships. “I’m opening a garden a week at the moment. I’m closing two a month, but getting enquiries from newcomers all the time.”

The pandemic inevitably hit the movement. Gardens had to close, and many of the older hosts decided not to reopen when the restrictions lifted. “I think we lost about 30 gardens over the two years,” Mrs Godson says.

On the plus side, she connected with people with an interest in the movement worldwide — she mentions the United States, Finland, and Austria — organising regular quiet mornings and evenings via Zoom.

“It was wonderful. We kept the connection going through technology. I put all our newsletters online, and we created YouTube videos. So it wasn’t a negative impact at all. As far as connecting with others, it was hugely positive. And, if we hadn’t had the pandemic, we probably wouldn’t have thought about doing that.”

The pandemic also emphasised the benefits of being in nature, something that the Quiet Garden Movement trustees welcome, provided that the emphasis on their core values — hospitality, contemplation, and creativity — remains. “It’s more about the spiritual connection with the earth.”


‘Word soon spreads’

GILLY MORGAN, in Frodsham, a market town in Cheshire, has been opening her garden since 2012. The house is on a main road, under the Liverpool Airport flight path, and there is a railway line at the bottom of the garden, which is about 120 feet long.

“I’ve always been at the contemplative end of spirituality, and I’ve always been a gardener,” she says. “For many years, I’d been going to a retreat house in Chester that had a garden. I realised the garden there began to mean more to me than anything else.”

A friend who used to go to the same retreat house also helped her in the garden. “One day, she said, ‘I get just as much pleasure in your garden as I do there.’ Then, another friend gave me a leaflet about the Quiet Garden Movement. There were several little prompts.”

Now, she opens her garden for quiet days once or twice a month, which she and others lead. She has no more than ten people at a time. She continues throughout the year, and is happy to accommodate people indoors if the weather is poor. “I have about 70 people on my database, mainly from within 20 or 30 miles. Some come regularly, others once in a blue moon. Word soon spreads.”

Mrs Morgan says that she loves offering hospitality, “in all its meanings”. She was a little nervous, the first time she opened. “But, after they’d gone, I felt this is what I’d been put on earth to do.”


‘Soup and silence’

THE Revd Annie Henry Holland, an artist, musician, and pioneer priest in the diocese of Truro, moved to Botallack, in the far south-west of Cornwall, five years ago, because she wanted to create a garden where people could come to reflect, meditate, and pray. “Then I discovered the Quiet Garden Movement, and that was absolutely marvellous, because of the shared ethos,” she says.

Through her B&B (Tremorran), she offers a ministry of hospitality and welcome, “Back to the Garden”, which is intended to give her visitors the chance to find peace, stillness, healing, and restoration.

“I used to create labyrinths on the beach, and I knew how beneficial that was for people. Coming here, we knocked through a wall in our house and used the granite from that to create a labyrinth.”

She and her husband bought the neighbouring paddock, and moved the stones into the field to create a labyrinthg with a diamater of 18 metres. On the first Monday of each month, she offers “Soup and Silence”, to which up to 15 people come. She is also open for individual retreats and quiet days.

“I also run creative days with clay,” she says. “And I offer a friendship walk — coffee, chat, an hour walking in the garden together, sharing poetry and prayers and stories and songs. It’s a sensory thing.”

People enjoy connecting with the garden and being outside together. “It’s not necessary to have a faith, but people are generally searching for quiet and calm. I call it ‘Back to the Garden’ because it’s about coming back to themselves, to God, and finding their heart centres.”


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