After months of hard work, the new Tranquility Garden in the church halls is finished. Spearheaded by Katherine and Dave with the generosity of several donations, the garden is already being used by passers-by. Ellie caught up with Katherine to find out a little more about the garden.
To start with, it looks amazing! What was the inspiration for putting the garden in place?
We knew we wanted to create a garden and to do that we needed to secure funding. As part of this, the garden had to be both accessible and appeal to everyone. We wanted a seating area so that people could come, switch off and find peace. People sit in the church gardens but there wasn’t a space like that on the other side of the road.
"We wanted to create a sanctuary, away from all the busyness..."
Traditionally, gardens are places of sanctuary. In monasteries for example, the gardens were a place where non-members of the monastery were able to visit. All have a bit of a story and a bit of history. We wanted to create a sanctuary, away from the busyness, particularly given where it is situated on the roundabout. If you walk into the garden, you’ll notice that the buzz of traffic disappears when you step around the corner. It’s like entering into another world.
Can you tell us more about the process of building the garden?
We started in February. The most difficult bit was the hard landscaping, clearing the area and then building the fence, gravel and pathway (massive thanks to Dave for this!).
Once the boundary was created, the internal part just happened. I often find that when you create the perimeter, you are then contained and can develop the space. If I was to compare this to something else then, an artist may have a seed of imagination, or a teacher may have an aim or objective of what you need to reach at the end, but how you get to that end point isn’t always mapped out. You are led by the materials you work with.
We bought the three Olive trees and where we put each one was informed by the shape of that tree and its symbolism. Everything then led from there.
How did the garden evolve?
When you design a garden, you either do it to a brief or you can let it evolve. The tranquillity garden evolved, it led itself. There were practical considerations as well.
We knew we needed a border and we needed to choose non-poisonous plants that supported the eco-system, such as by supporting bees and butterflies. We had a budget and plants that were donated by people. We also knew that we
wanted the garden to be full of symbolism and everything in the garden has a purpose or is symbolic of something we wanted to convey.
From the start, we knew we wanted a tree in the middle and a seating area around that. Everything else grew from there. Sometimes a garden design chooses you and many of the decisions that we made came from thoughts and conversations – “wouldn’t it be nice if…” and that’s how it started. The tree we chose is an Italian Cyprus, which is popular in Italy. In this predominantly Catholic country, the tree symbolises resurrection and hope. This tree was the constant and everything unfolded around it.
You mentioned symbolism - can you talk us through some of the symbolism in the garden?
Everything in the garden has a purpose and is symbolic of something. This doesn’t mean that everyone will notice the symbolism as they walk in but that is fine! There are three main areas in the garden, two borders and a “wild area”. All of the borders are ready for Spring as well so it is a garden that will flourish throughout the seasons.
All of the plants in this border were used for healing, medicine and wellbeing. They were chosen for their perfume, medicinal properties or simply how they make you feel. Examples of flowers in here include those from the carnation family, herbs, alliums, rosemary, sage and lavender. The perfume of these flowers is also important in that it was important in thinking about their healing properties.
"Our ancestors grew up in a world with nothing but nature. They could smell the seasons and could tell the passing of time through what was growing around them."
The wild area features plants that are planted informally in gravel, not soil. These also include “ancient” plants. For me, gardens and plants unite us with our past. Our ancestors grew up in a world with nothing but nature. They could smell the seasons and could tell the passing of time through what was growing around them. For example, in the past, a lot of people couldn’t read or write English, let alone Latin, so they had to find other ways of keeping up with the Christian seasons. As such, a lot of garden flowers have biblical names such as “St John’s Wort” (in bloom on the birthday of John the Baptist) or Michaelmas Daisies (in bloom on the feast of St Michael).
Flowers were also a way of telling a biblical story so you often see paintings of saints holding flowers. A lot of these are in the mixed borders of the tranquillity garden. One of the species of ferns is a Polypodial, which is one of the first plants on the earth. There is also a willow, and willows feature a lot in the old and new testament, often symbolising memory. In the gravel, there are wildflower seeds, which will be the “softness coming through the hardness of the gravel” and will also attract butterflies. These wildflowers are also ancient, including poppies, cornflowers and Helleborus (Christmas Roses).
Really this is a border of nice, pretty flowers - the types that are popular with lots of people or may have featured in grandparent’s gardens. They are familiar, and flowers that people associate with a summer border. Plants include Olives, Rosemaries, Lilies and lots of other shrubs and flowers that die back in the winter to grow in the summer.
One of my favourite aspects that I spotted was the wooden mushroom! How did that come about?
I was looking for something that was a little different, a little bit more fun and playful but that was still natural. I visited a gentleman that makes them and he had just the right one! It’s a little different but still sits well in the garden. Mushrooms also have their own symbolism. In some cultures, mushrooms (or toadstools in particular) are considered sacred because they grow naturally out of decaying wood matter and therefore symbolise regeneration.
What do you hope the garden will be used for?
I hope that people will take from it what they need. For some people, it will be a quiet space to sit and think and enjoy, but for others it will be more. We all need things on different levels. When we were working on it, we found that there were a lot of people who do circuit walks and we had 15-20 regular walkers who stopped and spoke to us. We know of one person that now waits in the garden for the bus as she can see it coming round the corner! I like to think that the garden could be a “stopping place”.
"As the garden evolves, so will the design. Of course, some parts may disappear like the borders but my hope is that the tree in the centre will stay there for an awful long time and may even become a source of direction - 'it’s the place by the lovely tall tree!'".
We’ve also created a garden for prosperity and my hope is that people will add to it. I find that children aren’t introduced to nature in the way that they could be and children could sit in here and learn about the plants. As the garden evolves, so will the design. Of course, some parts may disappear like the borders but my hope is that the tree in the centre will stay there for an awful long time and may even become a source of direction - “it’s the place by the lovely tall tree!”.
We didn’t do it for the thanks and I think the best thanks would be to see even one person sitting there for their 10 minutes of quiet. It's been lovely to see it in use already. I know that one of the dance groups have been in there for photos, the Beavers have had ceremonies in there and a Brownie was playing. For me it’s a case of now passing it on to whoever follows.
What’s your favourite bit of the garden?
The wild ferns section. There are many complex reason why, but I think the main thing is that this is the world our ancestors lived in. Unstructured, uncontained and wild. You can learn a lot about people from their plants and you can almost match the character of people to plants. It’s fascinating! You see the same in flower arranging such as where some people like more control than others.
Do you have any advice for people who are wanting to create their own garden?
Decide what usage you want for it and what time you have to put care into it. If you don’t have time then do something more wild and unstructured. In the tranquillity garden for example, the fernery area will require minimum care whereas the border will require more maintenance. The most important thing though is to choose plants that resonate with you. Don’t just copy something that’s trendy, pick something that means something to you. Plants will grow if it’s right for them.
What’s next for you? Any future projects?
Well I love creating things and I love challenges but I think I need to regroup first! I suppose it depends what else I find!
The Tranquillity Garden is now open for anyone who would like to visit. We just ask that you treat it with respect so that others may enjoy it. We will be holding an official opening ceremony on Monday 27th June at 6.00pm. Refreshments will be served in the garden.
With thanks to: Gloucester County Council for the money from the Build Back Better grant, the generous church family and friends who donated money or plants, Dave for the construction and hard landscaping of the garden, Katherine for the planting and both Dave and Katherine for the overall design.