Katherine’s place of quiet in the city

Published: Friday July 1, 2022

A man in a shirt sits on a metal bench which surrounds a tree in a circular shape. He looks out across a carparkAfter months of hard work, a new ‘Tranquility Garden’  at St Barnabas, Gloucester has been finished. Spearheaded by churchwarden Katherine Kear and funded by donations, the garden is already being used by passers-by.

Katherine said, “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 appealing 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.

“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 tranquillity garden you’ll notice that the buzz of traffic disappears when you step around the corner. It’s like entering another world.

“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 ecosystem and attracted 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. Everything in the garden has a purpose or is symbolic of something we wanted to convey.  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.

“From the start, we knew we wanted a tree in the middle and a seating area around that. Everything else grew from there. 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.

Highlights include a healing border with plants used for medicine and wellbeing, a wild area and a mixed border of pretty, traditional, flowers.

“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 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).

“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”.

“We’ve also created a garden for posterity 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 my hope is that children could sit in there 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 awfully 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 has been in there for photos, the Beavers has had ceremonies in there and a Brownie was playing. For me, it’s a case of now passing it on to whoever follows.”

If you are interested in developing a garden at your church, you might be interested in our Grantsforgardens funding to get you started.

Interview by Ellie Todd.

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