Jane Bingeman, the host of the Quiet Garden at Fishbourne, reflects on what Quiet Gardens offer by taking you on a journey to introduce two Quiet Gardens in West Sussex:
Jesus said: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31
What a lovely invitation! Right in the middle of a chapter full of action, of movement, Jesus invites his disciples to rest, with Him, in a quiet place. The opportunity of resting and reflecting in the midst of our busy lives is the invitation extended by the Quiet Garden Movement to everyone, people of faith or no faith. I am the host of the Quiet Garden at Fishbourne and, with four others, we enable people to respond to this hospitality once a month from March to November.
Our Lord said: “come . . . to a quiet place” and I now invite you to come with me to Fishbourne, to park your car and walk into St Peter’s Place, the new Hall near the church of St Peter & St Mary, through the short hallway and into the welcoming main room with its floor to ceiling windows overlooking the water meadows fringed by tiers of trees. A prepared circle awaits, sometimes with a central focus; the chairs fill with people giving and accepting the gift of silence for the morning. Quiet music will be playing and tea/coffee with biscuits are available throughout.
The leader is different each month, some being old friends who have led us before and some being new. Most are spiritual directors/accompaniers, both lay and ordained. Each leader has a title within an overall theme – 2016 was ‘The Journey”; 2017: ‘The Light’; and 2018 will be ‘Wholeness’. Our usual pattern is: to start at 10am and receive input for 20/30 minutes; to be free until 1145am and then come together again until about 1215pm. The last session usually includes feed-back in the form of individual offerings.
The beginning and end are times of being still and being together. During the roughly hour and a quarter between, we are free to move – or indeed to remain still if we wish. We can remain still in the room, or there are chairs on the patio/lawn, benches and chairs in the churchyard, or pews in the ancient church. Movement can be through the churchyard or along the Walk of Memories where the Quiet Garden at Fishbourne has a brick among the many bricks bringing together the joys and sorrows of the wider community. There are walks across the water meadows with wild orchids in season and where many wildflowers and accompanying insects can be observed. Or further afield is the bourne, the intermittent chalk stream so special to the south of England, which flows into Fishbourne village and its mill-pond. Bridges lead you on a walk to Fishbourne Creek and there is a return journey along a straight path through cultivated fields. Back in the Hall, tables are laid out with books to browse; with information about the Quiet Garden Movement and other local contemplative groups; with art and writing materials and, more recently finger labyrinths.
So many opportunities to explore – before we all re-join the circle with a profound feeling of contentment.
I have been a quiet gardener now for about 12 years; one of the benefits I find is being encouraged to learn how to ‘see’ and acknowledge the environment we move in. A photograph taken by Sue Harrison about 9am on Easter Day on our way into St Peter & St Mary’s Church, Fishbourne revealed about a dozen symbols/signs enlightening the whole Easter story. We had walked through this holy ground without seeing any of them. It was sobering to realise how much we had missed but to acknowledge that the same ground is still there.
Now “come . . . . . to (another) quiet place” which I have known and loved for many years – the Wild Fortune Quiet Garden, near Storrington where the Reverend Tessa Holland is the host. Her beautiful home and garden, separate but integrated with the local woodland, is a quiet garden and she opens it to others one morning every month apart from August. It is her home so booking is essential; and to gain maximum benefit within the space, we are restricted to eight people.
The walk from the car parked in the driveway is uphill, past the planted woodland flowers and bulbs, and up steps where Tessa awaits to welcome us. As we enter the house through patio doors the warmth from the wood burning stove, soft lighting and music envelops us. We are invited to sit within the semi-circle of sofas with a central focus. Her ministry of hospitality starts with an explanation of where everything is – the kitchen with its perpetual tea/coffee and biscuits; the sunroom full of books and art materials overlooking the grass spiral outlined by floral borders; the prayer loft with its comfort and corners of contemplative possibilities. And outside: the garden with its pond, Japanese garden and hidden places (more recently with a ‘shed’ converted into a ‘hermit’ cell); or there are beautiful walks accessible through the gate to Sandgate Park – a special place of woodland, heathland, ponds and a stream.
We are then given a few words giving us a focus before enjoying stillness and silence together followed by an hour and a half free to explore the above. Over the years I have watched an old oak felled in the great storm create new life and gradually sink back into the earth; I have also experienced the different seasons standing quietly beside a steep arched bridge over the gentle reflective stream. We return to the house to be together for an offering if we wish to make it and a finishing prayer.
These are two Quiet Gardens – the same in some ways but very different in others. Two Quiet Gardens among over 300 worldwide, affiliated to the Movement started 25 years ago by the Reverend Philip Roderick. They are all different and they grow where people feel called to offer their homes and gardens or, find a way of hosting in other places, such as schools, hospitals, retreat centres and prisons. So finally I invite you to “come . . . . . to (other – both nearby and further away) quiet places” which can be found on the Quiet Garden website at www.quietgarden.org/find-gardens