Hidden in central London, a garden for peace and reconciliation

Although I was looking out for the St Ethelburga’s Garden for Peace and Reconcialition, even so, walking down busy Bishopsgate, I missed this tiny passageway to the garden first time round… Doesn’t look very promising, does it?!

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But luckily I retraced my steps, and entered into a beautiful little corner that let me time travel

… or mind travel, anyway!

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It was so quiet that I could even hear the birds singing, so I kept having to look up to see where I was. These noisy neighbours quickly reminded me!

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The garden belongs to one of the oldest medieval churches in London. St Ethelburga’s Church managed to survive both the Great Fire of London AND the Blitz. However, it was destroyed almost completely by an IRA bomb in Bishopsgate in 1993. For some time it was thought to be beyond repair, but then a charitable trust was formed, and it was decided to rebuild the church as a Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. Amongst its roles, is research into how faith communities can work in the resolution of conflict. That it looks outwards to all parts of the world is reflected in the peace garden.

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IMG_9472IMG_9464The garden was first designed by Sylvia Crawford, and recently redesigned by Jeremy Rye. Amongst its gems is the St Ethelburga’s Rose, specially created by Peter Beales Roses. In the centre is a large Bedouin tent (made from woven goats hair, several herds-worth I imagine) in which meetings and seminars on conflict, peace and reconciliation are held. And also visitors are invited to come in and enjoy the peace. And if it feels particularly peaceful, that’s because it has been carefully designed to be so. As the booklet says:

The Tent was designed by Professor Keith Critchlow, an expert in “sacred geometry”, who was charged to create a safe and dignified space without using the symbols of any specific religion.  He has used the universal languages of geometry, algebra, astronomy and harmony to create a perfectly proportioned space in a tranquil peace garden with a Lebanese fountain and an olive tree.  The windows carry the word peace in 7 languages.

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But it was too tempting to sit outside, admire the points of interest and just wish I could be there at night when the lanterns were lit. Sir Thomas Wyatt seems to have been following me around recently (although luckily only in print) and may even have visited the church at any point – it had been standing for perhaps a hundred years by the time he was born –  so it seems appropriate to put up one of his poems as a celebration for this lovely garden. Maybe the poem is more about the difficulties of peace, but conflict and the need for reconciliation is actually at the heart of this garden. It feels like an oasis, but one that understands completely why it is needed rather than forgetting the outside world.

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I Find no Peace

I find no peace, and all my war is done.
I fear and hope. I burn and freeze like ice.
I fly above the wind, yet can I not arise;
And nought I have, and all the world I season.
That loseth nor locketh holdeth me in prison
And holdeth me not—yet can I scape no wise—
Nor letteth me live nor die at my device,
And yet of death it giveth me occasion.
Without eyen I see, and without tongue I plain.
I desire to perish, and yet I ask health.
I love another, and thus I hate myself.
I feed me in sorrow and laugh in all my pain;
Likewise displeaseth me both life and death,
And my delight is causer of this strife.
Sir Thomas Wyatt
And hard really to leave. Particularly to hit the rush of the crowds outside rushing backwards and forwards – and not expecting to be joined by a peaceful writer coming in to them at such a different angle. I was pleased that some of them looked up to where I was coming from, as if I had appeared from Narnia’s wardrobe. Which in some ways I had!
More information about the garden can be found here, and there’s a particularly beautiful poem about poetry and peace by Denise Levertov here.

 

 

 

Trails, tea and Tofino

You know those guided meditations which start, ‘imagine yourself in a beautiful place in nature…’? Well, ever since I’ve visited the Tofino Botanical Gardens on Vancouver Island, that’s exactly where I imagine myself. Perhaps it’s not surprising when you feast your eyes on these pictures…

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IMG_0700In fact it’s both beautiful and surreal. Especially when you suddenly come across a piece of home…

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Or a reminder that’s it’s been some time since you wrote in your journal…

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The gardens is designed to inspire conservation of, and provide information about, the world’s Temperate Coastal Rainforests. A series of boardwalks take you through to ‘pocket gardens’ which display plants that thrive in other temperate coastal rainforests around the world, some designed so you can look at all levels of the planting.

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There’s also the fascinating Bernardo O’Higgins homestead, recreated after a chance find some years ago. Somehow I don’t imagine Bernardo had much time for meditations.

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Bird hides to look out at the mudflats, part of a Wildlife Management Area.

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Art was everywhere, adding to rather than taking away from the plants, although sometimes so much so that it was hard to tell whether it was natural or manmade.

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Not to mention other fun things to do…

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Possibly the best selection of books on gardens and garden history in the cafe library, where there was also a reminder of the serious scientific endeavour behind the gardens…

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And, of course, a cup of London Fog through which to view the garden!

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Writer in the Flower Shop

How to wire an orchid

The weakest part
is the throat,
submerge head
then pull
up by the stem
and twist –
you’ll feel it.

Go up and push
a little harder.
Don’t spear the leaf,
but cut to show
the silver.
Pinch and pinch
and then stretch
and then twist
wire into gutter tape.

Orchids hate
the breeze,
by the time
you get them home,
they’ve caught a cold,
but remember,
the beauty
of flowers
is all about
the sacrificing of them.

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Lucky me. Just before Christmas I won, at auction, a flower arranging course at the prestigious Covent Garden Academy of Flowers, and so last Friday I got to spend a day with some of the most beautiful flowers – and people – you can imagine.

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To be honest, although I love flowers, I haven’t thought to much about arranging them before. This is my usual effort:

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So anything was going to be an improvement. But …. TA-DA ….. look what I came home with. I couldn’t have been more chuffed – or amazed!

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It was surprisingly hard work. And as I huffed and puffed, professional arrangers dotted and darted around making the most beautiful arrangements to go to hotels, venues, events and weddings. I spent quite a lot of time with my mouth open, watching little dreams being spun in front of me.

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And if I needed a reminder that it was art we were making (or everybody else was, I think mine was more of a fluke!), here are three images from the books we could flick through for inspiration.

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I’m not sure I’ll be taking this up, I have a friend who is a wonderful flower designer so I know just how skilful real experts are, but I came away totally inspired. And with a list of flowers and foliage I want to grow on my allotment for the next time I’m tempted to plonk some stems in any old vase.

And the poem at the top is the exact transcript (although maybe not in the right order) of our instructions for wiring an orchid. Who knew orchids could catch colds? Somehow my life is a little bit richer for even that one fact.