Theology in context was the title of our weekend’s learning. We used Stephen Bevans contextual models. Each model very helpfully gives an horticultural analogy. This analogy formed a very practical part of our learning.
I’ve played and reflected these analogy’s and traveled with them on a slightly different path .Each reflection is personal to me. Each reflects a garden but more importantly it reflects the methods and tools that gardener used to transform the landscape.
When we change the landscape we create spaces to share our passions, our hopes and our dreams.
When I journey with God it’s that changing landscape that feeds my passions giving new hopes to old dreams.
Counter cultural – Stourhead
( The soil needs wedding and fertilising so that the seeds can be planted )
When it first opened in the 1740’s Stourhead was described as ‘a living work of art’. Some 300 years later the meandering paths, vistas and temples of Stourhead are still described as a living work of art.
The garden has physically grown and matured. The message this landscape holds still remains the same.
Stourhead is a serious garden that’s valued for historical and cultural reasons.
Rooted in tradition and mythology. Totally faithful to the principles of garden design. This garden was designed to impress.
It reminds me a lot of a Cathedral. Cathedrals are built on Holy sites. Yet the cathedral often does not resemble the original Holy site in which it was built.
To me Stourhead is a garden cathedral, the original much loved landscape removed and changed beyond recognition to build the garden we see today. Everything we see when we journey through Stourheads landscape is planted. Placed carefully to enhance the plan. The lake, and woodland all planted and designed. Nothing was left to nature. Nothing to chance. It was planned to create and impress.
It’s a personal landscape which expresses the hopes and beliefs of its creator Henry the magnificent.
Henry created a classical landscape with a central lake. To me this lake represents the alter within my cathedral.
The lakes reflects the theology of this landscape. It’s a inward reflection that changes throughout the seasons. But the message it reflects does not change.
Stourhead’s landscape asks us not to look beyond its borders. Their is no space for change or something new. The extravagance of Stourhead’s design challenges me. Yet I like it, but would never want to recreate it . I find reassurance and peace in its bold strong design.
It’s a place that gives a glimpse into the mind of the gardens creator. See his personal passion for wealth and design. Stourhead stands proud in what it believes .
It gives and alternative garden view that’s unprepared to change. Yet the world and its visitors are changing. I wonder if the families that picnic by the lake give any thought to the lakes creator.
The message that the creator wanted to give to the world has been lost in cultural change.
I wonder how many visitors to Stourhead’s lake see Henry the magnificences hope and dreams. See the unity harmony and the principles of garden design working within the landscape.
I wonder when we visit Cathedral’s do we see what the designer hoped we would see. Do we see or gain more understanding of God our creator or just see the extravagance of architecture.
The language of Stourhead and the language of our cathedrals speak of a creator that wants to share a vision in a communal landscape.
The creator challenges our thinking . Asks us to question .
The altar in the cathedral and the lake in Stourhead are only seen for their true purpose by those that already understand the voice of the creator.
We can all sit by the lake or kneel at the altar, but unless the context tells the story of the creator in a language we understand we may fail to see the true beauty and joy of the picnic.
Translation – Allotment
( Bring seeds and plant them in native ground ).
Alloments are an Individualistic communal environment. Each allotted plot holder working within the guide lines set down my their allotment association . Each plot holder translating what these guidelines means to them. Theirs flexibility, an authenticity in this individual communal place where people grow together. It’s a place that you grow what’s relevant to you. In a method that’s of your choosing.
Some choose to double dig. Some choose to plant through a weed suppressant membrane. I choose a method called no dig.
Each method translates the wording that “ plots must be cultivated “. Each method so very different but all produce crops.
It’s a place to share knowledge, a place where the harvest is abundant.
Growing seasonal local food means you become more in tune with the seasons. Plot holders naturally nurture new members. We want to share our knowledge, we know the joy in the harvest and
want others to feel that joy too. That moment when you realise “I grew that from a seed”.
The allotment holds onto and works with the traditions of the past. It’s an earthy visible process. That openly shares its highs and lows with its community. It’s a place open to all, regardless or wealth knowledge. Plot holders pay astonishingly low rents charged by local authorities, which is a powerfully consistent rejection of spiralling urban land market values.
Produce grown by allotmenteers cannot be sold commercially for profit. The standard treatment of a surplus or seasonal glut is to give it away. The allotment generates a community that’s gives . Its a combination of self-help and mutual aid… allotments are a place of doing.
Synthesis – Portmeirion.
( Cross pollination brings new life).
This is one of my favourite gardens . Wondering around this Italianate village the practical teaching of garden design were lifted from the text book, and illuminated my imagination. For the first time the terms borrowed landscape, unity, harmony, scale and proportion etc had a real meaning. I come alive when I step into this magical space. I bounce of the energy and the passion from which it was created.
Portmeirion takes the past and present to ensure its future will continue to transform the imagination of another generation .
It attempts to hold the vision of its creator Clough William Ellis, and the culture of its welsh heritage.
It has its own unique eccentric charm all balanced very precariously on the coastal edge of snowdonia national park.
It magically mixes tropical planting with traditional English gardens. The Echium’s tower over the roses as if they have always grown along side one another. It’s almost to strong a word to use but it’s almost perfect . Even the buildings have their own individual story to tell. Many have been relocated brick by brick to find Portmeirion as their final resting place. Portmeirion was built as a hotel and gardens today that still remains its primary function.
The hotel has changed over the years, once a exclusive retreat for the rich and famous. Today its doors are open to all . With self catering seaside apartments to five star accommodation all available on the same site.
Portmeirion is a little place of possibilities with a big heart.
Praxis – My garden
( A garden needs to be constantly weeded and tended; the work never ends; practise makes you a better gardener).
I struggle to say what my garden really means to me. It’s almost to much to put into words, it’s a unsaid spiritual connection.
My garden mirrors my personal changes: we grow together. The garden reflects me and vice versa.
Its a place of doing, a place of learning by trying. I don’t spend hours reading about gardening “I just garden”.
Somethings work and sometimes I just have to rethink and re sow.
My garden brings change in me. As I spend time in my garden so I spend time with God.
I seek answers and ask questions, ponder what’s next. What’s next in my life? What’s next to do in the garden?
I prune, weed, create, sow and tidy. I witness the complexity of nature in its simplest form. I can’t imagine a life without my feet in the muddy theology that drives my reflections.
I struggle in the winter when my place to grow falls sleepy. It’s October today and as I write I’m planning how this year I will put the garden to bed for winter. How the choices I make will effect my garden next year and in some ways effect me to.
My garden is a place to seek and grow in faith it’s my place, in my context.
When I open my garden to the public ( once every 24 months ) they don’t see what I see. They wander around and presume because I am the gardener I know all my plants by name. They want to know the variety of the roses. They wander from the mown paths. They feed my fish and drink tea and coffee. I feel totally exhausted at the end of each day.
I open my garden because I want to share what gifts God has given me. I don’t expect my visitors to understand how interwoven and connected our patterns of life really are.
Those that visit my garden comment that it’s peaceful, reflective and calming. What more could I ask for.
Transcendental – Hidcot
(If I cultivate my garden, another will be inspired to cultivate theirs).
Hidcot is nestled in a small Cotswold hamlet.
As historical gardens go, Hidcot is relatively modern . The garden we see today dates from 1907-1948.
It’s creator Lawrence Johnston started with a blank canvas putting into practice what he had learnt from studying gardening books such as The Art & Craft of Garden Making by Thomas H. Mawson.
He created a garden of rooms. Each room almost a complete garden within the larger garden. Each room reveals something different. Uses different planting and design techniques but all link together to create one garden.
It’s almost as if Johnston allowed his imagination to self seed around the garden. Each sowing creating something slightly different.
Each visit to Hidcot is unique . The changing seasons, the changing planting, the route you view this garden. create a colourful labyrinth that seeks adventure and understanding.
It’s a bilingual garden that speaks of mischievous colour and adventurous design.
Hidcot is about the journey, it’s a place to enjoy the garden, to see what inspires you, to excite your imagination.
Hidcot was created to be a garden that the public could enjoy. Even before it’s completion Lawrence, then in his 70s, began to put his mind to the long term future of the garden. He first approached the National Trust in 1943 to see whether they would take over the garden.
He saw his garden as a gift that could keep giving.
Some see his garden as serious and over complicated. But I personally love the concept of Hidcot and have created my own garden using some of Lawrence’s techniques.
As you wonder through a garden of rooms you are never sure of what’s behind the hedgerow.
A garden of rooms creates mystery, a place to wonder and seek.
Anthropological – Bishops knoll
( The seeds are in the ground they just need to be watered and cared for)
Bishops Knoll is a wonderful hidden garden and woodland from the 19th Century. The site is on the outskirts of Sneed Park Bristol.
It has a fascinating history, first recorded as a medieval deer park, gifted by Henry VIII after the dissolution of the monasteries to Sir Ralph Sadler. It later became the grounds of a large late-nineteenth century estate house called The Knoll when it was developed into a series of terraced gardens, a sloping arboretum, orchards, lawns and paddocks. The house was used as a First World War hospital for Australian soldiers, set up and run by the then owner Robert Bush at his own expense.
Today the land is a nature reserve ,the woodland is slowly being uncovered discovering the lost ornamental terraced gardens and arboretum. The woodland contains a mix of mature exotic and ancient trees and planted native broadleaves including oak, ash, hazel and hawthorn.
Bishops knoll is a very special place. When you wander the terraces you get a glimmer of the past. But what excites me when you walk the paths you see the magic of a new way of doing. You see first hand what happens to a area when you allow nature to reclaim a place in which she once reigned .
The dormant land is being reawakened. When we stop trying to control nature beautiful things start to grow.
In bishops knoll the old roses that climb over a rusty rose arch have been given the space to flower. The land has been reclaimed by the people of bristol. The woodland is alive with wildlife, it’s a place for the people to form relationships with creation. To explore the past but to be firmly rooted in the now.
Bishops knoll is growing something new, the space which holds this something new is being listened to by people with a passion and love for this little oasis in the heart of Bristol.