In a world where non-stop communication is the norm, how often do we allow ourselves time to be silent in a beautiful green place and really connect with nature? It can be difficult, particularly for those who live in urban areas. But what a profound and powerful thing it is. How different the world might be if spells of silence in nature were mandatory.
This week’s interviewee is so convinced by the benefits of remaining silent in beautiful places that she founded a charity based on that principle. Garden historian, writer and photographer, Liz Ware, runs Silent Space, a not-for-profit project that encourages parks, gardens and green spaces open to the public to reserve an area where visitors can reflect silently in nature.
Your three favourite flowers?
Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia)
Rosa ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ – I stop to smell this on most summer days on my way to the allotment. A few years ago, I started chatting to someone in a queue at an airport in the south of Chile. Bizarrely, she’d visited the small town where I live and asked whether there was still a delicious smelling rose on the road down to the river. There is.
Tell us about your childhood garden?
Until I was about nine, we had a tiny garden and a couple of allotments. I can’t tell you how excited we were to move to a garden with trees big enough to climb. My brothers claimed the tallest. I had my den in the branches of an apple tree at the bottom of the garden. I loved that tree.
Who or what inspired your career choice?
It was more of a gradual realisation than an inspired choice. After graduating, I did the same as my peers and worked in London. It wasn’t too long before I realised that office life didn’t suit me, and I started to think about the kind of environment that would.
What is a typical day in the life of Liz?
The day usually starts early with yoga, meditation, breakfast … and sometimes a swim. But after that, unless the diary is busy with meetings, there’s a danger that I’ll procrastinate. Procrastination hasn’t always been an issue. When my dogs were alive, it was never a problem to settle down to write after walking them. I need a burst of nature early in the morning. Perhaps it’s time to look for another dog!
No garden is complete without …
…. a gardener who finds time to stop and soak up its beauty.
Something we’d find:
· On your bedside table: At least four books and an old-fashioned alarm clock.
· In your flower arrangement: Flowers from a local flower grower together with a few shrubby sprigs from my garden. During lockdown I started to grow flowers on the allotment for cutting. Much to my surprise, I’m reluctant to cut them.
· In your garden shed: I only have space for a little potting shed. As I’ve just cleared it out for the first time in four years, there’s nothing interesting in it. Just tools and seedlings. It won’t last.
The flaw you wish you didn’t have
What would you be in another life?
How about an arctic tern? They’re not endangered. They have two summers a year, they’re graceful in flight and they have those jauntily coloured beaks. I love watching them.
I try to be kind. ‘Treat all living things as we would like to be treated’ is hard to beat as a guiding principle. That includes the soil, of course.
Who is a horticultural and/or botanical hero?
This would have surprised her, but I think it was my mother. She taught in a primary school for over 30 years and gardened all her life. Until we hit our teens, we spent every Sunday afternoon wandering along the hedgerows, looking for things for her Monday morning nature table. I soaked up so much knowledge and love of the natural world as a child without realising it was happening.
What is the one flower or plant you’d never plant in your garden, but don’t detest when you see others plant it?
I downsized almost 10 years ago so it would have to be bamboo. I know people say that some varieties don’t spread but I’ve never found that to be quite true.
If there was a fire, and you could only keep one book on plants, what would it be?
I looked at my bookshelves for the answer to this one. The most dog-eared of my many plant books is the RHS Training and Pruning Manual so it would be sensible to keep that one. But I would miss the rest.
For posterity, what would you like your work to be known for?
I hope it won’t need to be remembered. I hope it won’t be too long before we all understand why taking time to be silent in nature is good for us and good for the natural world. As soon as that becomes normal there will be no need for Silent Space.
Quick fire: some favourite things
· Book (fiction): All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr is one of many possibilities.
· Film: Not sure
· Painting: Too difficult to choose one. Almost anything by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham but it’s the drawings of my three small granddaughters that bring me most joy.
· Smell: Blackcurrant leaves
· Meal: A risotto full of allotment veg – feels nourishing and there’s only one pan to wash up.
· Travel Destination: India has always been a favourite, but I will be flying far less now – see below.
· A cause near and dear to me: The survival of our beautiful planet
· Place to go for inspiration: Deciduous woodland or a coastal path
· A great walk near where you live: I’m lucky to have many straight from the door. A combination of riverbank, hills, and woodland works well for me.
· Thing to collect obsessively: Leaves. I’m learning to eco-print.
· Museum: Ashmolean
· Favourite person to follow on Instagram: I try not to spend too much time on it but I’m learning a lot from @sidhillgardens
· Garden in the UK: Obviously all those that take their Silent Space seriously. Otherwise, Great Dixter
· Garden anywhere else: Can I have two?
Saiho-ji, just outside Kyoto. Mossy and meditative.
Huntingdon Botanical Garden, California – amazing succulents.