This week I had the pleasure of visiting a private Quiet Garden in Mississauga.
Doug Rose and his wife are a part of the Quiet Garden movement. Beginning with a love of gardens and an already landscaped backyard, they simply grew and adapted their outdoor space to create a special setting for rest and contemplation. It now welcomes individual visitors (like me) and several retreats each year in which up to twenty people come for an intentional day of quiet and connection to the natural world.
The garden sits on 3/4 of an acre and is not at all what one expects from a suburban backyard. It has enough shade for comfort on a hot day but still plenty of sunlight for the extensive perennial beds and rose garden. Doug walked A. and I through the entire property, showing us through the side arbour that he and his son built (I noted the wisteria vines with interest) all the way to the pond and small seating area at the back. Since his wife (she’s the real gardener, he says) is recovering from double knee surgery, he was patient with all of our questions and quite a gracious host.
A swimming pool is just behind the large, circular rose garden which right now is in full bloom. Nearby, a curved stone bench echoes that rounded shape and offers a place to sit and rest. A variety of herbs–dill, cilantro, and lavender among others–offered a feast for the senses and are cleverly located near the back door of the house for easy kitchen access.
In books and articles, designers often suggest creating ‘rooms’, smaller areas within a garden that are enclosed or set apart. The Rose’s Quiet Garden has exactlythat–little seating areas and alcoves enclosed by a planting of tall flowers, or bushes, or larger structures. This creates a restful atmosphere–no matter where you are there is always a place to stop, if only for a moment. It also sets the stage for quiet conversation or even tea for two. I found it easy to imagine how twenty people could be in the garden at once, and yet all find places to be alone and uninterrupted.
At the end of our tour, we sat for a few moments and talked about the Quiet Garden movement and why it matters. Doug believes that spiritual nourishment is an essential part of a church’s mission and the gardens are one way to help provide that. There is value not only in enjoying the quiet, natural spaces but in the relationships formed by those who create and maintain them. (Clearly, he is not one of those people who views religious communities as a social club or obligatory committment.) Doug’s enthusiasm was contagious. He left me wondering about whether my own congregation might think about further developing our lovely gardens into a more intentional space for contemplation and rest.
What impacted me most of all that afternoon, however, was the long-term development of his home and gardens. His family has lived in that place for more than 45 years. They have added on to the house six times and added to the garden bit by bit, changing their space according to their needs and desires as they raised three children. I heard stories about the fun their kids had in the pool, the father-son bonding that took place during a building project, the time it rained during a garden retreat. They have sunk their roots deeply into this soil, both literally and figuratively.
I reflect on this as I recognize that I have now lived in my own house longer than I have lived anywhere in my entire life–nine years. With parents that shifted homes regularly, and a life calling that sometimes insists on relocation, such deep roots have never been possible for me. In my current home I have always felt that I shouldn’t sink too much invesment into it–inside or out–just in case we were to move. In the past year or so I have begun to consider whether such a reluctance to settle down is helpful, or a barrier to greater contentment.
Families are far more transitory now that they used to be because of things like urbanization, contract work and technology. I live in a community where families regularly buy and sell houses or are transferred by their employers across the country or around the world. Much of my life I gave this little thought. Here in mid-life, however, and meeting people like Doug, I wonder what we’re missing. What is lost–or gained?–when we are on the move so often that we have no long term investment in our property or our neighbourhoods? Are there gifts that we miss out on when we live as if our homes are disposable and our gardens are created for only one season? If we have the luxury of choice, are we wiser to stay put or regularly seek our greener pastures?