How often do we allow ourselves the time to be silent in a green place – to really connect with Nature? It can be difficult, particularly if we live in an urban area, to find five minutes when we know we won’t be disturbed by the human voice. But how different might the world be if enjoying brief spells of silence in Nature was an accepted part of every day life?
The wonderful Quiet Garden Trust has been providing opportunities for contemplation for many years. Under its umbrella, more than 300 gardens around the world offer peace and solace. But for some people, the idea of deliberately choosing to be silent is still alien – even alarming. Perhaps there’s a need for a ‘bite-sized’ introduction to the benefits of spending quiet time in Nature?
This summer I’ve been running a pilot study called Silent Space. A handful of forward thinking gardens that open to the public have been happy to give the project a go – to reserve an area where people can be silent. For a couple of hours each week, visitors to the quiet areas are invited to switch off their phones and to stop talking.
There are no other rules. People can spend as little as two minutes or as much as two hours in the Silent Space. They also have the option to avoid it all together. And yet they don’t. I watched as one man studied the blackboard announcing the Silent Space in The Formal Garden at Waterperry Gardens in Oxfordshire. I introduced myself and explained the project. “That’s a bit different’ he said and then he went in.
The plan was to run the pilot for a month. The month came and went. The feedback was so positive and the project so easy to run that five of the gardens decided to extend until the end of August – a good two months longer than I’d dared to hope.
Now and again, following the example of Nature Sacred in the US, I’ve attached a notebook and pen to a bench in a Silent Space. With the exception of a few rather eccentric jottings, the comments have been remarkably supportive. The overwhelming response has been one of gratitude for the opportunity to be silent in a beautiful green place. It’s clear that the project can’t stop here.
As the summer draws to a close, I’ll collect any remaining feedback and start to prepare for 2017. A Silent Space website is in the making. The next stage is to talk to other gardens and parks in the UK and, using the knowledge I’ve gained, to help them create their own Silent Space next year.
If this project is to make a difference to the way we relate to the world around us, it needs to build slowly. All we need to do is to take the time to be silent. Nature will do the rest.
Further information about the project can be found on the website of the Landscape, Gardens and Health Network. www.lghn.org.uk