Where is your Silent Space?

Whether we believe in Blue Monday or not, many people do feel down in January, maybe because of all the hype and increased activity of the festive period. In truth though, there can be many times throughout the year when our spirits can for whatever reason, drop. Feeling over-worked, stressed, overwhelmed or just a little lacklustre, all are common feelings to many people at one point or another. But there’s hope…

One thing I have come to understand is that I definitely need quality time alone to unwind and recharge, maybe you feel the same too? “Ha!” I hear some people say, “like when do I ever get quality time to myself?!” Well, I’m familiar with this as well – very much so.

Now, I’m fortunate to work in the field of horticulture, which is to say that I spend most of my working days gardening. Something I’ve realised recently is that whilst I’ve prepared, restored and created gardens for people to visit, enjoy and relax in, I’ve also been able to experience these myself, even whilst busily working away.

Whilst in these spaces, I’ve always remained aware of the busy, thriving world outside because of lorries in the distance, jet planes overhead, ‘trends’ seen on social media during tea break and even by email – and yes, gardeners do get emails! Either way, I know that I’m never really that far away from the hustle and bustle yet, whilst I’ve been in my garden space, I have in a way been enjoying respite away from that congested, energy sapping world outside.

Please don’t misunderstand me, gardening is all-engaging, can be very stressful in many positions, and often, when a calm day of gardening appears to be ahead, a physically and mentally challenging day actually unfolds. Yet, through my work I’ve come to understand how, when ‘at one’ with nature and the green, growing environment; I can be completely calm and at my happiest.

I’ve also met many garden visitors and heard countless comments about how they love visiting and just being in gardens. “I love it here,” is something I’ve heard often. I’m completely sold therefore on the concept that gardens, woodlands, landscape and the outdoors in general can offer more nourishment to an individual than may be quantified. Put simply, if there’s a green space where one can be alone for a while to escape from the hectic world around, or even from a situation that needs more thought, then surely it must be a good thing for the individual.

Well, to get to my point, I’d like to introduce you to a set of green spaces where you can head for restorative purposes – and to an initiative that is ‘Silent Space’.

I will not attempt to explain at length, for it’s very simple – Silent Space encourages us to put our phones aside and to take a moment in a garden or green space. For all the reasons mentioned above, and more, Silent Space is an initiative that empowers us to breathe in the green space around us, to reconnect with nature, and to revive our spirits.

Where? You might ask, as often there are no quiet places nearby that ever come to mind for this sort of activity. But stress not, for wonderful people who believe in Silent Space have already prepared and opened areas of their gardens and venues as Silent Spaces, for you to visit.

Silent Space at Waterperry Gardens
Silent Space at Waterperry Gardens

True, if your garden or the park down the lane offers you a place for solace, then embrace it and use it, but the silent space I refer to here may just takes things up a notch or two.

The single link that follows will take you not just to a website, but to a growing world of much needed Silent Spaces that may offer exactly what you’re looking for. A growing number of gardens and landscapes are featured, and there’s likely to be one near you to try this year, and if there’s not, then why not ask for one, for Silent Space offers us so much, & is sure to keep growing…

Silent Space 🌿

Pomp, Circumstance & a Touch of Mindfulness at Elgar’s Birthplace

One breezy, rainy afternoon recently I made a curiosity visit to Elgar’s Birthplace, and enjoyed a pleasant surprise. To the uninitiated, Sir Edward William Elgar, (1857 -1934) was an English composer particularly noted for the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, Cello Concerto, and Salut d’Amour. He was born in a quaint red brick estate cottage known as The Firs, around 3 miles northwest of Worcester, now under the care of the National Trust.

Image of Elgar’s Birthplace, facing the Malvern Hills. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019
Image of Elgar’s Birthplace, facing the Malvern Hills. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019

On the day of my visit the clay roof tiles glistened, cars splashed through puddles in the nearby lane and the Malvern hills were barely visible for cloud cover. This scene I describe created the most perfect collar gripping, hat pulling atmosphere for a visit, although causing an all-too-swift walk from the museum centre, through the garden, to the shelter of the front porch. The dimly lit rooms beyond, with music drifting through the upper floor were, I have to say, completely enchanting.

As mentioned, my visit was born out of curiosity and as such, I was in a casual, light-touch, information grazing kind of mind set. However, I couldn’t not listen Elgar’s music, which infused many of the museum spaces. I couldn’t not read the museum labels, stories and quotes, or watch the introductory video. Furthermore, I couldn’t miss the considered introductions the volunteers offered.

Looking back as I type, I can see that the visitor centre, birthplace cottage and the garden were delivering, for me at least, a consistent message. Supporting this message were the misty vista from the front porch, wind blown cherry blossom branches filling the bedroom window view, in fact the whole view looking out from the cottage. It all blended to hint, I believe, at a nourishing and guiding light in Elgar’s life: nature.

Grape hyacinths, or Muscari, before an antique garden roller at Elgar’s Birthplace. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019
Grape hyacinths before an antique garden roller at Elgar’s Birthplace. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019

Let’s be honest, I have spent a mere blip of time learning about Elgar, but I drew clear connections with him due to the way the museum has been presented, and the messages that unknown curators have brought to the fore. I learned less about what he composed, and more about how and why he composed – this, for me, was perfectly pitched.

“The trees are singing my music.” wrote Elgar from a home, Birchwood Lodge, in the saddle of the Malvern Hills.

I was challenged above all with the realisation that Elgar was very well aware of his need for mindfulness and wellbeing; things that are increasingly referred to everywhere these days. Sir Edward Elgar, despite being of another age and situation, appeared to face similar work, life, confidence, and creativity challenges as many people do today; and the museum engaged me in this aspect of Elgar’s life completely.

Museum text: “Elgar chased fame and fortune from a young age [but] on the other hand, he was happiest living the simple and rustic life that he had been afforded as a child. Often he’d retreat into the peace and serenity of nature when work commitments became too much for him.”

What materialised for me was that despite Elgar’s success, wealth and worldly travel; he still appeared to yearn for the peace, escape, and personal inspiration that the Malvern Hills and other rural places offered him. We’re all familiar with the ‘escape to the country’ idea, but for Elgar whose living and success depended on productivity; the inspiration and creativity he drew from the Malvern Hill, or nature generally, was clearly very important.

We may not all be creative composers, but most of us will recognise and identify with Elgar’s need to relax the mind. Creating that escape in order to properly refresh our minds and bodies helps to restore balance, and helps to prepare us for the next period of intense activity.

Cherry blossom filling a window view at Elgar’s Birthplace. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019
Cherry blossom filling a window view at Elgar’s Birthplace. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019

Elgar had certainly found his place, and one thing I took away from my visit was the need to find my own place. If I needed to further prove the point, I just turn again to Elgar’s example, who, although leaving his birthplace at the age of two, revisited often, retained a close connection with the area, and expressed a wish to purchase the The Firs if ever it were to become available.

Elgar wrote: “My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us; the world is full of it, and you simply take as much as you require.”

Returning to the garden, the benches were sodden from rain, but I spent a good while in the garden whilst trying to pick up on its spirit of place.

The tall, rolling, country lane style hedges shivered in the breeze. Freshly composted, mixed cottage style borders were packed full of plants, and although hellebores and primroses drew the eye, the winter structure stole the show with standard roses, a range of budding shrubs and an ironwork arch over a path entwined with climbers.

A rustic, thatched shelter nestled against a wattle fence, offering a shady place to perch. Gravel and wavy lined brick paths crossed the garden, and a bench in a far corner was itself a sculpture of Elgar relaxing whilst taking in the Malvern Hills vista.

A sculptural Malvern Hills view. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019
A sculptural Malvern Hills view. Copyright: Gary Webb 2019

Clearly the garden, whole property even, had moved on with the passage of time, but generally appeared to hold true to its original form judging by the old images available. It was a delightful little garden and was so valuable in allowing me to experience the all-important rural idyll that was so very important to Elgar.

I completely tuned-in to his need for mindfulness, and for the need to invest in his core self; and in this respect, The Firs connected me with Elgar, and the environment, perfectly.

During his final illness in 1933, Elgar hummed a concerto’s first theme to a friend and said, “If ever after I’m dead you hear someone whistling this tune on the Malvern Hills, don’t be alarmed. It’s only me.”

Regards, Gary

For more information about The Firs, visit this link: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/the-firs