Garden at Chelsea Flower Show set to inspire church community gardens

Garden at Chelsea Flower Show set to inspire church community gardens

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Resources for this will be made available from mid April on the Bible Society website

Getting the nation creating community gardens using the world’s most famous Bible verses – that is the intention of Bible Society’s garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2020.  

The Psalm 23 Garden, designed by multi-award-winning designer Sarah Eberle, brings the famous text of ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ to life. 

The well-known biblical text includes references to ‘green pastures’, ‘still waters’ and a homecoming at the end of a journey. Sarah Eberle’s design conveys all of this.  

‘I want to engage people’s emotions,’ says Sarah about the Psalm 23 Garden. ‘It will stop people in their tracks and make them look.

‘The psalm is quite clear in its description of landscape,’ she adds. ‘Most people can understand that and get their own interpretation out of it. It’s relevant whether you are a churchgoer or not. That’s nice. It makes you think about it.’

After the Show, it is hoped that communities, churches and schools across the country will be inspired to create their own Psalm 23-based gardens in all kinds of places: church grounds, community plots, disused plots of land, unused school outdoor areas.

And it’s simple. You only need four elements from Sarah Eberle’s design to achieve this: water, meadow, a tree and somewhere to sit. 

It is hoped that churches will be among those who work with keen gardeners from their local communities to create shared, beautiful spaces in churchyards.

An estimated two-thirds of the Church of England’s 16,000 churches have churchyards, which collectively cover the area of a small national park. Churches in many other denominations have spaces they can use as well. 

According to Christian Research, 65 per cent of churches have grounds that could be used for gardening. One in four of churches surveyed said that they were keen to use their outdoor space, but needed advice about what to do. 

Videos and downloadable resources showing how to create your own garden featuring Fran Clifton, Head Gardener at Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, and videos of churches that have developed their grounds, will be available to get people started in the spring, from the website.

There will also be special resources for schools, including an assembly and tips on how to create a schools’ garden encouraging children to get their hands dirty and learn about the beauty of nature. This is particularly important for children who live in cities and may not have had the chance to get involved in gardening before.

‘Anyone who gardens knows that it increases your sense of wellbeing,’ says Hazel Southam, spokeswoman for Bible Society. ‘But gardening together on a shared project is particularly special. 

‘Any community – whether they have a faith or not – can take this beautiful Psalm and create a garden based on it. The Psalm offers something to reflect on as we journey through life. The gardens that people create will be individual, unique to their setting, whether in a school, community land, allotments or in a church yard. We’re really excited to see what beautiful spaces people create over the coming years.’ 

Churches that have already developed their outdoor spaces have already welcomed the scheme. St James’ Church in Finchampstead, near Reading, won The Church Times’ Green Church Award for its churchyard in 2017. 

The church’s rector, Canon Julie Ramsbottom, says,

‘Using an outdoor space is a way of enabling people to flourish. It enhances the life of a community.

‘I think churches should think hard about maximising the use of their surroundings. It’s so important as a message to both the church and community, that the church doesn’t just take place inside the building. Church is more outside than inside.’

Another church already using its outdoor space for the benefit of the community is St Mary’s in Lewisham. Fr Steve Hall said,

‘The church yard had become a druggy area that was misused by people with aggressive dogs, people with drink problems. Nobody wanted to come in. There was drug paraphernalia. There was some rough sleeping. It was an unpleasant atmosphere. It was intimidating.’

Now the garden is full of colour and life, and is the venue for weekly gardening sessions for people in the next door mental health unit.

‘Now the atmosphere is peaceful, it’s beautiful and calming,’ said Fr Steve. ‘I think it’s therapeutic for anyone who comes in.’

After the Show, the Psalm 23 Garden will find a new home at Winchester Hospice in Hampshire, which is set to open during 2020. 

Maddy Thomson, Clinical Matron of Palliative and End of Life Care at Hampshire Hospitals, said, ‘The garden will represent such a special place for our patients and their families, who can enjoy precious moments together, or find quiet reflection in this beautiful outdoor space.

‘We are absolutely delighted that we will be able to offer this as part of the care and support we provide, and know that it will make such a difference to the families being supported by Winchester Hospice.’