A not for profit project creating opportunities to be silent in some of our favourite green places
Do you enjoy being silent in your garden? What about when you are visiting other gardens? Many of us find it restful to stop for a minute and to enjoy the sounds of nature in silence. But in a world where non-stop communication is the norm, how easy is it to find five minutes when we won’t be disturbed, particularly if we live in an urban area?
The idea for Silent Space surfaced years ago through my work as a garden writer. I often spent time alone, in very beautiful gardens early in the morning. The peace I experienced would stay with me for the rest of my busy day.
What a joy and a privilege it was to be still and silent in gardens where I wasn’t responsible for anything. Realising that it was something many people never experience, I wondered how the opportunity could be shared more widely.
Over the years, I developed a simple format that would make silent visiting possible, but without creating extra maintenance or expense for busy garden teams. Like many good ideas, it stayed in my head. It wasn’t until five years ago that those idle thoughts turned to action.
In 2015, I took a break from writing to help care for my mother after a dementia diagnosis. Temporarily freed from deadlines, I followed the advice of Incredible Edible: ‘Don’t wait for permission or funding – just do something today, however small and the result will grow’. With my mother for company, I started to look for suitable gardens.
By the summer of 2016, I was ready to pilot a not for profit project called Silent Space. A handful of gardens open to the public reserved an area where people could be silent, rather like the Quiet Carriage on a train. For a couple of hours each week, visitors to the quiet areas were invited to switch off their phones and to stop talking.
There were no other rules. Visitors could spend as little or as much time in the space as they wanted. They also had the option to avoid it all together. But the majority didn’t. We left notebooks on benches to collect feedback. The most common response was gratitude.
The gardens and I planned to run the pilot for a month but the feedback was so positive and the project so easy to run that most of them extended to the end of the summer. They are still part of the project today.
There are now over 40 gardens running a Silent Space around the UK – from Scotland to Cornwall. In December 2019, Dunedin Botanic Garden in New Zealand joined the project, the first Silent Space in the Southern Hemisphere.
Silent Space is still run voluntarily and relies on the good will of all the beautiful gardens that take part. This year it will become a small charity. Thank you, Incredible Edible for your sage advice. Silent Space continues to grow.
photographs copyright Liz Ware