Imagining the Minsteracres Walled Garden in 2025…
This article originally appeared in the newsletter of the New Story Eco-Community at Minsteracres. Here, Community leader Lya Vollering imagines a visit to the eco-community in 5 years’ time, as a way to share their vision for the Walled Garden.
I have been very tired lately. I work with vulnerable people and it all has been a bit too much, the suffering and the poverty I encounter. I’ve also been involved with the Christian Climate Action. Although it feels good to be involved in actions with people who share the same concern about the Climate Crisis we are in, I feel empty and have no energy left. I am not sure how to continue.
Years ago, I’d done a 6 days guided retreat at Minsteracres Retreat Centre and that was a really positive experience. However this time I am looking for somewhere where I can be closer to nature, somewhere with simple accommodation and a sustainable lifestyle. I read about the walled garden in Minsteracres and it seems to tick all the boxes. I feel a bit apprehensive but also excited.
The walled garden is easy to find. The stunning avenue of Sequoias makes my heart sing. It is so good to see that there is now a canopy of wildflowers underneath the trees. A beautiful sign directs me to a little tarmac road on my right that follows the wall. I park my bike near the green gate and ring the bell. I am welcomed by a man with an open friendly face and a big smile. He introduces himself as Scott. With him is a white woolly dog. I am not that keen on dogs but this one seems alright. His name is Freddy. A lovely sweet scent greets me when I walk through the gate. It comes from the rambling roses growing nearby. I am struck by the atmosphere as soon as I walk in. A sense of deep peace and safety. I can feel my body relax. My eyes feast on the colours of the flowers and bushes. So much to see. To hear too. The garden is full of bird song and when we walk along the path I hear the buzzing of bees. It’s a long time that I have seen so many butterflies.
I am shown the shepherds hut I am going to stay for the coming week. It is a simple space with a bed, a desk and an easy chair but it is very beautiful in its simplicity. A little vase of flowers on the desk makes me feel welcome. Not far from the shepherds hut is the composting toilet and the shower powered by a solar panel which I am going to share with the two other guests. I wasn’t so sure when I read about these facilities, but they look as good as on the photos. A bonus is the smell of lavender from the little bundles hanging from the ceiling.
I am shown the cottage with the kitchen, the library and resource room. It is again all very simple accommodation, but beautiful and cosy. A big table outside the buildings looks very inviting. Scott, the host, makes me a lovely fresh mint tea and offers me home-made biscuits. He asks if I would like some time to myself before he takes me around the place. I am very keen to have a tour. After we finish our tea he shows me around. The willow woven raised bed in the first part of the garden give a medieval monastic feel to the place. Vegetable and flowers grow together. I don’t know most of the plants. There are edamame beans, artichoke and leeks. Beans, corn and squash are all grown together in one bed. Scott explains that this part of the garden is called the earth garden. He walk me through a corridor of verbena, a tall purple flower loved by the butterflies. We enter a secluded garden surrounded by a round purple beech hedge, a pond at the centre with seats around it. Each seat is tucked away in a living willow arched shelter. This is the water garden Scott tells me. A lovely curve of young birches and ornamental grass divides the water garden from the fire garden. An area full with wild flowers, bushes and trees and the lovely scent of honeysuckle. Following a winding path we enter area surrounded with dogwood and in the middle a raised fir pit, rustic benches around it. I hope we will have a bonfire this week! Then Scott takes me to what will become my favourite spot this coming week: The prayer space. An old gypsy style caravan has been turned into a prayer room with beautiful icons and simple benches at the site. The entrance of the caravan can be opened completely and connects with the prayer space outside. Simple but comfortable seats are placed around a rustic cross covered with deep red rambling roses. The scent is intoxicating. The dead wood and the vibrant living rose speak so vividly of crucifixion and resurrection. I immediately feel drawn to this place. Still there is more to see. At the back of the garden is a secluded area with fruit trees and soft fruit bushes, some I have never seen before. Here too are seats dotted over the place where you can be on your own. ‘Well’ says Scott: ‘let me now introduce to our other members of our community’ He takes me to an area along the south facing wall. Hens come running towards us. ‘They are very sociable’, says Scott: ‘ they are rescue hens, first we got them from a place where they were kept as battery hens, but –Thank God- that is not allowed anymore. Now we get them from a farm who get rid of their free range hens when they are a couple of years old and have passed the best of their laying days. We like to give them quality of live and they still gives us an occasional egg’.
Then he takes me into the poly tunnel. A passion flower plant grows from the centre bed all along the top and to my surprise is heavy with fruit. I feel like a child in a sweet shop. All my favourite fruit and vegetables are there. There are tomatoes in different shapes and colours, aubergines, cucumber and butternut squashes climbing up wooden structures. I notice a strong smell of basil. I see lovely melons too. It is so good to notice that there are here are seats too. I feel quite overwhelmed and I am pleased that I can have a rest and get settled.
At the evening meal I meet the other members of the community Michael and Lya and the two guests: an elderly woman from London and a young man originally from Iran. We share a simple meal all made from the produce of the garden, such a joy. Michael explains the structure of the coming week. We are invited to join the community for morning prayer and meditation at 7.30 am and evening prayer at meditation at 6 pm. An old monastic bell will ring 5 minutes before prayer. It will also ring at 3 pm when we will gather to reflect on a sentence of Christ ‘passion narrative. The day will be in silence up until 7 pm when we have our evening meal. Michael is available for spiritual accompaniment.
Time is so relative. I have been here a week and at one hand I feel it has flown by but at the other hand I feel I have been here for ages. I feel such a different person. I feel light and energized. Actually I feel truly blessed. In the evening during evening meal we would share what has been the highlight of our day. It helped me to be more aware of my days and I hope I will be able to continue doing this back at home. The highlight of this week? Difficult to say, but I think it is that impression the cross made with the rambling roses. It symbolises for me my personal discovering of how in the crucifixion is also the resurrection. Later I discovered that in the poly tunnel there was also a wooden cross amongst the passion flower. The passion flower however had grown so abundantly that you hardly could see the cross any more. Nice symbol! It was only later in the week that I found there is a section of the wall that is called: ’the wailing wall of the universe’. A place to grief for all that is going on in the world: the Covid 19 crisis that had such an impact on the world, the disasters caused by climate change, the failing crops because of the environmental crisis, the continuing inequality. Although it is overwhelming to face the immensity of suffering, it helped me to face what is going on in my life and put it in perspective and also see the connection between it all. Michael was very helpful and gently helped me to see life where I thought was only deadness. When I felt too overburdened with all the suffering, I liked to sit in front of the mosaic of Mary, Mother of Holy Hope. I love the way how she holds the earth gently in her hands with Christ on her lap. Christ with the cross in his hand. Yes, I thought, they have it all in hand! I can trust. The Icons of Thomas Berry and Wangari Maathai besides her helped me to see that we can make a difference where ever we are. When I waved goodbye to Scott, I felt a bit sad but stronger than that I felt keen to get back to where I feel called to be. And well… I take some of the walled garden with me, my pannier is full of homemade jams and fresh vegetables.
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