Charlie Stretton is our new events and engagement officer at Bodnant Garden. She will be helping people, especially children, get the most out of their visit and brings with her a wealth of experience from RSPB Conwy. Before her busy role overtakes her, Charlie takes a moment to reflect…
Did you watch a BBC Four programme last week called All Aboard! – A journey down the Kennet and Avon Canal? It was a two-hour trip, filmed from the front of a canal barge travelling at four miles an hour, with no commentary, no music, just the real-time tranquillity of the banks floating past, interrupted only by an occasional cyclist or family on the tow path. There were a few pieces of written information, superimposed onto bridges or the sides of other barges, but otherwise it was just the gentle lapping of the water and the unhurried views.
Having been on a disastrous houseboat holiday some years ago, where it rained for four solid days and I ended up falling out with my barge-mates, I had been somewhat sceptical about this programme. But I thought I’d give it a go, just for a few minutes… and I found myself totally mesmerised. Everything just slowed down, and I was drawn in to this sleepy world where two ducks swimming past became a real event, and a swan taking off a spectacular highlight.
So much of life these days happens at a frantic pace. We are getting used to a world where everything happens at top speed, and in our rushing and hurrying it is easy to lose sight of the things that matter, or to dismiss them as having no relevance to our superfast lives. This quirky little canal boat programme reminded me how vital it is sometimes to sit still, or walk slowly, and take stock – to appreciate the things, especially nature, around us.
I have just started work here at Bodnant Garden and I’m still pinching myself – I cannot believe how lucky I am to be working in such an outstandingly beautiful place. I am amazed at the colours of the rhododendrons and azaleas, and incredulous at the height and age of the trees, which were here long before any of us, and which will outlive all of us.
I am humbled by the efforts of the plant hunters and the horticulturalists who created this garden long ago, knowing that by the time their work came to fruition they would be long dead. What a deep connection to the natural world, what incredible foresight and what generosity of spirit they must have had.
What is also astounding about the garden is the rate at which it changes. The wonderfully –named Tristan Gooley, in his book How to Connect with Nature sums this up beautifully –
“Colours, smells and sounds swirl through daily and annual patterns, putting in displays then disappearing with promises to return in new clothes. There is the regularity of a solar drum behind all the changes, but this regularity passes through the individual kaleidoscope that is our locality. Time makes both sense and madness of each place and moment. The only certainty is that you will only get one opportunity to experience each scene exactly the way it is. It will be different if you return in ten months or in ten minutes”
It’s vital, then, to take time to appreciate each scene. Maybe just for a moment, find a quiet spot in the garden, stand still and just take in the sights, the scents, the sounds all around you. Connect yourself with nature and feel the absolutely incredible power, the life-force that is at work silently all around you, but which we so often miss while keeping an eye on the children, or chatting to our friends, or searching for that special plant. The garden will never, ever be exactly the same again as in that moment.
So, like the barge on the Kennet and Avon canal, it is vital, every now and then, to drop into a slower gear, to put life into slow motion, to be still and peaceful for a while, and to take in the beauty around us. In doing this, we will begin to find awe and wonder in the most everyday of scenes, and a deeper and richer connection with the natural world.