Although cultivated and cared for, the garden and our public outside green spaces are also uncontrollable and wild. I like the cracks in the stone and the flowery weeds; those uncontrollable beauties that help the host and guest remember that hospitality isn’t about controlled perfection but instead making a space of welcome. Often when we invite guests to our homes we like to clean and tidy and prepare the surroundings – sometimes this is a deterrent from inviting people because it seems like too much effort or is never perfect enough. However we don’t often see our green spaces in the same way. If there are weeds, or the grass is slightly too long, or the temperature is slightly too cold (because let’s be honest, you cannot control the outside temperature unless you go to a pub and they have those fancy oil lamp things that roast you alive) we don’t mind and we don’t particularly notice. Chaos in the garden seems less of a barrier than chaos in the house. There is less pressure on the host to prepare the surroundings beforehand. Jesus did a lot of his hosting and teaching outside, on a mountain, from a boat on a lake and whilst walking. He wasn’t in control of how these outside spaces looked (although he has been a part in making them during creation so you could say he actually had ultimate control – even of the weather).
Even though there is less pressure to prepare our outside spaces, there is perhaps more pleasure when the surroundings are cultivated and flourishing. There is a true delight in being surrounded by blooming flowers, fragrant aromas and bird song. My soul has felt light and enriched when I have spent time in beautiful gardens. There is something that takes us back to Adam and Eve’s original call to steward and flourish the garden. Some of my fondest memories have been sat in a garden: eating a Lacock Lumb in the garden of St John’s Hunting Lodge trying to escape the wasps, visiting people’s beautifully cultivated gardens with my parents as part of the National Garden Scheme, enjoying a traditional French feast of around seven courses in the garden of my Mum’s French pen-pal, celebrating a 23rd birthday during lockdown around a fire pit …
I am keen to invite guests into a green space (whether my concrete yard of flower pots or the local park) and see how their reactions and the atmosphere changes – hopefully offering more freedom, belonging, peace and creativity. I think two good questions to ask ourselves are:
- How can we use our outside visible space (both our own gardens or the green spaces around us) to welcome and draw in guests?
- How have you experienced hospitality in outside space compared to inside space?
- Plant a herb garden – these are some of the easiest plants to grow and can add interest and beauty to a garden as well as providing nourishment in your meals (easy and cheap).
- Ask friends if you can take some cuttings of their plants and start to grow your own garden from the ground up (time consuming and cheap)
- Buy different sized pots, a big bag of soil and different plants from your local garden centre (ask for advice about whether plants should be in sun/shade, types of soil needed, watering routine and how big they will get). Arrange them in your garden (this works best on a patio or concrete) or on your windowsill to create different levels, depths and textures.
- Install a bench at the front of your house or find a bench to frequently sit on in your local area so that you have more opportunity to speak with people who pass by.
- Get involved in Shieldfield Grows by helping us flourish our SAW garden and other green spaces around Shieldfield. It is a great opportunity to meet other people in the community!
- Support our Crowdfunder campaign to help transforming SAW’s garden into a community growing, learning & cooking space enabling us to learn skills, grow food, build community and explore issues such as climate change and community solidarity.
A FINAL INTERESTING OBSERVATION BY KATE FOX
‘This is one of the most important garden-rules: we never, ever sit in our front gardens. Even when there is plenty of room in a front garden for a garden seat of some sort, you will never see one. Not only would it be unthinkable to sit in your front garden, you will be considered odd if you even stand there for very long without squatting to pull up a weed or stopping to trim the hedge. If you are not squatting, stooping, bending or otherwise looking busy and industrious, you will be suspected of a peculiar and forbidden form of loitering… A person busy in his or her front garden is regarded as socially ‘available’, and neighbours who would never dream of knocking on your front door may stop for a chat (almost invariably beginning with a comment on the other or a polite remark about your garden).’
Kate Fox, Watching the English (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2014), pp.203– 204.
I have definitely experienced this with my neighbours. It has been when they are watering their plants that we have had a chat. Perhaps we should be bolder in knocking on our neighbours’ doors for a chat but it is well worth spending time outside either cultivating whatever space you have at the front of your house or if you don’t have a garden, spending time visibly in the local area, because there will be copious opportunities to chat to passers’-by or spot the neighbour who you never see coming out of their house.