South’s first Quiet Garden

The mini mountaintop at Dunedin Botanic Garden. Photos: Clare Fraser
The mini mountaintop at Dunedin Botanic Garden. Photos: Clare Fraser
To many of us, spending quiet time in green, calm places feels good. Research shows we’re soothed by the sounds of nature.

The Rhododendron Dell
The Rhododendron Dell
The Quiet Garden Movement has been developing quiet outdoor spaces for 25 years. The movement traditionally has a spiritual focus, arranging access to outdoor space for prayer and reflection in settings such as churches, retreat centres, schools, private homes and hospitals.

In 2016, English garden writer Liz Ware created the Silent Space project to help people enjoy peaceful time in green spaces. A handful of British gardens agreed to reserve an area where people could be silent. For a couple of hours each week, visitors to these quiet areas were invited to switch off technology and stop talking. The feedback was positive and the project proved to be easy to run. One visitor said: ‘‘It’s wonderful to have permission to be silent.’’

This October, the Silent Space concept was introduced to New Zealand at a botanic garden conference and, as a result, Dunedin Botanic Garden has become the first garden in the southern hemisphere to join. We have created a trail for people to find their own silence.

The Friendship Lawn
The Friendship Lawn
It’s not the spaces that are kept silent but visitors are invited to move silently from spot to spot and enjoy surrounding sounds. Offering a trail instead of a dedicated space means other visitors can continue to use the garden freely, staff can carry on with noisy work and visitors seeking quiet can keep moving until they find a space they like.

Lovelock Bush
Lovelock Bush
The trail includes seven special spots on the gentle upper garden hillside. They range from lawns with seats to a formal terrace with a fountain and semi-wilderness areas among trees. The spots are linked by a loop walk that takes an hour to walk non-stop, taking visitors past cultivated beds, clearings with views and through peaceful native forest.

Visitors are guided along the route by a pocket-sized brochure, which is available from the information centre in the lower garden. The first space is a seldom-visited spot with a view, under mature oak trees. Then visitors are in the bush, travelling along a flat hillside path with the sounds of a rushing river below, ending up at The Point lookout with views over North Dunedin. Soft tracks and a boardwalk then take you through the restful bush of the Rhododendron Dell or, in summer, you can walk barefoot up the grassy Cherry Walk.

New Zealand native plants offer touchy-feely textures so part of the native plant collection serves as a touch trail. The collection also has an alpine scree garden that mimics a mini mountaintop which is home to native insects that make lovely summery sounds on a hot day.

Arboretum spring track
Arboretum spring track
Visitors are then led to a far corner of the garden where there’s a little-known lawn in the geographic plant collection. There’s also the gently sloping Friendship Lawn by the aviary, with wide open sky views. This is a mind-opening spot to lie back and watch the clouds.

The route takes you through more bush, the arboretum and finally, the Mediterranean Garden terrace with its view up the Leith Valley. But you can pick and mix sites as you please.

The Point Lookout
The Point Lookout
We can all take pride that our little botanic garden near the bottom of the world is the first in the southern hemisphere to join this progressive project. The Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney and Melbourne also wanted to be first in the southern hemisphere to join, which meant a race with our cousins across the ditch. Dunedin people involved moved quickly, even the local printer who used a faster sub-contractor for folding, to ensure Dunedin beat the Aussies.

The Dunedin Botanic Garden information centre is open daily from 10am-4pm.

Clare Fraser works in adult education at Dunedin Botanic Garden.

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