It was of little surprise to me that in the early stages of lockdown in Melbourne, Bunnings, garden supply and flower shops did a roaring trade. In the midst of suffering, uncertainty and grief, the human desire to seek consolation in the natural world and things of beauty is profound. As we welcome Spring, in our inner and outer worlds, and embrace the church’s Season of Creation (1 September – 4 October), we are invited to marvel at the beauty and promise of our school gardens and grounds.
Places form us. We are intimately connected to certain places; they shape and nourish us. That Gonzaga Barry should name her annual magazine ‘Eucalyptus Blossoms’, when other Irish religious sisters were clinging to symbols of acorns and flourishing oak trees, attests to her connection with her new land with its distinct shades, textures, forms and light. The early gardens at Loreto Mary’s Mount were varied, including a rockery, greenhouse, arbours, grottos, vegetable gardens, flower beds shaped in a heart and the letter M and ‘a soft green croquet lawn, bordered by beds of bright flowers’. Some plots were tended by different student groups, or sodalities, and Gonzaga Barry used various flowers and plants as metaphors for the goal of education, the virtuous life and Christian values. Students describe enjoying studying in the shade of trees; ‘out in the quiet garden and lawn, when there seemed something of God and heaven in the balmy air’ (EB Dec 1887).
While the gardens in our schools are places of profound beauty, they also shape our perception of what is important in life and of value to our community. Our grounds people exhibit a profound sense of hospitality as they shape and hone welcoming spaces of light, colour and elegance. Our school gardens are homes to symbols of our First Nations people, Judeo-Christian and Loreto traditions. They offer respite to the stressed, connecting pathways between classes, meetings and appointments, shade for prayer and reflection and space to remember those who have gone before us. Our school grounds remind us that our Loreto community and network comprise all living things: worm farms, homes for birds, insects and other small creatures, veggie patches and herb gardens, sculptural art forms. Our gardens are a witness to God’s loving creativity, God’s grandeur, and the diversity and interdependence of all creation. Pope Francis reminds us in Laudato Si that all is a gift and we are humble stewards of this abundance:
Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others…the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.
– Laudato Si 159 –
This Spring, may our gardens inspire gratitude, encourage sustainability and direct our hearts to our loving Creator. Let us give thanks for the tremendous skill and creativity of our grounds people as they tend and transform simple spaces into places for play and imagination, learning and encounter, repose and renewal. In our Year of Verity let us remember that:
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,
that is all ye need to know on earth
and all ye need to know.
– John Keats –
Children at Loreto Nedlands Early Learning centre enjoying their garden
Author: Anne Muirhead
Feature Image: Gardeners at Loreto College Ballarat
Gallery images: Gardens and Gardeners at Loreto Schools