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International Christian charity leads campaign for community gardens post-pandemic

Bible Society is spearheading a campaign to see the creation of community gardens around the country as we emerge from the pandemic.

Award-winning designer Sarah Eberle is designing a garden at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show on the theme of Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd) for international charity Bible Society, and it's hoped that it will inspire many to create community gardens on the psalm’s theme as lockdown eases.

An easy-to-use guide on how to create such a community garden, whether in a church yard or elsewhere, and an accompanying video are being launched by Bible Society this week ahead of National Gardening Week. There is also a church service about Psalm 23, and mindfulness reflections for groups to do after a gardening session.

Prof Paul Williams, CEO of Bible Society, said, “We’ve all spent too long apart over the last year. It would be wonderful to create community gardens together as a positive way of emerging from the pandemic. Those gardens will unite people, and be beautiful sanctuaries for many years to come.”

He added, “Psalm 23 was written some 3,000 years ago, but it could have been written last week for us living through the pandemic. The psalm paints a vivid picture of the restfulness of creation, of our experience of journeying under the shadow of death, but also of the promise of a place of arrival that is a beautiful sanctuary.

“We hope that gardening – which so many Britons love – will enable people to reflect on the psalm as they sow and plant.”

Sarah Eberle (right) said, “Creating a community garden gives us an opportunity to overcome the loneliness that we’ve all felt, and to work together, growing flowers that will brighten our spirits.”

She added, “We know that gardening is good for our mental health as well as our physical health. Gardening together helps build communities and friendships. I hope people get fun, health and community spirit from this.”

The well-known biblical text is highly visual, making it perfect for a community garden design. It refers to ‘green pastures’, ‘still waters’, a difficult journey and a homecoming at that journey’s end. So just four elements are needed to create a garden: a tree, wildflower planting, water and seating.

                      Chelsea Flower Show design

The first such community garden was created at St Mary’s Church in Tadley, Hampshire, during the first lockdown.

“Lockdown felt like a cruel blow to our plans,” said minister of St Mary’s Church, the Revd Gill Sakakini (main photo), “but it’s been a complete blessing, because it’s given the garden a deeper meaning for the public.”

That meaning is hope. “There was a sense in the community that something was happening,” she said. “When we planted it, we could barely see the seeds. But week by week things grew and there was something that people could engage with when there was very little going on.” Now, she said, the garden has become ‘a focal point for the community’.

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