The new book Wednesday’s Garden opens with a line by renowned Scottish-American naturalist and writer John Muir.
He was a visionary who recognised over 150 years ago the critical importance of nature in our lives, and that to remove or destroy it can be deeply misguided.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul,” said the man best known as the ‘Father of National Parks’.
Having helped compile and publish this account of Margaret River’s cherished Organic Garden, I was reminded of Muir’s message throughout the project.
To me, it encapsulates what I personally feel about the garden, not to mention my sentiments toward countless other natural spaces that provide beauty, tranquillity and sanctuary.
With co-authors Shelley Cullen and Margot Edwards, we produced a book that tracks the 30-year history of this lovely public space, possibly the first of its kind in WA.
Over the years it has not only grown into a flourishing botanical haven, featuring a plethora of beautiful plants, but an important meeting place for people from all walks of life – be they fragile or strong, suffering or thriving, happy or sad, creating or gardening.
All ages have enjoyed and used the garden for everything from music festivals to theatrical productions, school classes to kids’ games, environmental conferences to symposiums, protests to poetry readings.
It has been particularly enchanting for the region’s children, with its fairy grottos and colourful play areas. Many of the town’s young people hold fond memories of its secret verdant spaces and flowery nooks.
The book contains strange and elusive curative streams, threads of connection, linking the modern human condition to a primal need for a simpler, more meaningful and caring existence.
“At the top of the hill beside the high school in Western Australia’s Margaret River town ship, there is a garden,” says the book.
“Passersby are lured in by its brightly coloured and playful entry, welcoming aura, and verdant heart of trees, shrubs and flowers. Over the years, people have been enticed and drifted through the gate to explore, like butterflies and bees in blossom, sometimes completely unaware why they did so.
“Something deeper than curiosity is at work in this lovely place. Few regret, or forget, their garden sojourn, and come back for many reasons.”
The title Wednesday’s Garden stems from the day of the week that volunteers arrive to tend and improve the garden, yet the name also has curious atavistic origins that are touched upon in the book, explains Shelley Cullen.
“Wednesday is Raphael’s day, also called Mercury’s Day, the day our little community of gardeners meets each week to plant and tend the garden.
“The Archangel Raphael is the angel of healing, science and knowledge who first appears in the biblical Book of Tobit.
“The story is the best scriptural example of Raphael as a teacher of the healing arts. The angel is also linked to the Greek characters Hermes and Mercury, has a great sense of humour, and is an amusing guide for the journey of life. Raphael is also said to heal the rift between Humanity and Heaven.”
Today the Organic Garden has become as synonymous with Margaret River as the karri trees, waves and wine – and is as prized.
Indeed, it is a little piece of natural, old-fashioned Arcadia in the heart of an over-synthesised, growing modern town.
And this has created a dilemma. All is not well in paradise. The garden, situated on Department of Education land, is currently under threat of being redeveloped, or partially removed, and replaced by a car park for the expanding local school.
The proposed changes have galvanised the local community and there has been a concerted effort by residents and visitors to keep the garden at all costs.
Hence the book tells a story, both hopeful and cautionary, about development versus treasured places, and how we can be helped by the benevolence of the natural world in the heart of our towns.
It speaks of how communities can reconnect and benefit from life’s simpler and more organic locations, and reveals the deep connection to something now almost lost, forgotten, or buried by most of us in the present world.
“The garden is love encapsulated in its offering of a natural sanctuary and this is the story in pictures and words of the people who have been drawn to it and tended it – people who have come and gone with the passing decades,” says our book.
“Through them the garden lives, through them it has become more lovely, and through them its importance grows as a shelter in the heart of an Australian country town faced with continual change.”
Like many popular places that are now “on the map”, Margaret River faces the tension between nostalgia for the past and the desire for change to meet the needs of the future.
Ultimately, Wednesday’s Garden helps us realise that progress can sometimes mean leaving things exactly as they are, as they cannot be bettered. Those who know it and love it want this irreplaceable Southwest sanctuary to be welcoming and delighting people far into the future.
Wednesday’s Garden is available in selected book shops or can be ordered online from the Margaret River Bookshop at http://www.margaretriverbookshop.com.au/Wednesdays-Garden/newrelease-9780646994543.aspx
You are welcome to join the authors for coffee, cake and a chat at the Margaret River Organic Garden between 9.30am and 10.30am on Saturday, May 4. Entry is a gold coin donation.