Thought for the Week

THERE used to be a cafe in Market Street with a very charming stained glass window depicting a garden with flowers, trees, birds and a little stream, and words from a little children’s hymn by Dorothy Gurney, ‘You are nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.’

Sadly the place suffered severe fire damage and the interior was almost gutted.

I am not a gardener myself, but I am blessed with friendly, non-judgemental neighbours who, themselves, have lovely gardens which I admire and enjoy. My husband maintained that to garden you needed a cast-iron back with a hinge, and we had neither.

Gardens have a special place in Christian experience, Eden (creation) and Gethsemane (redemption), two of many representing turning points for humanity in the world.

There have been many struggles between good and evil. But more importantly they have also been places of consolation, peace and comforting memories.

Maggie Keswick Jencks understood and received inspiration from both.

Maggie - wife, mother, daughter, writer, painter and landscape designer - became fascinated by the mystery, symbolism and beauty of Chinese gardens when living in China with her father in the 1960s.

She had a keen sense of humour and was greatly amused when she first encountered the Chinese attitude to grass in gardens. A Chinese friend visiting England in the 1920s was astonished that any civilised person would want a mowed and bordered lawn which, he maintained, though no doubt pleasing to a cow, could hardly engage the intellect of human beings.

Maggie had vitality, determination, courage and faith in abundance. She needed all of them when she found herself fighting for life in 1993, when diagnosed with cancer and given only a year to live.

She spent what was left of her life fighting for supportive adjuncts to medical treatment. Maggie felt that everyone would feel better if they could take some active role in what was happening to them, be given help with stress-reducing strategies and psychological support, and share with others in similar circumstances a relaxed, domestic atmosphere.

She drew up plans for a pioneering little venture in a stable block hear the hospital where she was being treated, and this resulted in the first of what became known, affectionately and gratefully, as Maggie’s Centres.

Maggie always received great peace and comfort from her garden, and it was part of her vision to build up a charity whose aim was to build a life beyond cancer where there were calm, serene, quiet and uplifting spaces. Gardens were always an integral part of each centre. Everything is entirely free and all are welcome and free to do whatever they find helpful.

She received total support and encouragement from her husband, Frank. It was for love of her that Frank designed the Maggie Centre at Dundee. This confirmed what had been proved at Edinburgh and Glasgow, that imaginative and inspiring places for people to turn to in critical and frightening times are a beacon of hope in the darkness.

There are now seven more beacons of light and love, and to recall Dorothy Gurney’s hymn about gardens and God, all the centres and their founder must be very close to His heart.

Jennifer Humphrey

St Margaret’s Church