Tranquillity, trees and school trips by Alison Levey

November 9, 2011

in Articles, General Interest

Generally we associate gardens with peace and quiet, and I know that we inconvenience ourselves considerably at Veddw in not using noisy machinery when we open the garden – and we hate it when other people do use strimmers and hedge cutters when we pay to visit.

Is noise inevitable everywhere in reality and our stereotypes of gardens perhaps over constricting? Though we could at least think of creating deliberate noise that actually adds to the experience?

Here’s Alison Levey’s experience and thoughts on the subject.

Anne Wareham, editor

Autumn colour copyright Alison Levey

I had the good fortune to call in at Westonbirt Arboretum recently on my way home from a trip to Bath. I had had a very nice few days away and in my head what I wanted to finish off my break was a nice, quiet, peaceful walk surrounded by trees.

On arrival to Westonbirt you have a choice, head into the main arboretum or go into the Silk Wood. As I arrived I could see the arrival of a school visit of young teenagers. They were loud and boisterous and clearly ready for a fun day out of the main school routine. Silently I cursed a bit to myself but thought if I got on with my walk I could probably avoid them.  They could enjoy their day, I could enjoy mine. This was a mistake. They split into groups and I kept running into them no matter how hard I tried not to. I could also hear them wherever I went and it became increasingly intrusive.

As it grew more intrusive I became more and more frustrated by this and started to head back to the car park. I had paid £9 to enter and for a 20 minute trip this felt a poor use of my money so I diverted myself into the Silk Wood. The Silk Wood was peace and calm personified. A few walkers like me, many with dogs just enjoying the early autumn sun and the beauty of the surroundings.

As I continued to walk I considered further my exceptionally grumpy attitude to the school visit.  As I entered the Silk Wood I could see three more coaches of various school age children heading in to the main wood for the morning.

I decided I was being unreasonable in my frustration and also contrary to what I believe to be right. Many of us often say how much we want the younger generation to be involved in gardening and nature. I myself tried to interest my children in planting things, but as with most things, once they reached teen years the fact that I enjoyed it labelled it totally as ‘uncool’.

I remembered also going on school trips to woods with my children when they were that age and how much the children loved being outside and just enjoying nature around them.

But – I argued to myself – I came here for peace and tranquillity and they very nearly ruined that. I paid my £9 for a peaceful walk and I nearly gave up on that quest.

The point, as I see it, still remains that the children had as much right to be there as I had.  Yes I had paid, but so had they. I wanted to enjoy the space in one way and them in another – which one of us was wrong? It is not my space, nor is it theirs and at the end of the day whilst they were loud and boisterous it was with happy noises. It was the realisation that it was happy noises that finally resolved this internal debate. Had they been swearing, shouting and screaming abuse at each other I think I would have been fully justified in feeling annoyed at their presence. They were not, they were enjoying the woods at least as much as I was and that has to be good. Thankfully there was an escape route for me, I could find the peace I was looking for and we could both co-exist in the arboretum happily.

I would however have liked some guidance that one wood would be noticeably noisier than the others, something to let me know that I would be sharing my time with school trips so that I was forewarned.

The experience in general made me decide that we have to find our own ways to co-exist in these open spaces and to enjoy seeing others being happy. If we wish for something different we need to find a way to achieve that for ourselves. The children were not responsible for my annoyance, I was. If we want to share our gardens and areas of natural beauty with the younger generations then this is the compromise I am willing to make – I wonder how many others are?

Alison Levey  

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Snark December 22, 2011 at 9:00 pm

OK someone needs to stick their neck out here. I hate noisy parties of children spoiling the tranquillity of gardens or for that matter mountain tops. In most cases it seems that they are rioting around and gaining little education from the experience. Yes parents should be able to take small numbers of well behaved children but don’t delude yourself that most of these trips are anything but an excuse to avoid school.


georgie newbery November 17, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Dear Anne and Alison,

We have a grand garden nearby where ten full time gardeners labour towards its beauty full time. Occasionally it is opened to the public in order to raise money for charity. And we rustle round for a baby sitter to come and watch the children while we go and see how the garden has changed in the past year.

And every time I think it sad that children are barred from this garden. While I’m sure that they’d be noisily delighted at the opportunities for running, the secret rooms behind the hedges, the path curving through the carex pendular (sp?) around the restored carp ponds, they would also be learning as they gamboled about.

I think gardens are as much a part of our island culture as are Shakespeare or Vaughan Williams. I feel strongly that my (and other people’s) little terrors should be exposed to this culture from an early age in order to give them a sense of entitlement to it, and therefore make them more likely to have doings with it as they get older. Leaving children at home to the ministrations of a sitter while we enjoy the rill through the wildflowers and the astonishing delphiniums even taller than Fabrizio makes me feel mean.

No, I wouldn’t yet take them to a concert where they were expected to sit still and quiet (although the poor congregation in our local church are subjected to their screeches regularly on Sundays – but again, how are they to learn to behave if they’re not expected to try?), but since adults walk about gardens laughing and talking then I think children should be allowed to enjoy all gardens as well.

Besides, in our case, I think it fundamental that they should see what gardens are ‘supposed’ to look at for fear that they’ll think that everyone grows plants as we do: in serried ranks of raised beds with no thought for colour, line or shape.

Of course, if I weren’t encumbered with two small children I might feel very differently… might…


Rhonda November 11, 2011 at 12:31 am

I used to think I wanted peace and quiet in my garden. Then when I moved and had it, I realized how much I missed sharing it with noisy roads and neighbors. I’ve found that besides the obvious birdsong and buzzing insects, I enjoy train whistles, hovering helicopters and other things that offer “proof of life” here in this isolated spot.


Felicity Waters November 10, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Hi Alison – love this post – my reaction to noise is always dependant on my head space and recent exposure – these days silence means something is wrong (I have small children) –

moving my reaction aside …
is this a universal problem? ….. would a topic such as this ever be raised by louder nations?…I am still in shock that train carriages in the UK are divided into shhh zones …….


Genevieve November 10, 2011 at 5:49 pm

I appreciate the full circle of self awareness, Alison! I had a similar experience in a spa (don’t laugh). There were signs posted through out the spa requesting respectful silence to allow all visitors to revel in their experiences. I had MY vision of what that was (pretending to be diva on a getaway, immersed in Om music and aromatherapy) and the young group of girls from New Jersey had their version. (It didn’t match mine…) Eventually I worked my way from baleful glances & scowling to actually being happy for them and their pleasure at their own fun vacation. Believe me, it took a while.

What is helpful, as you mentioned, is guidance. I would have loved for a staff member to shush them the heck up. Creating spaces in larger gardens for contemplative tranquility would allow for all spectrum of enjoyment. Ultimately though, again as you mentioned, we need to be able to get to that place within ourselves, on our own, to move forward in the world in any capacity, not just on a garden jaunt.


Alison November 9, 2011 at 10:01 pm

Thanks for the comments, they are really appreciated. I seem to have had gardens close to schools in the couple of houses I have lived in, the noise has never worried me. It seems like there are lots of complaints about younger generations but we forget we were that age and noisy once ourselves (well I was anyway).


Bob Barfield November 9, 2011 at 7:44 pm

I would also be a tiny bit annoyed at the excessive noise. Having said that it would also depend on the age of the children as to what to expect from them. One would imagine that a school trip was intended to be educational? Many of the larger gardens have specific information for children and their parents/carers to use to make the visit hopefully enjoyable and educational. Westenbirt is one such place see$FILE/westonbirt-worksheet-KS2-Who-lives-at-westonbirt-trail-booklet.pdf. There as always has to be a compromise. We live directly next to our village Primary School now that is noisy at playtimes. We need children and young people to want to join Horticulture so the bottom line is they must go and enjoy.


Elizabeth Buckley November 9, 2011 at 7:38 pm

I totally understand your disappointment/frustration when you’d envisioned a quiet visit to the arboretum only to encounter noisy school students at every turn. I can’t help feeling I’d initially have had the same reaction. I remember late one afternoon/early evening trying to finish some planting for a client and being desperate to get home for dinner, when her children decided to ‘help’. I decided to embrace the situation (much as it stretched my patience!) and it turned into a wonderful encounter that I continue to treasure. Guess what I’m trying to say is.. if you can’t beat ’em… join ’em!


Sue Beesley November 9, 2011 at 5:50 pm

A very perceptive post indeed. The realisation that they were enjoying the gardens too, in their own way, is key of course. They might, I suppose, publish school trip days and non-school trip days so that one can decide in advance. But that would be to suggest that visitors would have a less pleasant experience with school groups in, which might well not be the case – as you point out, there is pleasure to be had in seeing others enjoy themselves.

I would only add that we have had several adult groups here who have been pretty noisy too – lots of gossip and gales of laughter. Each to their own.


Susan in the Pink Hat November 9, 2011 at 5:47 pm

The question is what think the purpose of gardens should be sanctuaries or if they are recreation spaces. If a public garden is dependent upon funding from visitors, I think that inevitably they must become the latter. There are public gardens such as Japanese gardens that specifically request their visitors keep their voices down in an effort to lend that air of peaceful tranquility associated with those gardens. I have known a few that tell you upon entry that you will be asked to leave if you can’t manage to contain yourself. Unless a garden specifically asks their visitors to be quiet, I think it is only inevitable that visitors will have to put up with some noise.


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