What do contemplation and ecological diversity have in common?

Let’s start the month with a good news story that embraces a number of subjects we are passionate about. Life – death – protection of planet earth. From life to death and back again, the cycle goes on as it has done since time immemorial. This is the story about a memorial site in the form of a cemetery that’s been given a new lease on life as a park – a place of contemplation for all who visit.

Georgina Reid in: This Park in a Former Cemetery is Designed for Contemplation (Planthunter, Issue 78, Gardens, 30.09.2021) reports how tninking outside the square can produce a place of calm and contemplation from what some might seem ab unlikely landscape. She writes …

‘This is a place of death, historically, and now it is a place of life. It is full, full, full of life.’ Thomas Woltz, principal of Nelson Byrd Woltz landscape architects (NBW), is referring to the Naval Cemetery Landscape, a piece of ground with a busy history; it was once a wetland, then a shipbuilding yard, then orchards, followed by an unmarked graveyard for over 2000 people, and ball fields (the graves were exhumed in the 1920s). Nowadays, it’s one of the many public spaces that form part of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative. But, unlike most parks, it’s designed not for recreation but contemplation.

Contemplation? Contemplation, it turns out, can be grown from seed.

‘What we did was to create a site for the contemplation of the collective human condition of death. But we made something reassuring, not depressing, that reminds us of the powerful circle that life offers us. We created an ecology that draws the most life to it, as a positive reminder of our own existence.’ A native meadow, due to the diversity of life it supports – fungi, invertebrates, insects, humans – was planted,

A raised boardwalk winds through the space, built on special footings requiring no excavation, and referencing early maps of the wetland that once existed on site. ‘Everything has an origin and a meaning,’ Thomas says.

The park is a hotbed of abundance, and a place of respite for all creatures ­– two-legged, ten-legged, no-legged. It’s also a place of learning. Research by urban nature organisation Nature Sacred is being undertaken in the park to better understand nature’s effects on stressed communities. In each of their gardens, according to Thomas, Nature Sacred install a bench with a weatherproof box containing a journal. Everyone is invited to contribute. The entries in the book have made Thomas weep more than once.

‘I have cried hot tears on reading that book. People who are facing terminal illness, abuse, psychological trauma – they come and they sit on the bench and they are immersed in the fecund life of this space and they get it. Their bodies get it.’

Link to full story here: Park for contemplation

Georgina Reid is a writer and designer, and the founding editor of The Planthunter. In addition to editing The Planthunter, Georgina contributes to a range of design and culture publications and speaks regularly about her work. Georgina’s first book, The Planthunter: Truth, Beauty, Chaos, and Plants was released in Australia by Thames and Hudson in 2018, and in the USA by Timber Press in 2019.  

Note: If you describe something as fecund, you approve of it because it produces a lot of good or useful things.

More here about the: Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, and another program here: Nature Sacred

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