I talk to Philip, spiritual gardener
and founder of Hortus Spiritualis.
Philip became interested in horticulture after being in the military for 9 years, where he was a medic in the royal marines. He left age 25 and decided to do something completely different. Philip became more spiritual after leaving and developed an interest in Buddhism from an early stage. That interest grew alongside a fascination with nature. He feels a great affinity with plants and trees, and loved gardening: he jokes ''it grows on you!''
Philip went through various career stages in horticulture, going to college, working in royal parks and for high end clients. In the last few years he worked alongside Dan Pearson: the garden designer and TV presenter, who is also a deeply spiritual man. He worked in 2006 managing a large estate in Somerset, which included 25 acres of wild flowers and 15,000 trees. Philip found himself exactly where he wanted to be, working not just doing horticulture for local authorities, but able to be at one with the environment. He spent more and more time in meditation in the landscape, hugging trees, talking to plants, and having conversations with nature. Dan then took him onto a project in Berkshire to restore a garden, putting in trees and wild flowers. Creating the lake was an incredible experience, watching how it developed over a few years. The fish appeared naturally via the eggs on ducks feet. In three years appeared an amazing biodiversity set-up, completely different to the landscape before.
Philip built gardens in Brittany, near St Malo, designing a garden linked to gites. He included a community area, space for contemplation and meditation, a bbq area, and four individual gardens. In Spain Philip spent time creating a Moorish paradise garden, Islamic in style with water features, orange trees and jasmine. He lived in a Moorish village in Moorish house. He then got a contract for a larger hillside house, where he planted trees, incorporated quiet areas, and grew vegetables. He would like to do more of that, and may go back to Spain.
He considers carefully his gardening tools, and doesn't buy off the shelf new tools that will soon be damaged. He has got old fashioned, 50s and 60s steel tools. He also buys Japanese tools, his favourite being a basic 'hori-hori' weeding tool that has a razor sharp edge. This is an all purpose tool for chopping vegetables, digging weeds, and cutting plants. He has a Japanese spade made from one piece of metal called an 'elephant spade'. It's light, strong and solid, and can be used for many things.
One of Philip's most admired people is Satish Kumar, head of the Resurgence magazine and Schumacher College in Devon. He had known Satish some years, and tells me he has an incredible aura about him. They had met at a festival and two years later when he met him again, Satish remembered him and greeted him by name.
Philip completed an Earth Pilgrim course at Schumacher, and was blown away by the ethos there. The course was only a week but it changed his life. Suddenly all started to click together, networks opened up, and things started moving. He had already been in the area for 15 years, but from one week at Schumacher, Philip was meeting people from all over the world. He had the feeling of being by himself for many years, and simply hadn't met the peer group he now has. He would like to get more involved at Schumacher, as once you have done a course there you can volunteer for food and accommodation, organised like an ashram. He also wants to get more involved in the gardens there, as one of the gardeners does sessions with local prisoners.
Glastonbury was the next step and his Hortus Spiritualis business. The idea is to bring spirituality into the garden. This is happening slowly, gaining client by client. Philip is not a hard headed business man, but does it because he wants his clients to get as much as he does from it. He strives to understand what they want and where they are spiritually, asking whether they want a meditation garden or a fun place for children, and tailoring everything to their needs. In 2014 Philip set the wheels in motion, creating the website and Facebook page, and the gardening started last year.
Philip created the Living Wall in Excalibur, the organic vegan restaurant in Glastonbury. He believes it is important to have green areas in a space like this, and would like to see more restaurants with the same. He's worked in restaurants and hotels in the past creating these areas, but many of them don't want to pay for maintenance. In Excalibur they are happy to pay him to keep it looking good.
One of Philip's aims is to write a book, as he has a lot of experience and thoughts about his time in nature over the last years. He thinks it's time to put it down and share it. He has so many stories, encounters with the wild: butterflies, bees, birds, and deer in different landscapes. And he would like to write about his travels.
Philip tells me he is becoming more and more spiritual in himself. After reading about Buddhism for 30 years, only now is he starting to live it and absorb it. He hopes to give more back to the community, to encourage people to have more of a sense of place with their garden: to live it and breathe it, touch it, walk in it without shoes, and talk to the plants. He has become more aware when in woodlands, and joined the forest bathing group. They walk quietly doing mindful meditation, absorbing the forest through sound, feel, and smell.
He has a little garden of his own, including a zen garden, and an allotment with vegetables. Philip gets a huge kick out of allotment gardening, as he is often on his own there, with the birds and the cows in the field next door. Philip loves where is lives now, as he gets dawn in the bedroom, and sunset in the conservatory. These things are very important to him, and he loves watching the seasons changing.
He feels he is learning all the time, even though he's been doing it 40 years. His book shelf is ever growing with books on horticulture, zen, and Buddhism. He wants to visit Japan and has been invited there by some Japanese friends. He aims to visit for several months, drawn more and more towards the zen. Philip tells me he looked at all the other forms of Buddhism over the years, and ended up at the most simple! Some Buddhist paths are very heavy, but zen is more: 'just sit'!
Spiritual Gardening, alongside reading about Buddhism, has made Philip a more calm person. He thinks more about the space he is in, and is not so interested in money. His well being and the well being of the client is the most important thing. Its about giving something else. He is trying to do that with all his life!
He says we are only here for a certain amount of time, and we must make the most of it.
''Gardens are wonderful things, nature is wonderful.''
The Hortus Spiritualis website: www.hortus-spiritualis.com/