How to make a living off your garden: ‘The garden draws you in with its wonderful sense of stillness’

Making your living off your garden is a dream for many of us — but it needn't be a dream, as Anna Tyzack found when she spoke to some people who are already doing it.

In the first piece, Anna spoke to flower grower Rachel Siegfried, while in the second she turned her attention to fruit and vegetable grower Jane Scotter. Here she speaks to Viscountess Cowdray, aka Marina Cowdray.

Viscountess Cowdray, meditative gardener, West Sussex

Cowdray is best known for its polo pitches, but it is also, increasingly, a place for meditation and reflection. It all began for Viscountess Cowdray after the birth of her third child, Catrina, when she would sit alone in the ornamental woodland below the house or by one of the lakes and feel revitalised. ‘There’s something magical about the Cowdray garden — it draws you in with its wonderful sense of stillness,’ reflects Lady Cowdray.

Cowdray’s 110 acres of parkland were laid out in the early 19th century and developed by Viscount Cowdray’s great-grandfather, Weetman Dickinson Pearson, 1st Viscount Cowdray, to include level lawns with wide borders, terracing, raised walks, rhododendron valleys and a 1,150ft-long Wellingtonia avenue.

Viscount and Viscountess Cowdray

After discovering meditation and taking a number of courses, Lord and Lady Cowdray began planting with peace and tranquillity in mind: a new woodland walk, a pyramid garden with a fountain and bench and medicinal plants, including mint, lemon verbena and comfrey.

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Cowdray gardens has the most peaceful magical walks. The words in Desiderata are a wonderful reminder of how to navigate through life…. Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your mind quietly and clearly, and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant, they too have their say. Avoid hard and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself to others, you may become vain and bitter,for always there will be greater and better persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements, as well as your plans’ keep interested in your career, however humble it may be, it is a real possession in times of constant change as they are. Exercise caution in your business affairs, the world is full of trickery, but let this not blind you to what virtue there is. Many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere, life is full of heroism. Be yourself, especially do not feign affection, neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in misfortune, but do not stress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here, and whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with yourself, and with God whatever you conceive him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations and toil in the noisy confusion of life, keep pure in your soul. With all its sham, and drudgery and spoiled dreams, it is still a beautiful world. #wordsofwisdom

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The gardens also inspired Lady Cowdray’s sculpture, The Meditator, which evolved in her search to demystify meditation and is available to buy as jewellery.

There is now a Meditator on the front lawn at Cowdray House, which is a venue for weddings, house parties and corporate events. When their five children left home, Lord and Lady Cowdray downsized to an extended cottage on the estate. ‘They’re as connected to the garden as we are; they’re always asking when the house is free so they can go for a healing walk,’ Lady Cowdray says.

Determined that it should be a place for more people to discover the restorative powers of meditation, in 2016, Lady Cowdray transformed the nearby Cowdray Hall into a wellness retreat for meditation, yoga, chanting and Qigong (moving medi-tation) classes. ‘It’s been a dream come true for me,’ she says.

On International Yoga Day in June, hundreds of people gathered on the polo pitches to meditate and practice yoga in the evening sun. ‘Meditation might feel alien to some people, but, when you come here, you realise that it can be as simple as getting out into Nature,’ Lady Cowdray believes.