Honeysuckle, Herbs and Wild Honey

A visit to Charis Garden

By Ruth Garvey-Williams

(From the July - September 2019 issue of VOX)

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The early evening sun illuminates the 15th Century ruins of Ballyadams Castle as I navigate winding country lanes on the Laois/Kildare border en route to visit Claire and Jeremy Haworth. An impressive driveway leads up to a 200-acre family farm where this young couple have converted a disused part of the farmhouse into a cosy family home. Together they are creating “Charis Garden” from a once-overgrown corner of land.

It seems no accident that in a place named grace I receive such gracious hospitality. Enjoying a wholesome and delicious family meal, I’m fascinated to hear more of the journey that led Claire and Jeremy to this point.

“Jeremy was involved in full time Christian ministry with IFES (now CUI) and after I finished my drama arts degree, I volunteered with 24-7 Prayer setting up prayer rooms and doing inter-denominational prayer walks. We always had a vision to do something together but we did not know what,” Claire told me. “I had a heart to come back here [to my parents’ farm] but after we got married I ended up moving to Dublin. Jeremy is from Bray so I knew it would only work if we both wanted it.”

Thinking he was destined for ordination, Jeremy did an apprenticeship with a church in Dublin but travelling together and visiting Christian communities in other parts of the world created a hunger for something deeper.

“I did my Masters in theology looking at the resurrection and the ramifications of that for our relationship with creation,” Jeremy explains. “The biblical narrative begins in a garden and ends in a garden city. Jesus’ bodily resurrection is a snapshot of what He will do in creation.

“I always had an interest in growing things and that joined hands with theology creating a desire to do something with my hands.”

Five years ago, the seed of an idea began to take root. Why not ask Claire’s parents for an unused plot of land where they could create an organic community garden?

So began a journey of exploration, transformation and restoration that, in many ways, is only just beginning. Identifying a plot of land (once a vegetable patch and orchard) that has been completely overgrown for the last decade Claire and Jeremy began the task of clearing the ground of dead trees and 15 foot bamboo plants.

It has been a huge undertaking involving months of backbreaking work but there is a sense of excitement and anticipation as they lead me along a well-worn mud path, through a small patch of woodland carpeted in wild garlic to a small wooden gate.

Before me, a wide stretch of furrowed earth is covered in a haze of tiny green shoots, green “manure” that will be ploughed into the soil before it is planted with hopeful rows of potatoes, kale and broccoli. A walk-in poly tunnel is home to tomato plants and salad leaves while in a homemade mini version, herbs are springing up.

“One of the challenges is that there is no prototype,” Jeremy shares. “This type of ministry has to be context specific, so we are feeling our way into something. A lot of people question what we are doing. We don’t always have all the answers. We’re taking one step at a time and each step of faith is a restorative act. There is something powerful about it. For us, it is an act of worship.”

“Environmentalism isn’t something that belongs to New Age hippies,” adds Claire.

From bare earth, we are creating beauty and that is an end in itself.

“We are breathing new life and heat into the building and working the land. From bare earth, we are creating beauty and that is an end in itself. We are planting banks of marigolds and wild flowers that will be a wash of colour as well as food for our bees. From the wilderness, we are growing organic vegetables that will be food for people too,” says Jeremy.

“I haven’t left behind theology and Christian ministry. Instead, this ministry of the soil seems to bring everything together. It is a culmination of my studies. Life is always uncertain. There are loads of questions: What is all this going to look like? But we have a sense of contentment here.”

Wandering through the garden, spotting walls draped with honeysuckle and watching in fascination as Jeremy and his father-in-law tend to their three bee hives (their first swarm moved in when Jeremy put out a bait box using an old piece of honeycomb), I’m struck with a sense of awe at the living parables being enacted.

I savour the taste of new honey, the evening stillness and the earthy scents. And I find a deeper sense of gratitude and shalom. This is a place to linger, to breathe deeply and experience the gentle, unhurried rhythms of nature. Here eternal mysteries are unearthed and illuminated, lifting a veil on biblical themes of creation and new creation, of life and death and resurrection.

While it is not yet all it will be, Charis Garden lives up to its beautiful name!