It’s a common enough expression, but just what is meant by ‘breathing space’? Could it be a physical space or place? Or a space in time to reflect? Perhaps it could even mean a break from normal activities to experience something new. I take ‘breathing space’ to mean time for pause, time to take a deep breath in a physical, psychological and spiritual sense to induce a fresh perspective.
A visit to our state’s capital Brisbane over the weekend, was a nice diversion offering me some breathing space. Most particularly for the opportunity to explore the botanical gardens which are situated on the river along which the city nestles.
A local government site explains that ‘part of the riverside site where the gardens are located was originally a botanic reserve. It was established in 1828 to provide food for the early penal colony.’ Australia was colonised by Britain in 1788.
In time the Botanical Gardens replaced the botanic reserve and market gardens, officially opening in 1855. The gardens’ first curator Walter Hill, began an active planting and experimenting program, trialling crops and plants from around the world to determine their suitability for growing in subtropical climates. He introduced crops like mangoes, pineapples, pawpaws, custard apples, sugar cane, tobacco, ginger, coffee and many types of nuts and grape vines to Queensland.
More recently, an emphasis has been on establishing ornamental plant collections in the gardens for visitors to enjoy. Like all open spaces, the gardens and parks serve as ‘lungs’, providing breathing space within the built environment. Green space is essential to human health mental and spiritual well-being (ref.).
Rising early, we left the cosiness of our hotel room and ventured out into the bright winter sunshine of a chilly Sunday morning, puffing steam with every breath. Fortified by a delicious cooked breakfast in the former curator’s cottage, now cafe, we wandered through the gardens admiring their scope and lushness. Later, serenaded by live music, we explored the art and craft markets held in the gardens each weekend – a welcome breather from everyday routines.
A favourite in the gardens was the Indian Banyan Fig (Ficus Benghalensis), or Strangler Fig as its more commonly known, with its vast system of curtain-like aerial roots (see photo above). Some specimens have as many as 1000 subsidiary trunks, covering an area up to 1.5 hectares. In Indian these trees are rarely pruned despite the damage their roots cause buildings and temples, because of the Hindu belief that Brahma changed into a Banyan tree where his spirit lives on. The grandchildren delighted in climbing like monkeys around the lower limbs.
Sculptures and art throughout the gardens, crafted by both man and nature, create what Updike calls ‘breathing room for the spirit’.
I returned home replenished. The weekend away and visit to the gardens with my family offered me a breathing space to refill my cup to ‘runneth over’. A space to find again the gratitude sometimes lost in the distractions of everyday living.
A healthy mind has an easy breath. ~Author Unknown
To one who has been long in city pent,
’Tis very sweet to look into the fair
And open face of heaven, — to breathe a prayer
Full in the smile of the blue firmament.
~John Keats, Sonnet XIV