Jon and Joan Mara are the caretakers of the Spirit Garden in South Surrey.

South Surrey’s Spirit Garden still growing

Joan Mara envisioned the Spirit Garden as a place beautiful enough for wedding pictures. One couple saw greater potential.

Whenever Alex Holdcroft comes home to visit, she drives past a small garden on 140 Street and smiles.

Holdcroft was married in this lush half-acre oasis, where a tree-sheltered corner has been known as the Chapel ever since.

“The day itself was beautiful. It was the hottest day of that summer, and the shaded alcove off the back of the garden was a perfect spot,” she said. “Our wedding photos look amazing because that shaded spot was perfect for light with all the green in the background.”

This is the Spirit Garden, a small city lot in South Surrey full of flowers, shrubs and trees accented by waterfalls, rock gardens and pathways. It used to be plain and ordinary. A simple place for storm water to collect.

But neighbours Joan and Jon Mara saw potential in this once overgrown, unruly mess. They thought it could be a beautiful garden – one that couples would want to take wedding pictures in.

In 2009 – with the blessing of the city – they began to transform the landscape. Today the garden is still blooming and serving as a backdrop for the photographers who find it.

“We have some excellent pictures of me and my dad walking through the path from the street towards the alley with all of the beautiful flowers in the background. We had a violin playing and everything,” Holdcroft said of her 2015 wedding.

Three years into the project, Joan Mara heard the garden speak. It didn’t just want to be a pretty place in the neighbourhood, but a sacred place – a place for reflection, healing and harmony.

It also instructed her that it be a place where people could plant things for loved ones who have passed on, where people could spend time reconnecting with those who are no longer here.

That’s when Mara named it the Spirit Garden.

“Today we have about 25 plants in the garden that have been planted specifically with somebody in mind. They’re not marked in any way,” she said. “If you’ve planted something for someone you love, you’ll know where it is, your friends might know where it is. To everyone else it’s just a beautiful garden. It doesn’t feel like a cemetery.”

In June, the garden hosted its first Solstice Stroll. A lit candle was placed at each place in the garden where something was planted in honour of a loved one. About 30 visitors walked through the garden that night.

The Spirit Garden, located in the 2800-block of 140 Street, is open to visitors throughout the year. The entrance is marked with an arbour, along with a large rock with the words Spirit Garden sandblasted in the stone.

Some of those who stroll through are simply locals out for a walk. Others come here to take grad pictures or family photos.

Mara, who works as a management consultant, acknowledges that she spends a lot of time maintaining the garden, but it’s something she and her husband enjoy.

“Anytime that we’re out here it doesn’t feel like work,” she said. “It actually feels like playing for us to be out here.”

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