An ornate array of heirloom and hybrid roses in Isobel’s Garden at Quest for Life Bundanoon holds special significance for her daughter, Michele Corin.
The cottage-style garden, which blooms brilliantly each spring and summer at the Quest for Life Centre in the NSW Southern Highlands, was created in 2004 to mark the passing of Isobel.
Today, a small bronze plaque stands inside the serene spot that reads ‘Isobel’s Garden’, but the history behind this dedication is possibly lost on the hundreds of guests who flow through the Centre’s tranquil nine acre gardens each year to attend various residential programs.
“The rose garden is the result of a vision Mum had for the lawn that existed between the accommodation lodges. She had a lifelong love of gardening and saw an opportunity to create something beautiful which eventually became a memorial for her,” said Michele, who attended Quest for Life’s Quest For Life residential program with her mother in February 2003.
The Quest for Life residential program was the first program developed by the Quest for Life Foundation, after Founder & CEO Petrea King unexpectedly survived leukaemia in her 30s.
The five-day program is aimed at people living with a terminal or chronic illness, including cancer, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s Disease, Motor Neurone Disease (MND), Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE or Lupus), and other autoimmune diseases or chronic pain.
Gallery: Isobel’s Rose Garden at Bundanoon
“The garden was designed and created with the help of many of Mum’s friends. A working bee with family and friends prepared the garden in May 2004 and the rose planting of 68 roses occurred in August, on what would have been her 68th birthday,” Michele said.
“Mum had a rose in her garden at home for each of her children and grandchildren, so we continued that tradition at Quest. Every member of our family chose a rose and many of mum’s friends donated a rose for the garden. The garden was designed so that when the roses are in flower, the combination of colours reflect a rainbow.”
Isobel’s Garden: A Place to Stop and Reflect
In November 2002, Isobel was diagnosed with life-threatening lung cancer and was looking for answers and soon after visited the Southern Highlands Centre with her daughter in February 2003.
“We had a room in one of the lodges,” Michele said. “It was a pretty amazing week for her, and she often told me it was one of the best weeks of her life.
“Being in the Quest environment creates an immediate sense of serenity and tranquillity with its transcending calmness and quiet. The rose garden is an extension of that. It provides everyone a space to stop and reflect.
“Attending the program had many benefits – also for me. At the time, I was working for a corporate, often 14 hours a day. I remember there was very little mobile reception at the time. What a blessing that was! It was difficult to connect with the outside world. Everyone had to be fully present with each other. We met many wonderful people and one of my close friends is another lady who also attended the program.”
Quest Founder & CEO Petrea King said the rejuvenation of what was once just an unremarkable piece of grass into the beautiful rose garden it is today had been “remarkable”.
“This little patch of land between some residential lodges was totally transformed from a scrappy piece of grass that was never abundant to a garden that when in full bloom is just beautiful,” Petrea said.
“Isobel came on a Quest for Life program when she had cancer and it just turned her around completely. She found peace.”
Among the different rose varieties planted in the garden is Isobel’s favourite cultivar, the ‘Peace’ Rose, which became a universal symbol for everlasting world peace after it was secretly shipped out of France in 1939 and later handed to the United Nations for distribution and propagation within countries.
“The garden was created as a place for people to find peace and tranquillity,” Michele said.
“Spending time in nature is so peaceful. It grounds me and is a form of meditation. I love getting my hands into the soil. Connecting with the earth restores my soul and gardening continues to connect me with mum. I grew up gardening with her. We spent time lots of time in the garden on weekends. We composted, we weeded, we pruned, we planted, we mulched. Gardening was a shared passion.
“I have found during these COVID times that spending time gardening gives me a focus on the little things that matter, like growing food. Gardening helps me feel less overwhelmed by world issues I cannot resolve.”
Michele said she hoped current-day program participants found as much solace as she has in the rose garden, with its eye-catching water feature and its small bench for quiet reflection.
“On one of my visits to the garden I met this lovely lady who told me, ‘This garden is a sanctuary. I feel a strong presence of love in this space.’ That’s how I always feel, but it was so comforting to hear it from another garden visitor.”
Upcoming Quest for Life Residential Program Dates:
Generous subsidies are available to attend for a wide range of circumstances. For a confidential chat, please call our Programs Team on 1300 941 488.
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