"I think quiet is an integral part of being fully human. And we need to give ourselves permission to stop and slow down. So my vision is simply to make stillness and beauty and quiet as accessible to as many people as possible."

In these few words, Philip Roderick - a priest currently working in the Diocese of Oxford - sums up the motivation behind the Quiet Garden Movement, which he set up 15 years ago and which has now blossomed into a network of nearly 300 gardens spread across five continents.

The gardens are variously attached to private homes, schools, hospitals, places of retreat, community areas and even prisons, but all share one common purpose - to provide a place where people can pause to rest and reflect in a place of beauty and serenity. Some gardens are open on set days of the year; some are open all the time, and anyone is welcome to escape for a while into their leafy sanctuary.

"Basically, they are places of hospitality," stresses Philip. "A few of the Quiet Gardens have places to stay, like a cabin in the garden, so if someone wants to come for a complete rest, that can be offered too."

Philip's inspiration for the Quiet Garden Movement stretches back to his boyhood in Wales, where he developed his love of nature, and had many spiritual experiences in places of great beauty. But it wasn't until 1992, when he was teaching at the Chiltern Christian Training Programme, that he began to draw these strands together in a more profound way.

"I realised in reading the Gospels that often, before or after great teachings, Jesus withdrew to a place of natural loveliness, either by a lake or up a mountain, or in the Garden of Olives in Jerusalem. I realised that I was supposed to be a teacher in the church, and the teacher I'm following was not just teaching, healing and preaching, he was actually withdrawing closer to beauty. So I thought, maybe I need to do the same."

It was while sitting in his own garden in High Wycombe, in May 1992, that Philip realised that a garden was the ideal place to put his ideas into practice.

"A garden is a microcosm of nature. So I thought that if somebody lent us a garden, we could have people round and be still. We could do what Jesus did - draw people away to a place of beauty for reflection."

Within a very short space of time, he had been offered just such a garden in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, a stone's throw from the church where Thomas Gray wrote his Elegy in a Country Churchyard. And so the first Quiet Garden opened in September 1992, and the ministry has been steadily growing ever since, not just in the UK but throughout America, Canada, Australia, India and parts of Africa.

"They can be small houses with small gardens, or large houses with large gardens, they can be wild or manicured - the point is that on certain days in the year the household is happy to allow people from the local area to come and be still," Philip explains. "Usually, but not always, there'll be some sort of teaching about how to use stillness, and how to use prayer, and how to link creativity with being in a place of beauty.

"There are some places that are attached to schools, or prisons, or hospitals, and they are permanent quiet spaces. So they are there all the time as a reflective space."

The first Quiet Garden in Oxfordshire opened in April 1998, at the Centre for Reflection at Aston Tirrold. Drop-in Quiet Days are held on the third Thursday of every month, and there are opportunities for group meditations and personal quiet times.

Another garden to open in 1998 was that at St Luke's Hospital in Headington, and this is open to the public at all times. Other Quiet Gardens in the county can be found at St Ethelwold's in Abingdon, Hernes in Henley-on-Thames and - the most recent addition - Chinnor Rectory.

"My vision now is to have many, many more," says Philip. "I'm glad there are 280, but I would love there to be 280,000! I would love there to be a Quiet Garden in every neighbourhood. I want to go into prisons and hospitals with this vision. But that takes extra staffing, and we only have a tiny staff and a tiny budget."

The 15th anniversary of the Quiet Garden Movement is being marked with a series of one-day conferences exploring the theme Green Grace: Earthing our Spirituality.

Philip is keen for as many people as possible to come to one of the conferences, or simply to go to their nearest Quiet Garden to share the experience.

"We want everyone to come and see what it's like. When you're meeting with other people, who are also being quiet and who are spiritually aware, it really deepens the experience.

"On your own it can be great walking on the mountains or by a lake, or sitting in your own garden, but meeting with other people who have an intention to go deep and to dwell in beauty and to get in touch with God, that's quite profound."

For more information, contact: The Quiet Garden Trust, Stoke Park Farm, Park Road, Stoke Poges, Bucks SL2 4PG.

Call 01753 643050, e-mail quiet.garden@ukonline.co.uk