Stories of the Garden

Oh! the things which happened in that garden! If you have never had a garden you cannot understand, and if you have had a garden you will know that it would take a whole book to describe all that came to pass there. At first it seemed that green things would never cease pushing their way through the earth, in the grass, in the beds, even in the crevices of the walls. Then the green things began to show buds and the buds began to unfurl and show color, every shade of blue, every shade of purple, every tint and hue of crimson.

Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

File:The Secret Garden book cover - Project Gutenberg eText 17396.jpgOne of my favourite books in my childhood was The Secret Garden.  I felt sympathy for the orphan girl, Mary, and the invalid, Colin, but it was the discovery and eventual rejuvenation of the secret garden that thrilled me and stayed with me in memory for the rest of my life. What an adventure for a child to have a safe and secret place, shared only by friends and friendly creatures. How comforting to read about Mary’s vanishing loneliness and growing happiness, about Colin’s new found health and re-connection with his parents. The garden was the setting for the love his mother and father shared, and its rediscovery by the children is the catalyst that brings Colin’s father out of his deep sadness over the loss of his wife. Although Colin’s mother has been dead for many years when the story begins, she is an important presence in the novel: although not literally the gardener, she is the creator of the garden, the one who wills the garden into existence.

Kate Morton gives credit to The Secret Garden and to The Lost Gardens of Heligan: both provide ideas and inspiration for Morton’s novel, The Forgotten Garden.

It was while I was auditioning English locations for my book that I came across mention of the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall.

My interest was piqued, and I began reading everything I could find about this place: a grand country estate with astounding gardens that had been locked and forgotten after its gardening staff were killed during the first world war and the owners moved away.

When it was rediscovered in the late 20th century, nature had reclaimed the estate, but the bones of the garden lay deep beneath the overgrowth.

–interview with Kate Morton, author of The Forgotten Garden

Helen Humphrey’s inspiration for her novel The Lost Garden was her grandfather’s discovery of a long overgrown garden on an estate in England. He worked on the garden for three years, but when the estate was sold, the garden was obliterated to make way for a condo development.

So the garden that had been lost was lost again. There was my metaphor for reading – the original gardener was the writer, the garden the book, and the person who discovered the garden, the reader. So I worked the story from that point.

–Interview with Helen Humpreys, author of The Lost Garden, in “Canadian Living” magazine

In The Lost Garden, horticulturist Gwen Davis leaves London in 1941 to lead a group of Land Girls in growing vegetables for the war effort. Their efforts take place at an old country estate, where Gwen discovers three overgrown gardens, each with its own theme: a garden of longing, a garden of loss and a garden of faith. As she works to reclaim these gardens, she discovers another, a garden of love. Within this garden, she finds codes and clues and she tries to decipher their meaning. Who made this garden and for whom?

An interesting side note is that Helen Humphreys says that, although she was not a gardener before she wrote The Lost Garden, doing the research for the novel got her interested in gardening and she has since moved into a new house and planted a garden of her own.

The image of the garden glimpsed through a gap in the fence or through an archway or a keyhole is a tantalizing one. Pleasures are promised, but not yet realized. It is imperative to gain entry to the garden.

I pressed my glasses against the keyhole. . . I was staring into the most dazzling garden I had ever seen. Cobblestone pathways meandered between rows of salmon-hued hibiscus, regal hollyhock, delicate impatiens, wild orchids, thorny rosebushes, and manicured shrubs starred with jasmine. . . A flock of pale blue butterflies emerged from a bed of golden trumpet flowers and sailed up into the sky. In the center of this scene was a peach stucco cottage with green shutters and a thatched roof, quaint and idyllic as a dollhouse. A heavenly perfume drifted over the wall, intoxicating me–I wanted nothing more than to enter.

–Kamala Nair, The Girl in the Garden

This is a perfect description of the feeling that comes with discovering a hidden garden or a secret room, but the garden in this novel is more of a Pandora’s box.

For something completely different, I highly recommend Farm City by Novella Carpenter. This is the rollicking, tragicomic story of Carpenter’s own struggle to turn a vacant lot in Oakland, California into a mini-farm. Although it is a bit gruesome at times, this book is a real treat and provides a glimpse of much needed hope for our troubled world.

All the east-facing windows of our apartment overlook the lot, which after the past few years had been transformed into a vegetable and fruit-tree garden. I could see that the collards were getting large and that the spring’s lettuce harvest promised to be a good one. Even from inside, I could see some mildew forming on the pea vines.

–Novella Carpenter, Farm City

"The Gardener", graphite, 7 1/2" x 7 3/4"


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