Frances Hodgson Burnet's "The Secret Garden" was one of my first fantasy gardens, and I still go there on winter days like these when snow has covered the garden with a protective blanket of white and the wind chill is below zero; curled up with a hot drink, a warm quilt and a pile of my favorite garden books.
My dreaming mind strolls down winding paths in a woods that is carpeted with ferns and
wildflowers. Violets edge the paths, and there are trilliums, bloodroot and bleeding hearts on mossy banks along a rippling stream, with robins playing in the shallow water and the gentle buzz of honeybees flitting in the blossoms. It only rains at night or very lightly in the day, creating raindrop diamonds on the leaves; a softly glowing sun filtering through the trees creating shadowy, secret places where fairies might be watching. Toads wait under mushrooms and box turtles lumber along, seeking ripe strawberries in sunny clearings. There are no mosquitos, and goldfish flash their brilliant colors in a small, quiet pool that reflects the azure of the sky. Sometimes there is wispy fog in the morning, and it is hushed and quiet as I walk the paths with my morning tea, watching the squirrels play. I wear a long, flowing skirt with my hair floating over my shoulders, bare feet with rings on my toes. Does this sound like the beginning of a Disney movie?
Some days, I walk through a moon gate into the complete serenity of a Japanese garden, where every stone and perfectly pruned shrub is placed with careful contemplation, delicate and yet striking in simplicity. It is a cool place, shaded with Japanese maples and cherry trees, a waterfall gently tinkling into a serene pond where bright koi flash in the ripples. My meditative mind spends a lot of time here.
Lush hosta gardens are on my dreaming list, and I am green with envy as I stroll down paths under towering trees with huge spreading hostas, ferns and beautiful dwarf conifers. There are no slugs, hosta-munching deer, or greedy rabbits in them to disrupt the peace and beauty of these gardens .
None of my fantasy gardens are the least practical, no perfectly ordered rows of vegetables and espaliered apple trees, with straight rows of tulips in the spring. My gardens aren't populated with fancy chickens, ducks and other fowls, in quaint coops. I can't see myself gathering eggs in an apron or spending my days hoeing weeds, gathering cabbages, picking peas and wasting perfectly good summer days canning in a hot kitchen. I did all that on the farm when I was a child, and my fantasy mind has shut the door firmly on that vision.
Nor do blowsy, intense English flower borders figure in my dream life. Perfectly manicured lawns and clipped boxwood will never be a place where I want to live either, although I enjoy looking at them from time to time, as long as somebody else does the work.
dream garden is a project with no end, ever changing, always evolving, ever challenging. And that is the way I want it.
My real gardens are not like my dream world. They are alive, with beetles and butterflies, spiders, snakes, and toads. They are noisy. Birds singing, squirrels chattering away as they dig up my bulbs and make holes in the moss lawn, crows arguing with jays over a crust of bread. There are holes in leaves, and rabbits munch my pansies. Deer step delicately over a $5 hosta to lunch on a $50 one (how do they know?). Groundhogs leave nothing but the stems of the voilets, and eat the chicory to the ground. Cicadas and crickets buzz and frogs and toads croak and sing. Weeds grow at a dizzying rate and my cherished plants grow ever so slowly.
And they smell. They smell heavenly of lilacs, and roses, and hyacinths, and lilies and viburnums. They are pungent with rosemary, sage, thyme and refreshing of mint. They are fragrant with earth-scent, freshly mown lawns, spring rain-washed air and the spice of autumn leaves. Sometimes they reek, of garlic and wild onions, of compost and manure.
My real garden gets wet with rain, cold with ice and snow, and sweating hot with August. There are life and death, predators and prey, carnage among the flowers. There is sex, and procreation. Life.
I love my dream gardens, with their lovely, static perfection, where flowers never wilt, it rains only at night, and the sun is always just right. They are wonderful to visit in the midst of winter when my soul needs green days and warm nights, but I wouldn't really want to live there. Reality is so much better.
"From December to March, there are for many of us three gardens - the garden outdoors, the garden of pots and bowls in the house, and the garden of the mind's eye."
- Katherine S. White