Escape to the Paradise Garden

Escape to the Paradise Garden

The word paradise means a walled enclosure or garden and has long been used to mean the place souls go to when we die or the place where God lives. The garden of Eden in the Old Testament is the example many of us think of when we think of the word Paradise. I’ve always loved gardens but health issues mean that my participation in the process of creating and maintaining a garden is limited. An hour of hand weeding leaves me in such pain for days that I rarely risk it. Yet my mind goes inwards, to gardens I have known and gardens I would have liked to create. During the early stages of labour I spent time reading a book on herb gardens and daydreaming about creating such a place for meditation and contemplation. Unless I become wealthy it’s unlikely to happen but I still dream. When I am feeling low and in pain, I go to my paradise garden, in my mind and it refreshes me enough to keep going.

I share the following extract with no comment about its origin or intention:

Dressed and shod in light sandals, she made her way down the garden, her morning pilgrimage. The leaves were almost fully open now, and the grass was thick with bluebells, their smoky smell rising fresh and clean as she passed them. The blossom on the trees was at its peak, the first few petals starting to drop now. If there was a heavy frost now, there would be little fruit that year. Birds hopped from branch to branch, largely ignoring her now; she had begun hanging fat-balls and seed-filled feeders on a bird table near the house, and the birds seemed to appreciate the extra help. She took it as another sign of welcome that the birds did not react to her presence much now; at first there had been alarm calls and a mass exodus of the flocks of goldfinch and long-tailed tits each time she or Alex had gone into the garden.

Her daily exploration of the little wilderness that was her garden had begun to form paths through the long grass; Alex had offered to strim paths for her but she said to wait. The contact with the earth was her way of finding out what the garden held for her and what she could bring to the garden.

It had been the garden that had been the reason for moving here, though the house was precisely what both of them had wanted. They had spent months house hunting, and had begun to despair of finding the right place, before this one had come up. In need of serious renovation, it had charm and was in the right location but it wasn’t until Ginny had taken a walk through the jungle-like expanse of green at the back that it had become clear to them that this was where they were to live.

The estate agent showing them round had wanted to gloss over the wildly overgrown walled garden, explaining the extent of the grounds and mentioning a few days with a gardening company and a skip or two. Ginny had ignored him and had pushed her way through the thigh-high undergrowth with scant regard to the integrity of her clothes. After a few minutes, Alex heard her shout in excitement and had followed.

He found her standing in a dank clearing, close to the archway in the wall that held an ancient and forbidding looking door. Trees almost touched above their heads and at mid afternoon, it seemed they were in a green cave. Moss clung to the worn surfaces of the old bricks that made up the wall; the air felt moist and cool and he could see that the ground cover here was made up of ferns and mosses and other damp-loving plants.

Can’t you feel it?” Ginny exclaimed. “Close your eyes and listen!”

Obediently, he shut his eyes and tried to listen. It was faint but he could hear the movement of water somewhere close to them. He opened his eyes and looked more intently at his surroundings. The ground near the gateway was boggy, waterlogged even, and as his eyes became accustomed to the dim light, he saw that there was a tiny metal grille, almost rusted to one piece, set below the threshold. He moved closer and saw that it protected a slot cut into the stonework and a dark oblong was visible. This close he could see the water trailing into the slot, draining away. Doubtless beyond the door, the water flowed away in a tiny streamlet.

Ginny pointed back to the marshy area and he took a few careful steps that way. The spongy ground seemed to whisper, a wet mouthing of sounds, and when he bent down, he could hear a faint bubbling noise from the wettest area, where moisture puddled, in the middle of the clearing.

It’s a spring,” he’d said, his disbelief and joy clear to Ginny, though to another his calm face wouldn’t have betrayed much.

They’d put an offer in on the house that day, and when it was accepted they had commissioned the work needed to make the house habitable. During the work, Ginny had not allowed anyone to touch the garden. She had taken Alex down there, each time they’d visited while the renovations were in progress, and they had excavated the area with painstaking gentleness. The removal of the mud and debris had revealed a stony basin, placed there centuries ago, that the spring filled and then spilled out of into a rill that travelled under the door and out into the woods beyond. Once this water had been perhaps the only source of fresh drinking water for this area; Alex kept talking about having it tested for purity but Ginny just shook her head. The revelation of the spring had brought greater numbers of birds and small animals to the garden.

As she reached this private sanctuary, she saw that a pair of goldfinches were splashing in unrestrained enthusiasm in the spring and she stopped to allow them their bath undisturbed. Birds had started to nest weeks ago and she suspected there were many eggs and chicks hidden in the trees around the garden. If she woke early enough she would stand here and listen to the chorus that greeted the rising sun. Mixed with the trickling of the water, pure and clear, the music of nature blocked out the world beyond the garden walls.

After a few moments attending to their plumage, the tiny birds flew away in a bright sunburst of colour and she was alone.

I’m never alone. Not truly.

She took a few more steps and reached the bench Alex had made for her from two slices of a fallen tree and a section of the wood made into a rough plank. It was redolent with the beeswax he’d coated it with, and the surface was starting to achieve a sheen on the lightly smoothed surface. He’d not attempted to polish it, just to render the wood usable without getting splinters. Every day, rain or sun, Ginny sat here for a few moments at least. Some days, she would be here when Alex came home in the evening and he would never be sure if she’d been there since he’d left that morning. When he asked her once what she was doing, she was silent for so long he had to ask it again.

I’m listening,” she had said and did not explain further.

“The Secret Garden” and the way children’s literature can shape our hearts and minds.

The Secret Garden” and the way children’s literature can shape our hearts and minds.

When I reach a low point I find concentrating extremely hard, so the kind of reading I normally do is beyond me. I recently bought Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, finally accepting that the promised copy from a former friend was never coming my way, and the book sits reproachfully in the to-be-read pile, glaring at me. I have a mountain of books, both real and digital waiting to be read, and in some cases reviewed, and yet, I can’t read.

I’ve downloaded a number of classics to my Kindle recently, books I have loved in the past and wish to have digital copies of for when I am travelling. The other night, flicking through the list of books I know I need to read, I found myself opening children’s classic “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett and read almost halfway in a short time. I read it first when I was about 8 or 9, and many times later. I read it to my daughter when she was little.

It sounds a total cliché but it was like meeting an old friend I’ve not seen for years. For those of you who have not read it, the book tells the tale of Mary Lennox, orphaned when a cholera epidemic kills her parents in India and she is shipped home to live in the home of her reclusive uncle on the edge of the North York moors. Mary is an angry, independent and unhappy child, used to being waited on by native servants and getting her own way in everything, and arriving in the cold, blunt North of England is a massive culture shock. Turned out to “play” outside in the extensive gardens Mary slowly comes alive and is enthralled by the idea of one of the walled gardens being shut up and locked for ten years. The huge manor house is full of secrets and mysteries, and Mary sets out to solve several of them, most importantly to find her way into the “secret” garden her uncle had locked when his beloved wife died. The lonely, somewhat unattractive child finds herself fascinated by the idea of growing things, as the spring starts working its magic on the land and she asks her uncle whether she may have a “bit of earth”:

““Might I,” quavered Mary, “might I have a bit of earth?”

In her eagerness she did not realise how queer the words would sound and that they were not the ones she had meant to say. Mr Craven looked quite startled.

Earth!” he repeated. “What do you mean?”

To plant seeds in- to make things grow- to see them come alive,” Mary faltered.”

I think this book may be responsible for my love of gardens and of nature and of that feeling of nature holding wonderful mysteries, a kind of magic. Rereading the story woke me up to something, the power of words. The whole book is written in lovely evocative lyrical language, such that both a child of nine can relish and an adult too.

It inspired me to ask my father for my own patch of garden and to learn as much as I could about the natural world. I spend my pocket money on books of trees and flowers and wild animals, and I went shopping with my father to choose seeds each year, to plant in our walled garden. I spoke to robins (I still do), and would spend hours sitting watching the hares boxing in the spring.

I still crave a truly secret garden of my own. One where I am not overlooked by others, and where I can tend the earth in my own way, without reference to what others think a garden should look like. Honeysuckle trailing up trees, roses filling the air with sweetness, daisies starry-white in shaggy grass, all slightly dishevelled and un-manicured but rioting with colour and vibrant life. Where bird and animals can come and feel safe and at ease with humans.

I guess I want my own Eden.    

Monday Meditation ~ Jasmine, for sensuality and relaxation

Jasmine Meditation

You are standing in front of an archway set in a long high wall of mellow old bricks. The archway frames a gate of heavy but plain wood, standing a little ajar, inviting you to investigate. It is twilight and the sky is starting to darken and as the sun slowly sets the sky changes  colour steadily. Shades of rose pink, apricot and gold at the horizon deepen and then turn seamlessly to indigo. Birds are singing their evening songs and the air is full of the remnants of the day’s heat.

Push the gate open and step through.

You find yourself in a courtyard surrounded by high walls and filled with an atmosphere of peace and privacy. This is not overlooked by
anything and you feel safe and secure here. The courtyard is laid out
as a formal garden, in a somewhat Arabic style. At the centre is a
rectangular pool, lined with tiles of cobalt and midnight blue
decorated with geometric patterns in vivid colours that resemble
flowers. A simple fountain plays in the middle of the pool and the
falling water shimmers in the fading light, glowing brightly as the
last rays of the setting sun catch the droplets and make them light
up like molten gold.

The air is still warm from a day of sunshine but standing near the
fountain brings a pleasing coolness and freshness. The sound of the
water is gentle and musical and is a perfect counterpoint to the
birdsong.

The courtyard is filled with ornamental tubs planted densely with shrubs of varying sorts- bays rub shoulders with olive trees, and the
glossy leaves of citruses contrast with the silver-grey furry leaves
of lavenders. The walls are painted white and close to each wall is a
neat flowerbed each with a climbing plant trained up a trellis.
Tendrils of greenery reach down and brush your head as you walk
slowly round the little garden. Here and there a small candle burns
in a jar, flickering and dancing in the still air.

As you move you notice that the sky has passed through its sequence of colours and is now changing to deep midnight blue. A few stars are
now appearing and you see that the flowers on the climbers are tiny
white stars too, opening as the night begins and surrounding you with
their scent. The flowers are mostly pure clean white, slightly waxy
in appearance, their unopened buds pinkish, but some are a deep
crimson colour too. Whatever the colour the perfume that emerges is
sweet and heady and intoxicating. It comes in waves of intensity,
almost too powerful to enjoy, but fades away just at the point where
it might be unpleasant. The scent fills you with a sense of joy and a
longing you find hard to quantify.

At the far end of the garden directly opposite the gate where you came in is a white painted table and matching chairs, the ironwork complex and oriental in design. They are positioned so you can experience the full glory of this garden with its sights and sounds but most especially the scents.

Go and sit down.

In the middle of the table is a white porcelain teapot and two small
cups. A wisp of steam emerges from the teapot and if you lift the lid
you will see that it contains jasmine tea. If you wish, pour out two
cupfuls. Inhale the mingled fragrance of the tea and the jasmine.
Take a sip. Enjoy the taste as well as the fragrance.

If you wish, you may summon anyone you would like to share this moment with, sitting in this tranquil evening garden, the air filled with
the aroma of jasmine and the music of birds and falling water from
the fountain. Think who you would like to be here with you and as the idea forms in your mind, see the gate swinging open and watch them coming to join you. I will leave you in peace now to enjoy your time here.

The moon is rising, a sliver of silver in the starry sky and the air is
feeling cooler. Your visitor has left and the teapot is empty and so
are your cups. You feel peaceful and happy after your time here, and
a sense of joy still tingles in your blood. As you get to your feet
to leave, look round the courtyard one last time. It will be here
again exactly as you wish it to be next time you come. When you step
through the gate into your room again, notice that the scent of
jasmine, faint but resilient, clings to your hair and clothes.
Whenever you smell this fragrance again, you will recall the feelings
of peace and joy you felt in the garden.

Breathe deeply and fully several times before opening your eyes again. You are back.  

         Written as part of the Meditating with Aromatics project

Putting the garden to bed

I don’t like this time of year much; the gap between sun-up and sun-down being pitifully small and getting smaller; I huddle at my sunlamp or stride out on the rare days when the sun shines. I keep looking forward to the Solstice, when I know that it has become as dark as it is going to get and from then on, minute by minute it will get lighter each day.

I was reminded of this the other day, when Eliot’s poem Burnt Norton was mentioned and the line, “the still point of the turning year” was quoted. I pondered this and came out with the lines, “The year pivots, pirouetting en pointe, Dancer meets Dance: I am renewed”. But I still have four weeks to go through and because of her age and her cancer, my dog doesn’t want to walk when it’s cold and windy or wet and today when I thought she might go, she baulked, halfway down the street and decided the brisk wind was too much. We came home.

But the sun was shining and the air was mild for all the whipping wind, so I kept my coat and boots on and went out into our small garden and began a few chores. I used to love gardening but too many years of gardens too huge for me to manage alone (our last garden was about an acre) has put me off and in my mind I can no longer make the decision to potter for an hour. In the past, an hour was a mere drop in a deep, deep ocean and it was so disheartening to labour for an hour, and realise that in the grand scheme of things, you have done NOTHING, that even now, three years on, I rarely sneak out and fiddle about and do the little bits and pieces gardens seem to need.

I started by removing the dead strands of sweet pea that still twined around things, and it went from there: pruning, thinning, weeding, digging and finally sweeping all the dead leaves and bits of weed into a big pile at the end of the garden. I removed the mushy remains of the courgette plant and then reached further back in the border to pick the dead leaves off the irises. I went further and cut back the stems of the lemon balm; at several points I had to make a retreat, being warned off by one of our bees when I had clearly come too close to the entrance to the hive when she was coming in or going out. It was so mild that there was a steady stream of bees going about their business.

Now, I have scratched and nettled hands but a strange sense of satisfaction. I can look out of my bedroom window and see what I managed to accomplish in an hour and a half. I have more to do but I was starting to feel tired and the dog wanted to go in, so I put away my tools and came in for a coffee and a bagel.

Too often I put off starting a thing imagining it a task that is so huge it is better not to start unless I can finish it within a time frame that is oddly skewed. I’m doing this with house painting, but then I do know from experience this isn’t something you can stop once you start. But maybe I will wake up one morning and think, yes, today I will paint the bathroom.

There was a feeling while I was outside of being at one with my own small kingdom, of nurturing something I had been neglecting. At least tonight for once I can go to bed and feel I have done something worthwhile!

The Gateway to Summer

PICT0827This is a picture I took a month or so back at Somerleyton Hall, a stately home and gardens about five miles from home. The gardens are especially lovely. Summer is about at an end and I thought this photo was a good reminder of the sunny days and flowers we’ve had.

I’m having trouble facing the darker days that are coming. I have to remind myself the light will return.

A small but deep kind of magic

PICT0734

A very strange and magical thing has been happening today.

Something that baffles people even today as much as it must have baffled the ancients.

Bees arrived.

We set up our hive in the garden, not intending to leave it there, but because we’re incurable optimists, we added the tiny vial of bee pheromone. Nothing happened. We saw a bee or two have a little look and then vanish.

Then this morning one appeared that seemed to be taking a very keen interest and going inside. Later this afternoon, I was sitting in the garden and noticed not one but six or seven bees going in and out. Not daring to take the lid off, I fetched one of our stethoscopes (yes, we have about ten; it’s a long story) and listened at the side of the hive. Rising like the sound of distant chain saws came the noise of buzzing from deep within the cedarwood walls.

Bees have arrived. I’m not sure yet if they’ve come to rob the pristine frames of wax but I don’t think so.

Magic, old and deep as nature herself has happened. Yes, we helped it along maybe with the pheromones, but even so, no one is very sure how any of this works. As far as I am aware, there are no hives near us and yet, bees found this hive and moved in.

Amazing, isn’t it?

edited at 7pm.

Been out in my beesuit and found that I was mistaken and they haven’t yet moved in. But bees keep popping in and out and since my teacher tells me they don’t steal wax, I can only conclude that these are still scouts and they are still making up their(hive)mind whether this is the des.res. of their dreams.

Fingers crossed…..