Painting the Roses Red
‘A book is like a garden carried in your pocket’ says a Chinese proverb. You can wander in at any time and leave refreshed. A garden is also a perfect place to relax with a book. Inspired by the Chelsea Flower Show, here are some of my favourite literary gardens. The first fictional garden we all wander into must be Mr McGregor’s fine vegetable patch, where Peter Rabbit gorged on lettuces, french beans and radishes. A little older, we peer through a tiny door with Alice into the gardens of Wonderland where she later finds the gardeners painting the roses red to fool the Queen of Hearts. Then there is the magical Yorkshire Secret Garden that Mary Lennox discovers overgrown and neglected and brings back to life. Can you guess who these gardens belong to?
”Meg’s had roses and heliotrope, myrtle, and a little orange tree in it. Jo’s bed was never alike two seasons, for she was always trying experiments. This year it was to be a plantation of sun flowers, the seeds of which cheerful land aspiring plant were to feed Aunt Cockle-top and her family of chicks. Beth had old-fashioned fragrant flowers in her garden, sweet peas and mignonette, larkspur, pinks, pansies, and southernwood, with chickweed for the birds and catnip for the pussies. Amy had a bower in hers, rather small and earwiggy, but very pretty to look at, with honeysuckle and morning-glories hanging their colored horns and bells in graceful wreaths all over it, tall white lilies, delicate ferns, and as many brilliant, picturesque plants as would consent to blossom there”
In adult literature, gardens are often symbolic. Here are the lush but dangerous gardens in The Wide Sargasso Sea: ”Our garden was large and beautiful as that garden in the Bible – the tree of life grew there. But it had gone wild. The paths were overgrown and a smell of dead flowers mixed with the fresh living smell. Underneath the tree ferns, tall as forest trees, the light was green. Orchids flourished out of reach or for some reason not to be touched. One was snaky looking, another like an octopus with long thin brown tentacles bare of leaves hanging from a twisted root”
In Lady Chatterly’s Lover the garden reflects the feelings of the characters; ”Yellow celandines now were in crowds, flat open, pressed back in urgency, and the yellow glitter of themselves. It was the yellow, the powerful yellow of early summer. And primroses were broad, and full of pale abandon, thick-clustered primroses no longer shy”
I would certainly agree with Jane Austen’s Fanny Price as she rests from the garden improvements at Sotherton and remarks that “to sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure, is the most perfect refreshment.”
Do you have a favourite fictional garden?