Thursday, August 9, 2007

Secret Garden

There’s something about a garden hidden from public view. If you stumble onto it unawares, it’s a magical place. A secret garden is almost always defined by walls, so finding one and entering into its realm is a revelation in the truest sense. Discovery, surprise, and mystery are the foundation plantings of this garden.

They are rare. Most American gardens are about openness; the front yard, an American invention, is all about exposure to the public.

My mother had a friend in San Antonio named Candida Merriweather (real name). Her home was in an unfashionable part of the city and from the street appeared over grown with untended native shrubs, vines, and trees. Toward the back of her jungle-like property was an ivy-covered compound that sat on a little elevation. Its appearance was not in any way distinctive. You entered this enclosure through a little gate, also covered with ivy, and found yourself at once transported—utterly unexpectedly—into a tropical paradise. The centerpiece of this secret garden was a swimming pool and it was surrounded by banana trees, rustling palms, and the hot pinks and oranges of flowering cannas, bougainvilleas, and crepe myrtles. From the street or anywhere on the grounds of this home you would never know this garden was there.

There’s a secret garden next door to my house. It’s a little patio wedged between a house and studio apartment which are both completely overgrown by fig ivy. Between the creeping fig ivy and massive banks of agapanthus lilies, the space is barely big enough to hold a wrought-iron table. Giant Boston ferns hang from the eaves. It looks like some pleasantly decaying Italian villa.

I didn’t know it was there until shortly after I moved in and my two daughters were visiting. I saw them in the backyard on tiptoe peering through a gap in the fence, whispering to each other. They looked like little children once again. Such is the magic of the secret garden.

No comments: