Once upon a time, until I was 16 or so, I read fairy tales (not exclusively and certainly not just the familiar kind for, by the time I was 9, I had gone through the Yellow, the Blue, the Green Fairy Books, all of the Grimm brothers, multitudes of ethnologic collections, and was well furnished with Oriental and Middle East fairy tales just so long as they began with “Once upon a time . . .” or any variations (one I particularly enjoyed was “And this one was told my grandmother, my great-great-great-grandmother by a watchmaker from Tashkent”).
I can’t think of a better grounding for a future gardener or painter or poet. Grandmother’s straw-roofed hut in the woods was always embosomed in a delightfully scented garden with ample vegetables enclosed in a paling of twigs. Bees buzzed, birds sang, and dear old Grandma, bonneted and aproned, was often seated outside of her beehives, shelling peas or sorting fruit and berries for marmalades, syrups, and jams.
Although the forest was sometimes filled with wild groans and wilder beasts and, oh dear, a witch or two, a white shining deer or unicorn would appear, creating calm and beauty and leading lost boys and girls along a winding path lined with lovely moss and little white flowers. Lovely hills wrapped sweet valleys where robust, well-formed trees bore inestimably sweet fruit, pigs and cows contentedly wore chaplets of daisies, roses twined posts and bloomed without respite.
What was described as Eden sweet and mild created such a thirst in me I had to have a garden and all of my life I have tried to replicate this vision not necessarily in its outer appearance but in its immanent germ-like magic, all repose and satisfaction. Remember that in fairy tales, trees, flowers, clouds, rivers, and streams all could talk, possessed wisdom, forecast the future, chided one when one was disobedient but were always there as guardians against the multitudinous perils of life. Gardens are crowds.
The best garden, like the best fairy tale, takes one out of oneself, cures ills and age and disillusion and infuses one with youthful wonder. Any small pool in a garden is an eye and a mirror and a magical link to the passing and the past. A wall of wild white roses is a fallen cloud. The glorious greens of a fine garden salad for the eyes. Hope is in a good garden and repose as well and that certain awareness that all can be well or is well, somewhere.
In a plowed field in China sprang sacred dragons, water gardens enchanted in India, Ceylon, and Malaysia. In Russia, the earth mothered. Mercies of rain fell in North Africa. Fanciful clothes were woven from foliage in so many societies, cities, and continents for above the legends and the masks and the dances and music and art was the image of an ideal green refuge, calm and florid, tutelary and prized, the imagination’s DNA of a green locale where peace reigned and lions slept with blessed lambs.