Imaginary Gardens

It was so difficult to choose the winners of Book Giveaway #1! The descriptions of imaginary gardens were gorgeous: everyone who entered created magic, and I had a wonderful time reading them. I’m going to start by telling you about the two winners, and then I’m going to include six honorable mentions. I chose the honorable mentions because I did have such a difficult time, and I wanted to feature them as well. But please remember that my choices were subjective. They would not necessarily be your choices, and I was impressed by the poetry and imagination in every description. (I just wanted to mention, as well, that I recognized several former students of mine, and you all write beautifully!)

The two winners are Phillis Holliday and Anita Edmonds. I chose Phillis’ because I loved the idea of a secret garden in which children can get away from their troubles and learn strength. It was a garden with a story – I can imagine an entire story coming out of it! And I chose Anita’s because it was written by a true gardener, who knows what she’s talking about. I don’t know if it’s a real garden, but it sure sounds real! And exactly like the sort of place I would very much want to live myself. Congratulations to the two of you. I’ll be in touch by email to get your addresses so I can send you the books! (And as you’ve probably guessed, you won’t be eligible to win in the second or third book giveaways, although you’re still welcome to participate.)  Here are the two winning descriptions.

From Phyllis Holliday:

This is a small garden in the great city of secrets. There is the reek of garbage and sickness in the alleys and evil thoughts jumbled in lost minds. It is no place for a child. Yet the children do survive for they find a way to get into the garden. Some come through an alley, led by thin wise cats like shadows. Some discover the way by a tunnel under a rotting building. All in all they arrive and breathe in the scent of mint, clover, certain flowers they cannot name and vines on trees and no matter what the weather or time of day, there is always a blue sky and birds singing. There is a small playhouse with a mossy roof, and inside, a table set with tea party cups, teapot, tiny sandwiches and raisin cookies. Some play hostess or host and some go into the room with all the books and some find the musical instruments they suddenly know how to play. Out on the green lawn, surrounded by a thicket of thorns, they tell each other stories and how they will escape their dangerous alleys and frightening shadows. The garden is where they invent a life full of joy and magic and above all, how to live in danger and surpass it. This garden can be found in many cities and you could pass by the children and never know where they go when they are not seen.

From Anita Edmonds:

I live in a small, elderly, untidy cottage, filled with cats and books and yarn, built in a space carved from the forest. My garden is a glorious confusion of herbs and flowers, vegetables and the occasional fruit tree (persimmons!) . . . and it bleeds into the woods on all sides, where the squirrels chase each other up and down the trees (and in their spare time bury black walnuts everywhere), and the jays screech from the branches when they see me come out, and the cats stalk mice in the underbrush. There’s a groundhog living under the front porch; I feed him apples and peanuts during the warm months, and he confines his depredations to the patch of greens planted near his house, and the clover in the path. There is a patch of nettles down near the beehives, and my medicinal herbs spill out from that, and behind them is a tangled patch of black raspberries, and a few blackberry bushes. The kitchen garden is just outside the back door; I can go down two steps and out the stepping-stone path down to the rosemary bush, clipping this and that as I go. Below that are vegetables: cucumbers and squash and lettuce of all kinds, tomato plants on a long trellis, tepees of beans and corn, rows of onions, and half a dozen hens scratching industriously between the rows and nipping the occasional bite of a green leaf. There’s a huge old fig against the south side of the house, and flowers everywhere: clove pinks and gillyflowers, lad’s-love and kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate, daisies and foxgloves, daffodils and crocuses and little wild violets that make lovely jam in the spring, hummingbird sage and Michaelmas daisies in fall, moss roses and lemon balm rampant along the path, and a bed of cowslips and lungwort under the maple tree . . . there are clumps of feverfew everywhere, pots of geraniums on the back porch, a spill of thrift over the edges of an old birdbath, and bird feeders hung in any tree I could reach. The cats and I sit on the front porch beneath the Japanese wind bell and the hanging baskets of petunias (grown from seeds my grandmother gave to me), and watch them, hour by hour, while I knit innumerable hats and contemplate my unbelievable luck at this, my one and only life, just as I dreamed it.

Here are the six honorable mentions. Again, I chose each of these because they engaged my imagination and transported me to places where I wanted to go. I’m sorry, I wish I could send you all books as well, but I’m going to announce Book Giveaway #2 tomorrow. Please feel free to enter again!

From Wendy S.:

My garden would be a dreaming garden where all the flowers, herbs and sagacious weeds would speak to me each night and tell me their stories. From the Old English Tudor Roses, I would ask if the War of the Roses caused any family feuds, much like the Capulets and Montague’s and do they need any family counseling to mend old thorny wounds. I would ask my little Hearts-ease what I needed to do to heal a broken heart of long ago that still ached in the summer months. I would talk to Rosemary and ask her if Ophelia really did use her to remember anything logical before she decided to become the owls daughter. My Monkshood and Foxglove would whisper the secrets of the Fae who gathered each night and danced under their petals. And I would tell one of my most favorite flowers of all, the little modest, Wallflower that really she was quite beautiful and charming and just because the other flowers were showier or rambled on and on, that she didn’t have to do anything but to be herself and she was a treasure unto herself.

From Lynn:

It would be a moon-garden of white flowers only, glowing under a full moon. It would never be found in the same place; neither would it ever look the same: sometimes huge and sprawling; sometimes small and intimate. There would be foxgloves taller than me; thick hedges of tea roses which would hide the rest of the garden from view; tiny lily of the valleys dotting the ground like pebbles marking my way. And there would always be one flower, not easy to find, lit from within by a brilliant opal fire. It would slowly swell open and on each of its petals would be tiny spider-silk writing telling a story of wonder, of landscapes, of adventures beyond any I could imagine.

From Arijah:

In my imaginary garden, there would be a wisteria arbor which would have musical stepping stones, each with a different tone so that one might spend hours hopping from one to the other. The path would lead to a Koi pond; a reflection pool with a small trickling waterfall. Opalescent pebbles would line the bottom and water lilies and frog pads would adorn the surface. Frogs would sing their songs there at night. The pond would be surrounded by fragrant herbs and grasses, and tea trees would grow at one side and small fruit trees to the other. Mushrooms that glow in the dark, in shades of white and blue would be scattered hither and tither. The path would divide into four around the pond. Each path holding mysterious and fun statuary amidst weeping willows . . . their long flowing branches make the best hidden tea rooms and hiding places. There would be a wide opening in the canopy to view the stars and full moon at night, and directly under would be planted peppermint. Throw a blanket over the peppermint to lie down and gaze up at the stars, and with every movement the smell of candy canes would fill the air. Wind chimes made of old things like Grama’s silverware, pieces of tubing and odd things like keys, would hang from the branches so that they ting and clack in the breeze. Roses would grow to the east so they fill the air with aroma when the sun rises. On small tree stumps, fairy cups would be placed on fairy saucers to catch the rose morning dew. Moon-flowers would grow to the West along a tree line where the forest begins.There, dividing the garden from the forest would be a door. Mysterious noises would always emanate from the forest, so that the curious might get close enough, press an ear against the door, hear a faint step or whisper and then quickly retreat back to the safety of the garden . . . perhaps hiding under one of the willows. “Wishing fuzz” (at least that’s what we used to call them), the seeds from dandelions, would flow in the breeze . . . illuminated by the sunlight through the branches,they look like little stars skipping along. Dragonflies would make home there, birds would find rest and nest there, and the occasional fox might make escape by way through there, but for sure there would always be magic there.

Arijah also included some illustrations on her blog.

From Jen Adam:

To find my garden you would have to follow a path of crescent moons pressed into the grassy loam by wild horse hooves. A strand of golden hair snagged from a banner tail and caught in the branches of a hawthorn, a tuft of silver tugged from a velvet coat by the grasping boughs of a holly hedge – these are signposts proving the trail. A curtain of wild ivy hides the entrance, stretched across a gate of tangled oak limbs and twisted birches. On the other side, willow trees and maples, ash trees and fir trees and cedars frame a clearing of soft grass.

There are no benches in my garden, but a fallen log on one side with a seat carved by the hands of time. Climbing roses screen a stone wall, relic of an old homestead and a promise that all things change. Violets and bleeding hearts and forget-me-nots hide in dim blue shadows while bolder black-eyed susans and flirting daisies and lilies of every color shine in brighter spaces.

In the center of my garden is an apple tree, the fruits of which may offer Truth, or Faith, or Freedom, or Courage . . .

. . . if the wild horses let you pass.

From Pat Bowne:

The garden obviously belonged to a person with many interests and a short attention span, for no two parts of it were alike and nothing in it was completed. The pond, for instance: bordered at one end with beautifully joined and polished stones, over which a fountain spurted from a bush cut into an impossibly detailed face, yet the other end of the pond shallowed into mud and mint, and the other side of the bush trailed off in spindly, sparse-leaved branches overcome at their ends by a pumpkin vine and two tipsy cabbages. One branch of the rosebush arched over a chair whose seat and arms were as polished as the pond’s rim, its back and legs still bark-covered, while the others flopped into an untrimmed knot of lavender and kale, next to a patch of velvet-smooth lawn half bordered by thyme and half-hidden by the meadow grasses that flopped into it. Everything was just the size for one small person to sit or paddle or pluck or lie in. It was, in short, a witch’s garden, and the garden of a clever witch at that. There was not a whole thing in it, not one item that any of the spirits dancing attendance upon her could take into itself and say “There I have you, now you are mine!”

From Matt:

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything that you need.” – Cicero

It is a garden full of stories, this one. If you stand in front of the gates – wrought-iron, crested by words in a language you don’t recognize – and look through, it doesn’t seem so unusual. Chinese red birches and Mount Etna brooms, cinquefoil and hyacinth, lotus and foxglove: though beautiful, not everything here is safe.

Inside are stone benches and great swaths of grass situated just so beneath the shady overhang of the trees; no matter which way the sun moves, the shadows remain in place, and the air feels right, whatever your clothing. A massive fountain spouts water from a central statue into a large round pool. A statue of what? I cannot tell you what you see. For me, it’s an uncanny recreation of a woman I fell in love with pouring water out of a pitcher – an Aquarius of sorts. The sight comforts me as much as it breaks my heart. I told you there was danger here, didn’t I? And this place is not about me, not exactly.

Run your hands through the water. Cold, yes? On some days, the water is like the Styx – one sip and you forget, not everything and not forever, but for a while. That’s the nice thing about gardens and stories. The escape. Though it never can last. On other days, it’s like the Fountain of Youth, but not exactly. Rather than making you younger, it brings back memories with such perfect clarity, it’s like re-living them all over again. Perfect oblivion or perfect remembrance. Think long and hard before you drink.

The real draw, though, are the trees and the flowers. These are where the stories lie. On this leaf you’ll notice a word: Life. The veins somehow form letters. Botanists regularly clamor to get inside here, but why spoil the mystery? In autumn, when the ground is covered in gold and orange and scarlet, you can trample your way through a whole library. Smell the flower. Any one will do. You hear it, don’t you? A story. Building a world between walls. One artist’s imagination made manifest. The wrong skin. Breathe it in, and the more you’ll hear. Or take a little from here, a little from there. Make it your own. The stories don’t live in a vacuum. They need you to live.

I want to particularly point out the roses. The thorns? Those rekindle heartache. But the scent? Oh that transports you to the moment – or moments, if you’re a lucky sort – of purest joy. Love, often, but not always. Again, if you want to savor the good, you must risk the bad.

Whose garden is this? Mine? No, by no means. It belongs to everyone. Please visit again soon. Often. Tell people about it. If not, if this place is neglected . . . well. Everything here dies.

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7 Responses to Imaginary Gardens

  1. These are all beautiful.

  2. Congratulations to all the Honorable mentions and the winners! Thank you for sharing your visions. 🙂

  3. Matt says:

    Honorable mention–and a compliment from Terri Windling? I’ll gratefully take those. 😀 I hope I can make an even stronger showing in the next contest.

    Congrats to the winners!

  4. Lynn says:

    Thank you so much, Theodora, for the honorable mention.
    I’ve enjoyed reading all of the entries. Wonderful stuff!
    I’m in the process of expanding mine into a short story – so thank you also for the inspiration there.
    Congrats to everyone.
    Best wishes.

  5. Arijah says:

    Thank you for the honorable mention. ❤ I enjoyed participating very much. Great writings everyone! With so many imaginary gardens to choose from! One will never be at a shortage for places to run away to. 😉

  6. I was so astonished by my good luck, I forgot to post something here. Theodora has created a
    community, and I am so happy to be in it. All of us aspire to go beyond average ho-hum fantasy,
    to honor the literary and the adventurous and the quirky possibilities of the fabulous. We want it
    to have heart and soul and strength. Looking up the writers behind the names has been fun. I
    admire all of you. May we live long, prosper and write on!

  7. Margaret Fisher Squires says:

    What a gift Dora has given us.

    What a gift each of the writers has shared with us.

    Such beauty. Such imagination.

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