imagined gardens: gardens in literature




I'm fascinated by how differently fiction writers use gardens and nature in their stories. In this post I'll write about four wildly different novels that have gardens in them.

In The Secret Garden and Tom's Midnight Garden, the garden plays a prominent part in the plot. But the gardens are different. Tom's garden no longer exists in the present. It belongs to a less urbanized past, when people were closer to nature.  Tom's Midnight Garden is a complex story about time travel. The Secret Garden was first published in 1911,  a story about the healing power of nature and gardens.




But these books are not just about gardens and gardening. They are about the relationships between the characters and the gardens, and how the garden influences and affects them. It is as if the ever changing gardens mirror the development of the characters, who also grow and change. In this sense the gardens represent the childhood that inevitably comes to an end. Tom wishes he could stay in the garden forever, playing with Hatty. He tries to understand and control time, but that is impossible.

" 'And then I knew, Tom, that the garden was changing all the time, because nothing stands still, except in our memory.' "

In The Secret Garden, Mary starts off as a spoiled little girl, out of touch with nature, hating and fearing it. She tells Martha, the young housemaid, that she hates the moor, but Martha knows that Mary will change in time.

" 'Tha' thinks it's too big an' bare now. But tha' will love it.... I just love it. It's none bare. It's covered wi' growin' things as smells sweet. It's fair lovely in spring an' summer when th' gorse an' broom an' heather's in flower. It smells of honey an' there's such a lot o' fresh air - an' th' sky looks so high an' th' bees an' skylarks makes such a nice noise hummin' an' singing'. Eh! I wouldn't live away from th' moor for anythin'.'"

Martha understands the therapeutic potential of nature and gardens to heal troubled minds and sick bodies too.



In the case of News From Berlin and Embassytown, the references to nature and gardens are secondary, incidental to the plot. Sometimes references to nature or gardens in a novel serves as a device for grounding the plot, providing a specific context for the story. In News from Berlin, the peaceful suburban gardens provide a contrast to a Europe torn apart by war.

"Their house stood in a web of green lanes. There was no wind, and all was tranquil. From close by came the reassuring sound of a hedge being clipped, while next door's dog dug a hole in the gravel with audible enthusiasm. Germany was mobilised to its furthest corners, but standing here you would never have thought it."

In another scene, Kate realizes it is not going to work out with the young man she cares about so deeply, so passionately. The mood outside the house parallels the angst and terrible grief inside the house.

"Gulls circled the small park, their shrieks echoing in the room."



China Mieville writes science fiction and fantasy. Nature and gardens in his books are weird and wonderful, and conform to  different and unfamiliar laws of nature. They provide detail in building a picture of life in a distant galaxy, an alien world. On the world where Embassytown is located, the natural world has been so radically modified by technology that you can't distinguish between the natural and built environment.

"Plateaus and cultivation and simple massive rocks, fractured, their fractures filled with black weedstuff. Meadows crossed with tracks and punctuated by habitations. More grown architecture: rooms suspended by gas-sacs watched us as we flew, with simple eyes...

Orchards of lichen were crisscrossed with the gut-pipework that spanned out from the city...  A long way off were steppes where herds of semiwild factories ran, which twice each long year Ariekene scientist-gauchos would corral...

We landed and from the hillside came the distress call of grass, as our vehicles began to graze.

So there you have it: four examples of imagined gardens and natural environments. The garden in the Secret Garden is a familiar old fashioned English garden.  The garden in Tom's Midnight Garden exists in the past and is only accessible to a time traveller. The gardens in News from Berlin are familiar, mundane and peaceful, unchanged in a sinister, dangerous and violent political climate. The last one, in Embassytown, is truly strange, and gives a vision of a potential future where technology is half living, and the distinctions we make between wild and natural have lost their meaning.



Otto de Kat

Comments

  1. A fascinating study, Sue. Gardens in literature always fascinate me, too. Somehow even the ones about fantastical gardens make the stories and the characters more approachable. I haven't read "New From Brazil" or "Embassytown," so I'll have to check them out. Great post.

    ReplyDelete
  2. thanks Beth. I really recommend anything by China Mieville, but only if you like sci fi. I intended to think of something for your end of season meme, but I guess I found this escapist topic instead.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Interesting indeed. I know the fist two books but not the other two.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Peter, I'm so pleased you found the post interesting.

      Delete
  4. Tom's Midnight Garden sounds like an interesting read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Linda, it's a childrens book, using the time travel theme. It is interesting.

      Delete
  5. Books we read as children sort of get into our DNA and inform our view of the world - I blame Enid Blyton for my love of gardens, the seaside, dogs and ice creams!! :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me too, Jane! And creatures living in trees ...

      Delete
    2. As an Australian child, I received my education about English nature from Enid Blyton. I still have her nature books... And my education about Australian nature came from Thistle Harris, What Bird is That?, and my Dad, a commercial flower grower and naturalist. Oh, and Tom the Naturaist on the radio programme The Argonauts.

      Delete
  6. The Secret Garden is one of my all-time favorite books. I am not familiar with the others. Thanks for introducing them to me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you enjoy them, as I did, Deb.

      Delete
  7. Wonderful books, sue catmint! Sometimes the way authors describe the garden is unimaginable to me. Love to read The Secret Garden :-) Btw, thanks for the congrats. It just so happen that the paper wanted articles for their gardening section and approached me to write. I have been reading, writing and gardening a lot! Anyway, you have a great day :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. reading, writing and gardening - my favourite things to do too!

      Delete
  8. The books look great! Thank you so much for sharing. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. pleasure - thanks for the visit and comment, Linda.

      Delete
  9. 3 more for me to add to my list, now we have a good library. I feel like a child in a sweetshop!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We have a good library too, and sometimes it's really hard to choose. I tried ebooks, but have gone back to the traditional artefact.

      Delete
  10. Sue what a wonderful post and I look forward to reading a few more books with gardens in literature.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Nice books. I am a Canadian Gardener and glad I stumbled on your blog. Looking forward to visiting it more.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Lovely to hear from you ... as long as you're not trying to sell me something.