Gardens can be symbols of civility, or secret spaces. Some are restful, and some are wild. Your own garden might be a triumph of effort, energy and money, or it might be tiny, but tenderly tended. Perhaps it’s a borrowed square of park or woodland. Perhaps it’s imaginary. Most of us don’t have the time or resources to create the gardens of our dreams - but we can look to these writers for garden inspiration, or just straightforward escapism.
Frances Hodgson Burnett
In the novel, The Secret Garden, Burnett’s verdant creation is as much of a character as any of her human heroes and heroines. She sets up the space as a kind of Eden - as forbidden as it is beautiful. Convalescing Mary searches for, and finds, the key to a rose garden which was locked forever after a tragedy. Burnett’s garden is one that romanticises the idea of privacy. After all, a locked, gated garden is much more thrilling than a suburban neighbour aggressively growing a shield of leylandii.
In Mitford’s world, you can judge the content of someone’s character by the content of their garden. Mitford’s fictional family, The Radletts, live at Alconleigh, an area based around Asthall Manor (where the real life Mitfords lived for a period), which is surrounded by giddying, alarming wilderness, streams and bracken. The garden is for adventure or function - but when flighty daughter Linda becomes involved with banker Tony Kroesig, the garden in their Surrey home is “a riot of sterility...every tree appeared to be covered with a waving mass of pink or mauve tissue paper.” It’s a chilling reminder that nature is beautiful enough when left alone. When we try to force it, for creative effect, we usually end up destroying something.
Kosinski’s Being There is about gardeners and gardens - namely Chance, who is forced into his profession in order to avoid being institutionalised. The garden is a prison and a safe haven, and Chance uses nature as a mirror where he can reflect upon his similarities and differences between other people and the plants he tends. The significance of the garden is most felt when Chance is forced out of it - and Kosinski shows that a garden can offer more company and companionship than a whole city.