I’m looking through old summer photos. 2018. Victoria Island, Canada. We went to the Butchart Gardens. I’m immediately transported back to the incredible day we spent there. It could have, should have, been several days. It revived my love of gardens, flowers, trees, with design elements of ponds containing fountains and statues amidst a world of rainbow colors.
I follow the curving line of stepping stones across a pool in the Japanese garden area. I see two dragons about to face off in another pool, draped in a fine mist. I have always loved the style of Japanese gardens, with heron, dragons, water lilies and smooth stones, large and small, featured in the landscape. It evokes a sense of calm in me, as if I could sit in such an area forever, without a worry in the world.
I move on to photos of rows of roses, framed by a canopy of hanging baskets dripping in colorful flowers. A feast for the eyes. I remember walking around and trying to piece out the different areas as a design map. Here is the large water fountain that spouts in cascades of spray. There are the walking paths that connect each area, lined with masses of blooms, making a cohesive splash of color uniting the entirety of the gardens. I wanted to stay and soak in every square foot, to emblazon it all in my brain.
Were I seventeen again, my chosen path might have taken me in a direction of floral scents, riots of color and paths leading to pockets of surprise. Instead, my choices led me to gymnasiums filled with the odor of sweat, lockers rooms adorned with neat orderly rows of grey metal containers with the only hints of color being the clothing stowed away in those lockers.
I have no regrets about those choices.
But on a sunny day, looking at a gorgeous blooming hibiscus or delicate peonies in shades of pink and white, that reside in my own small garden, I dream about those display gardens that fill and expand me in ways I have no words for. My garden-times one thousand!
I imagine what a blank slate, with sufficient funds to meet any design need, would feel like. The thrill of creativity, responding to the choice of plants, trees, water features, and the knowledge that beauty would be at my fingertips sends me into a fantasy world. Landscape design school. A dream, in reality, that has passed me by. Still, I can and do appreciate every opportunity to experience formal gardens whenever I can. If there’s a botanical garden anywhere near our travels, we go.
Sometimes, I imagine myself as the groundskeeper in one of those places. The work is hard, I believe. But weeding, planting, hands in the soil, lends a sense of satisfaction when the day is done. It’s that way on a much tinier scale in my own backyard. My fantasies, however, go to the actual design elements. That’s where my heart lies. Designing a landscape that speaks of beauty, peace and the natural order of things. A refuge for the soul. Walden with flowers. It would feel good to have a hand in adding such beauty to the world. I might have chosen that and been happy.
Now, I content myself with tending peonies, handed down in the family. A nice orderly row of them. Not an exciting layout, but it does provide amazing June colors. My designer-mind places them around a pool, where a statue of Kwan Yin rises from the center. There’s a bamboo bridge at one end and purple water lilies that sparkle when the sun hits them. A metal heron sits in the shallows waiting for a goldfish to swim within its reach. I can see it all as if it were real.
I put the picture album away and decide to go for a walk in the yard. I haven’t talked to my plants lately. Maybe I’ll tell them of the mind-garden I’m creating for them. They’d like that, I think.
© Gail Ouimet 2020