Immerse Yourself in Six Literary Gardens
There are many reasons for which gardens are frankly literary. These six works will prove it.
A book is like a garden carried in one’s pocket.
- Arabic Proverb
Gardens and the metaphors inhabiting them are, fortunately, countless. As long as humankind has had memory – as with Gilgamesh’s epic Paradise as an “immortal garden” – they’ve been the sumptuous settings of stories, and at times, for the silent characters of legends and mythologies.
Literature preserves a special place for such green spaces. Literary gardens are abundant with exotically scented flowers, home to lush fountains and strange creatures, the perfect setting for connivances and secret encounters and sometimes, they’re even that point where everything begins.
The delineated quality of any garden is a metaphor for humanity against the wild, of a nature tamed in contrast to the forest or jungle. Gardens are also symbolic expressions of innocence and purity, of human spirituality. It’s sufficient to recall the tragic history of the Garden of Eden, but paradoxically, gardens are places of an intense eroticism relating to their essential fertility, a characteristic which makes gardens, also, deeply feminine.
A garden is a poetic and secret space (one perfect for hiding). It’s an earthly paradise, a utopia and a place that will always refresh our mind and spirit. These are six literary gardens that deserve to be revisited.
The Garden of Eden
A universal symbol, it’s always earthly and at the same time, metaphysical. An exuberant biblical garden where Eve and Adam lived for a time, and among many other things, it represents one of the oldest objects of our desire (though none of us has visited). It’s also the original inspiration for a tremendous number of the gardens that still flourish in our books.
The Garden of the Capulets
A refuge for true love, the fortified garden of the Capulet family, is the setting for one of the most famous romantic scenes of all time. The darkness of the garden surrounding Juliet’s balcony will remain forever a temple to innocence and eroticism, untouched by human misery and hatred.
The Garden of Live Flowers
Of all the places little Alice encountered on her tour of Wonderland, it’s perhaps this garden of talking flowers that remains the most memorable. Home to beautiful and delicate blossoms (rather resembling ladies gathered for tea), Lewis Carrol’s surreal and magical garden never quite departs the imagination.
The Garden of Forking Paths
A garden that’s not really a garden, it’s a garden that’s a book and a labyrinth, and one that could only have been imagined by Jorge Luis Borges. The Garden of Forking Paths is the title of a novel, one which appears in the Borges story of the same name, and this one is a labyrinth, just not one that exists in space but in time.
The Garden of Kubla Khan
One of the most precious of the treasures of the legendary Khan, it was populated with magnolia trees and perfumed with exotic incense. Kubla Khan’s garden lives on in the imagination as the closest yet to paradise on Earth and as the place where, once, Marco Polo and the great Kahn imagined great cities together (in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities).
The Garden of the Selfish Giant
The garden in this short story by Oscar Wilde was thought by its owner, a giant, to be exclusive to his own eyes, because gardens are also treasures. The beautiful garden can only be freed from the perpetual winter into which it has fallen through the purifying radiance of the children.
*Images: 1) The perfect garden, Walter Wright, 1908; 2) Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, 1885, John Singer Sargent / Public Domain
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