The hidden garden

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‘You look and see nothing, and you might think there wasn’t a garden at all; but, all the time, of course, there is, waiting for you.’ 

Philippa Pearce – Tom’s Midnight Garden

In spring I dream of gardens.  I yearn for something more than this patch of walled concrete, its plants caged in pots.  Something like the hidden garden on the edge of the forest that unfurls behind the beech hedge.  Something like the magical, midnight garden that appears as the clock chimes thirteen.

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The garden at the forest’s edge lies hidden behind a hedge of golden beech.  There is  a small gap, like a gilded archway, beckoning green beyond.  Wispy branches, studded in bronze leaves, tempting me in.  I cross the hedge threshold into a forgotten grove.  A trio of yews greets me: the magical tree, guardian of graveyards, the tree of knowledge and eternity.  Beyond the yews, a pair of squat stone posts mark what must once have been a path, but my dog will go no further, barking at something I cannot see.

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I follow ivy and moss-choked steps, strewn with golden leaves.  Into a corridor of brick columns, garlanded with ivy.  They stand as forgotten sentinels within this forgotten garden,  leading only to the side of a building with a crenelated top and a bricked up window.  This and a small cluster of buildings that were once servants’ quarters are all that remains of Keldy Castle.  Not so much a castle as a large house, whose owners invented Brasso and Windolene.  A cluster of log cabins has grown up around it, yet the garden is still a secret among them.  It belongs to the ivy and the yews and the fallen leaves.

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A garden is a piece of the wild contained.  No matter how we prune and trim and weed, it will always hold that wildness within.  Plants will grow where they aren’t supposed to.  Creatures will move in, wanted or not, creatures who don’t know what a garden is, let alone that we might consider them trespassers.

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A garden is a plot of magic.  We might know the science behind how things grow, but the process is magical all the same.   The garden in Phillipa Pearce’s book Tom’s Midnight Garden is a truly enchanted garden, one that has stayed with me since childhood.  It’s a garden that appears after midnight, when the old grandfather clock in the hallway strikes thirteen; a garden that teaches Tom about the nature of time , loss and growing up.

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I prefer a garden that’s a little unruly.  One with crooked paths and hiding places.  I like a garden where trees stand guard and the plants are allowed their freedom.   There are spirits in a garden: elemental beings and the haints of those who have gone before.  And an abandoned garden is all the more bewitching.  There is memory in it, soaked into the stones and the way things still grow – the memory of what was once there and is now gone.  But there is also adventure in an abandoned garden:  what was once tame is now free to set its own course.

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A garden isn’t ours, it’s only borrowed for a while.  We shape it and nurture it and make our memories within its borders.  Until finally, we have to let it go.  I have borrowed many gardens, but it is the garden that is hidden in my imagination that is the only one that will last, woven into story and memory and dream.

 

90 thoughts on “The hidden garden

  1. I never thought about a garden only being borrowed but it makes sense. If we abandon it for whatever reason, it takes over on it own in one way or another. I have always enjoyed exploring abandoned houses and places. The photos speak for themselves in their way as you have described them with haunting words. Nice to find your post this Sunday afternoon!

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  2. What a beautiful, beautiful post, Andrea.
    You describe the garden of my childhood dreams, the one each of us nurtures and tries to recapture when we get older. I did recapture a version of mine, and felt deep gratitude for it. And then it was time to let it go, but I still feel grateful for the great gift.

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  3. I agree with you that abandoned gardens are bewitching and intriguing as well as treasure troves and hiding places for memories. I find it ironic that the former home and garden of the creators of Brasso and Windolene have left behind what might be thought of as a mess!

    Your post has jogged a memory I have of a childhood friend’s home with a garden gone amok. Her parents weren’t gardeners and they were renting the house so they didn’t make an effort to tend the trees but, oh, the fun we had playing hide and seek amongst the weeds and tall flowers and short fruit trees!

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  4. Beautiful, post, Andrea. I too prefer a garden that’s more unruly and not perfect. The gardens of abandoned houses and barns have so many stories to tell. Thank you for sharing your lovely photos and accompanying words.

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  5. Andrea, your words are pure magic, as always. You transported me to that midnight garden. I clearly heard the 13th strike of the clock. I loved all the photos too. You know I find ruins so compelling.
    And on a note of reality, the gardens in my imagination are the only ones I wouldn’t ruin with my black thumb. o_O
    Loved this post. Huge hugs.

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  6. Beautiful post and the photographs, Andrea. It is amazing that you only have to step past the beech hedge and there is a mysterious garden that uncovers its secrets to you. Yews are the most magical trees, they live almost forever, and I also wonder about the old stone posts covered with moss. So many secrets, and your imagination will add many more. Thank you for sharing!

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  7. I’m often surprised I don’t *dream* more of gardens, when walking through gardens (especially ones like these) so often makes me feel like I’m in a dream. Perhaps they’re just that special, that they occupy a kind of middle ground between consciousness and unconsciousness. Really lovely post, Andrea!

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  8. This is also my kind of garden. Unruly and open to imagination. I love your ending about ‘borrowing a garden.’ It’s true for each place we inhabit for a while and by extension I include our limited time on earth. We care for a garden that will continue to live after we’re gone. Could make me sad but in fact makes me happy to imagine that my current garden will change after me and after whoever takes care of it after me and so on. Your photos are gorgeous and remind me of many places I’ve known in France.

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  9. Hi Andrea …I want a thirteen O clock garden . Yes I remember reading Tom’s Midnight Garden but not as a child , oh no , I was an adult . I joined a children ‘s book group a few years ago and boy did I get through some amazing children’s and young adults books that I missed out on as a child , I still read children’s books …love em …believe me I did not need an adult sleeve to read Harry Potter I read it with pride . I too was enchanted when I read T.M.G and I love wild unkept gardens like you …you are an old romantic like me .
    Cherryx

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  10. Being brought up in an Oxford college meant our garden was a square of grass and then a few bits and pieces round the side but we did have a spectacular copper beech which I loved. It was all very orderly, too orderly really for me but we had my great uncle’s garden to play in in Norfolk which had all kinds of places to hide and explore and weird things like white raspberries and yellow tomatoes (not so rare now!). I must re-read TMG I remember loving it.

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  11. What a beautiful post, Andrea! I will carry with me that thought about the wildness that is within a garden, no matter how manicured and well-maintained it is. Your preferred garden seems like a metaphor for so many things, including the joy of creativity and discovery. I am wondering what your dog was sensing? A wonderful companion! Interesting and beautiful photos as well.

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  12. Tom’s Midnight Garden is amazing, I didn’t discover it until I had turned 30. ‘A Garden is a plot of magic’, I love that line and there is so much romance that comes from just standing and letting it seep into one’s pores. Love your photos.

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  13. Beautifully written, Andrea, and wonderful photos too. I like how we start out on the outside, then little by little you bring us with you into the garden, and the present eases back to the past. Lovely, and full of mystery.

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  14. oh what a beautiful piece on wild gardens Andrea. I’m totally in agreement with you- and long ago an old gardener once told me that this is where the wild spirits come and play. I no longer have a big garden but when I did I always honoured that idea and left a place unkempt in my own garden.
    Sometimes a post makes me want and visit the place it describes and this is one of those. Lovely pics too Andrea! I wonder what the dog perceived!

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  15. Yes, I like the IDEA of gardens. My guy and I have just bought our first hanging plants and flowering plants for the garden. I let him dig. I enjoy.
    But the gardens in my mind? blooming heartily thanks to a load full of imagination.

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  16. Great book and great post. I often walk the dog and see the leave-behinds of former house owners. The gorgeous flower bed, row of trees that are closer to towering with each passing day, lush lawns. And their opposite, of course. And I love your thought about how gardens really aren’t ours–only to tend for a while. It tells you something about a person when they’re willing to invest in something that will not always be theirs:).

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  17. Andrea, I love your mystical and deeply thought out ideas of what gardens are. I won’t be able to get the image of the wildness always contained in the garden.

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  18. I love that you prefer gardens to be a bit unruly. Me too, but sometimes my inner critic tells me I have to be more polished with my gardens, that the intention of a garden is to look spruced up, dignified.

    My favorite part of my backyard is the spot I let grow wild, but where I’ve pruned paths throughout, so that I can still walk through. In among all the wildness are raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry bushes and wild roses. I put little stone benches, potted flowers, bird feeders, and bird baths here and there. Not exactly a garden per se, but it is part wild, part cultured which I guess is all a garden is!

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  19. Wonderful, all of it 🙂 I remember them serialising “Tom’s Midnight Garden” on the television when my children were young. My daughter so fell in love with the story that we had to buy the book straight after and make it her bedtime read. I think she read it herself later, after I’d read it to her.

    I’m convinced that dogs can see ghosts and all sorts of things we can’t see (maybe pixies, even!).

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  20. I want to go to Tom’s Midnight Garden! How utterly delightful and yes, enchanting. Andrea, to me the best gardens are those that are allowed to become unruly and spread out and spread their magic in their unique and creative way. I have a jasmine, rambling rose and honeysuckle that I never cut back, all grow into one another over a rickety old trellis that looks as if it will fall over at any minute but held strong by the weight of the vines 🙂 I wonder what your little dog saw on your walk? What stories! Lovely post and photos, as always. You inspire my creativity 🙂

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  21. Beautiful piece. I loved Tom’s Midnight Garden as a kid.
    There’s a Hidden Garden out where I sometimes cat-sit – I think you’d love it. The community have tamed part of it for growing vegetables etc but there’s plenty of areas still unruly and crumbling, spooky and magical.

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  22. I am so enjoying your writing style! This one touched me….and I truly over the addition of the pictures. I am anxious to read “Tom’s Midnight Garden!”

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  23. There are around the countryside I grew up in (Allen County, Kentucky), old farmhouses, the former homes of people who ran the country several generations ago. They are often in wooded areas, completed obscured by the growth around them. Although having been abandoned for years, decades even, they are like a time capsule into another era of our history. The photos above remind me of those places.

    Tim

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  24. I like that, Andrea, the reminder that gardens are a wilderness in their own right. There is that whole relationship with and in tension with Nature, where She responds to nurture but is tamed to a degree.

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