‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.