Garden Plotting

In the summer of 2007, I had the good fortune to be awarded a Sweet Summer Sabbatical to travel to London, Paris, then back through the UK: Nottingham, the Moors, the Lake District, then Edinburgh, the southwest coast of Scotland, Wales and back home again. My goal was to be inspired by gardens, and my wife Jeffrey Ann Goudie, my son Alex Goudie-Averill and I visited 21 gardens in 31 days. After, I wrote a series of what I call "Garden Plots," short prose pieces inspired by what I saw, imagined, and learned while on this trip. I post a couple below.

Garden map by Gertrude Jekyll, from the Jekyll collection at University of California, Berkeley

The Garden Mapper

            At the beginning of his career, he drew elaborate maps of the gardens he proposed to his clients.  Borders, lawn, walls, water features, trees, bushes and flowers–each appeared in miniature, exactly as it appeared in his head, exactly as it would appear in the finished garden.  When the diagram was complete, he dipped a tiny brush into water colors, and plantings came to life in their shades of reds, blues, and yellows.  Often, a client would ask for the water color, saying, “I can have my garden indoors and out.”  And here, the designer thought.  He did not point to his head.   The mapper began to draw gardens nobody would ask him to design, great sweeps of color marching up and down mounds, mazes of twenty-foot bamboo, hedges cut to outlandish shapes, rocks stacked randomly until they teetered, waterfalls that rose into the air.  He invented colors no flower could bloom.  He kept these imaginary gardens in a drawer.  One day he drew a walled garden, completely enclosed, and put nothing inside it but the word peace.  Words became his maps:  borders labeled fear and water, longingHarmony was a pyramid, difficult to approach, surrounded as it was with arches named rival and enemySerenity sat in an impenetrable maze, the hedge consisting of nothing but hope.  When he quit his business, he spent all his time with words, each one growing, each placed artistically in harmony with all the others.  Just before his death he created a labyrinth.  He wrote the word me in the center.  Then he took out his eraser.


Red flowers, cropped from a photograph taken at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris.

State Flowers

            One spring, a truck driver who’d driven every state in the union tilled his acre of back yard in the shape of the United States.  He dug up patches for Alaska and Hawaii, where he’d never been, behind the garage, cursing their non-contiguity.  He mounded up some mountains, bordered the 48 states in green plastic and laid out his rock collection, one per state.  Then he planted state flowers.  Since he lived in Kansas, he started with Sunflowers.  Then others he could achieve quickly:  Goldenrod in Nebraska and Kentucky, Violet in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Wisconsin (Wood Violet) and Illinois (Purple).  Texas Bluebonnet, lots of it.  Vermont Red Clover.  Some more Goldenrod in Alabama, to mix with Camellia–they upgraded in 1959.  California Poppies.  He put the Roses in North Dakota and Iowa (Wild Prairie), Georgia (Cherokee) and New York.  Then Nevada Sage Brush, New Mexico Yucca, New Hampshire Purple Lilac–they would flower next season, perhaps.  Discouragement seeped into his garden when he contemplated the wait to see Maine White Pine Cone and Tassel–what were they thinking?  Or Louisiana and Mississippi Magnolias, if they survived Kansas.  And what about the North Carolina and Virginia Dogwoods?  Could he make an Arizona Saguaro Cactus bloom?  Years later, his Oklahoma Mistletoe–parasite on a locust tree–put on waxy white berries.  He was tired of the cultivation of variety.  He tilled the U. S. of A. and planted purple-stemmed red Dahlias for the Red States, Asters for the Blue States.  Simple, he thought.  Not much to remember.  Not much to think about.  And only a few states to replant every four years.  Although he missed the variety at first, he didn’t miss the work.  He took to sitting on the back deck with a 20 oz. bottle of Coke, proud of his country.


A recent story was published in Paradigm, an online journal. Please read First Fruit.

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