When I was very young, we had a square fenced-in herb garden behind our house that we called the Secret Garden after the one in Frances Hodgson Burnett's book. It wasn't at all secret, but we liked the idea of being able to wander around the small round path amid the plants and imagine that the white picket fencing was actually a giant hedge, separating us from the rest of the world. When my sister and I tired of running around in the adjoining lawn, we would unlatch the little gate and pick some of the black currents growing on the far end of the garden.
Later, when we remodeled our house, the Secret Garden was replaced with more lawn, and in exchange, my father built a long raised bed up against the garage. This was supposed to be a place for myself, my sister, and my mother to all grow our own plants, but my sister and I neglected our plots and eventually it was all taken over by my mom. Here, she grew vegetables, leafy greens, tomatoes, and – after my father added a lot more trellising – beans. The entire southern outer wall of the garage became a glorious mess of vines and leaves. For my mother, productivity and beauty always had to come hand-in-hand, and her garden was evidence of that.
Another favorite activity for my family was visiting the Chicago Botanic Gardens, and, as a child, I loved exploring the rocky steps and winding gravel paths leading up to hidden waterfalls. The huge expansiveness of the Gardens, and the wide variety, provided a perfect venue for my imaginative brain. We would wander for hours, relaxing beneath the willow in the Japanese garden, running through the fountains outside the rose garden trellises, and crawling into the alcoves in the walls of the English garden.
These three examples show the impact of the garden on my life. The garden is a place where I, firstly, go to relax, whether it be from playing on the lawn with my sister when I was eight years old, or now, when I need a respite from the work of the day. It’s a place to let the creative mind wander and contemplate the world, even as a child running through the mysterious paths of the Botanic Gardens. It’s a place where we can commune with nature – without being in great danger of nature’s perils.
My mother additionally found peace by the actual act of planting and maintenance of a garden. She was thus able to work alongside nature to create something beautiful – and most of the time, it was edible and nourishing as well. So whether by experiencing the garden through its maintenance and care – as my mother did – or by simply enjoying it as a viewer, the garden will always be a place for finding solace, relaxation, and pleasure.