“Oh wow!” said the delivery driver. “It’s like walking into paradise!”
We get that sort of thing a lot. The narrow and faded street is lined with parked cars. The car-park you have to cross to access my son’s home is scruffy and overgrown. There is nothing that leads you to expect what you find behind his gates. Clean, geometric lines contrast with the encircling green of trees, bright spots of colour from the young plants, the tranquillity of running water and the harmony of the pentatonic wind chimes. There is usually a red kite wheeling overhead, sometimes the occasional squirrel and always a symphony of birdsong.
So far, Nick must have heard just about every complimentary phrase possible as people walk into his garden. They will lean over the pond to admire the huge and colourful fish and comment on how quiet and unexpected the space is, just five minutes from the town centre. To be fair, the whole things works rather well.
While I love my son’s garden, especially its relative ease of maintenance, my own tastes run to semi-wild cottage gardens. Give me a flower bed of my own to fill and it will soon be overflowing. Nick prefers order, space and neatness. I like chaos. Our vision of beauty is subjective, but here I work to his…and sneak in the odd bits of chaos where appropriate.
It struck me today, though, that although people see the beauty of the ‘finished product’… not that any garden is ever finished… they do not see what has and still goes into creating beauty. Nick’s garden took months to build… and that was just the bare bones, before we started planting; then we dug in the manure. Every day, I spend a couple of hours outside, either watering, deadheading, weeding, feeding, sweeping and scrubbing, or cleaning out the two pond pumps and filter… and that is without the big jobs like jet washing. And, much as I complain about some of the things I have to do, the results are worth it.
Another thing that people do not see is the true nature of this garden. It is designed to be accessible. From the discrete placement of handrails as part of the design, to the carefully measured distances between handholds… even the sculptures, securely concreted into the ground, serve as extra grab rails… every detail is designed to allow my son to get around his garden on his own two feet, while still allowing wheelchair access. Colour, sound and fragrance compensate for damaged sight and plants are positioned so that he can enjoy their scent without needing to be close.
As Nature is always a good teacher, there are inevitably parallels between the beauty of a garden and the people who enjoy it. Many spend a good deal of time, effort and attention on creating an image of beauty for themselves too, from hair to face to clothing. The face presented to the world may look effortlessly attractive to its ‘owner’, but it will not be to everyone’s taste. Some admire the well-groomed look, others prefer a more natural appearance… but most will not look at what has gone into creating that image. Not in terms of the hours in front of the mirror, but the life experiences, the laughter, tears, joy and pain that shapes every face.
We unconsciously create an image of ourselves, for ourselves. Sometimes the mask is just to please ourselves… more often it is shaped by what we think others want or need us to be, whether it is the corporate look for work or something designed to attract a mate. Many will react to our masks in the way we hope… few, until and unless they get to know us as individuals, will look beyond it.
But we are complicated creatures. Just like Nick’s garden, the ‘clean lines’ of our outer appearance show to their best advantage when we allow ourselves to be ourselves, letting the chaotic colour of character soften the edges, showing that unique beauty that goes deeper than the surface. A beauty only created by living.
A gardener loves gardens and growing things. It doesn’t really matter whether that garden is modern and minimalist or a riot of colour. It is the flowers and fruits of the earth that warm the heart. A person who has learned to grow in both life’s sunshine and rain has that same beauty, no matter what their illusive mirror might tell them, and they too will be looked upon with love.