Urban Garden Denver Blog



Fictional gardens and peeking behind the walls

On this night in Denver, when rain is turning to snow, and fall is turning to winter, it’s a good night to think about fictional gardens. One of the most famous gardens in literature is The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It is generally regarded as children’s literature, but the story is delightful and life-giving for adults as well as children. I recently re-read some of the story as I was practicing downloading a book onto my phone, and The Secret Garden was on the free book list. I can’t say that I love reading a book on the little screen, but I do love the concept of the healing power of growing plants, beauty, relationships and fresh air that is evidenced in the book. If you haven’t read this book, or haven’t read it in the past 10 years, tonight would be a great night to read it! Of course, you can always watch the movie versions as well. However, somehow imagining the secret garden in my mind’s eye is very satisfying, and no doubt, my imaginary secret garden looks different than yours.

Beyond the fictional garden behind the walls in The Secret Garden, there are other walled gardens that offer places of either contemplation or privilege. This past weekend, we attended a wedding in Santa Barbara. Before we headed to the airport on Sunday, we went to the Mission Santa Barbara. Within the walls of the mission, the garden is a place for contemplation for the Franciscan brothers and for others who attend retreats at the mission. I can certainly understand the contemplative space of a garden, because my heart and mind are more at peace when I am outdoors in a quiet, beautiful place. I longed to stretch out on the grass and gaze at the sky, but only one sidewalk of the garden area was open for the public. I didn’t want to disrupt the sacred space, so I obeyed the rules and didn’t venture out into the center of the garden.

Enclosed garden at Mission Santa Barbara

At the other end of the spectrum, some palaces in Europe have private walled gardens. One such garden is at Palais Royal in Paris. The palace was originally called Palais-Cardinal and was the personal residence of Cardinal Richelieu. While he may have used the private garden space for contemplation, my impression of his religious fervor from my history lessons is that he was more interested in power than God, so his garden contemplation likely centered on establishing his own power base, not revering God’s power. Even beautiful places where God’s creative ability is evident are subject to corruption by our selfish human nature. All the more reason to continue to seek beauty and find places where we can draw near to God, in a reverential way, and have a right view of our place in the world.

Jardin de Palais Royal, Paris

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