‘The garden was long and rectangular, and every bloom of June brightened its borders. Fragrance hung on the air, birds sang, and from somewhere nearby came a drowsy, humming sound.
‘”The murmur of innumerable bees,” said Ann, who was liking poetry and big words that year.
‘”Though I don’t see any immemorial elms,” said Roger, who was the family nature-lover. “That’s a copper beech.” He pointed to the end of the garden.
‘Beyond the copper beech was another opening in the boxwood hedge. And in the opening stood a sundial.
‘”Look,” said Ann, going closer. “There’s something written on it, down at the bottom.”
‘”Don’t bother,” said Eliza. “It’ll just say ‘It is later than you think.’ They always do.”
‘”If they don’t say ‘I count only the sunny hours”’, said Jack.
‘But Ann and Roger had never seen a real sundial before, and Ann had to be shown how it worked, and Roger, who had read all about sundials in a book, showed her. Then they bent over the base of the pedestal. The lettering was old and crumbly and hard to read, but Roger finally made it out.
‘”It says…” He broke off and looked at the others. “It says ‘Anything can Happen!”’
‘”That isn’t all,” said Ann, who had wandered around to the back of the sundial. “The lettering goes on, around here. It says…” She leaned over to make out the final words. “It says, ‘Anything Can Happen When You’ve All the Time in the World!'”
from The Time Garden by Edward Eager
A garden is a place where I feel I have all the time in the world, where I feel just maybe anything can happen – the place where I feel most peaceful and a sense of contentment. Contentment on the edge, so very different from complacency.
Not just any garden, but many will do.
No illusions here. I am not really a gardener, just as I am not a painter, but I appreciate the fruits of the gardener’s labour just as I love to look at art.
The other day I found myself with spare hours in a town where I did not really want to be. By chance I had seen that a large garden nearby that I knew well was closing to the public in two months. Up until that time it would be open every day, unattended….an irresistible invitation, with time on my hands.
I had a hunch it would be nearly deserted and my hunch was proved correct. Not having been there for a few years, I had to follow my nose to find it. As I came up the winding drive I remembered the day there had been a kingfisher flying round and round the lake. No sign today. The place was still. When I got to the car park, there were two other cars there and as I sat and wondered, a woman with a dog appeared, got in one of the cars and drove off – so just me and the gardener’s van.
Going in through the hedge arch, the roses were all still there – a little drooping and blowsy after the strong showers and blustery winds but scent intact and buds just opening, promising a good season.
I made my way through each room, comparing it in my memory’s eye with how it had been in the past, in full glory. Then up the borders and up the steep stone steps to the grass walkway above.
And then the short woodland walk, pushing upwards to the clearing and the footpath which I knew would make me lost if I followed it beyond the garden’s boundary. Two more amazing lakes, moorhens and swans – and not a soul in sight!
The place had the feel of an ending. It was semi-deserted – only a gardener in the far distance. All the plants and flowers were not just past this year’s best, but past the garden’s former glory. It was tended minimally, no longer with the zeal that had once been evident. The loving care was fading.
This all appealed to me. I made my way back to a wooden bench I remembered in the thyme garden near the chives and sat down to read. I was tempted to eat a chive flower, but I felt that would be stealing. A few pages along I could no longer concentrate. My eye was drawn to the waving stalks around me, the clock on the house above me, the sun chasing clouds higher still. The corner where my bench was felt perfect. I could have stayed there all day only I had to watch the clock. Another minute or five…I knew it would be a rush when I left, but time stood still while I was there. I felt I had all the time in the world, and nothing would happen.
The garden here reminded me of other gardens I have loved – Burnt Norton where there also was a deserted rose garden.
Ickwell Bury which was the most peaceful garden I have known, and which went to rack and ruin within a year of being reluctantly and resistingly left.
Rousham which somehow keeps its feeling of untouched solitude.
And wild gardens in Los Angeles stretching down to the sea.
”From where they stood a bank led down to the sea, and the bank was all covered with little flat creeping plants that flowed over rock ledge and turned boulders to flowers cushions, for the plants were studded all over with tiny starry blossoms, purple and lavender and white. The smell of the bank was like all the sweetness and spice of the world mixed together. And it was here that the innumerable bees hummed.’
As I sat in the large deserted garden, soaking up the windy atmosphere, I appreciated the warmth in and around me. I realised it was a special feeling. I love fields, I love the view from a hill – but perhaps I am too domesticated a creature at heart. Sitting in a protected nook in a garden is for me a more reassuring place to be. Here it is possible to find contentment: ‘the ability to be comfortable with what we have and what we do not have’ (Desikachar, the Heart of Yoga, commentary on Yoga Sutras, 2.32). The ability both to hold and let go both.
In the moment of observing it, it might lapse towards complacency or edge towards anticipation and anxiety as the clock ticks above me. But just in that moment is a feeling that ‘anything can happen when you have all the time in the world’. And that nothing can happen too. And that they are equally alright. There is no desire, no grasping, no need.
What are the qualities of these gardens that hold a special place in my heart?
They need not be large gardens as those I mention here happen to be. A small garden can have as potent an effect.
The gardener’s dedicated and loving effort, their close attention and care, are evident in all these gardens. This is an essential ingredient.
These gardens have history and this gives them depth. These are gardens that have grown up with patience over time, not quick or brash growth that has been forced, and not for showy effect. They have colour but subtlety. There is a sense of deep rootedness and the willingness to wait.
I warm to gardens that are past their prime, that may be suffering benign neglect or even moving towards indifference. The care that once was there is still visible, but they are not being closely tended. They may be a little overgrown and there is a feeling of going to seed – yet not quite gone. There are plants still thriving, some may be struggling; plants that have outlived the gardener’s plan, and are into their afterlife.
All of these are for me essential qualities to create a place where I can feel contentment. In such a place I can consider what is and what is not, and take it as it comes, or doesn’t. In such a space I feel acceptance, and I also find my best ideas come to me without effort.
Such a garden is a magical place. I feel that nothing needs to happen yet anything and everything can happen. I feel a pull not to leave, not to move, just to be and absorb. I feel expectant without having any expectation. This is magic.
‘But in the garden the sun still shone. The innumerable bees hummed. The scent of thyme hung on the air. But only the Natterjack was there to breathe the fragrant essence of it.
He and the garden were waiting. They were waiting for more children. They didn’t care how long they waited. They had all the time in the world.’
The Time Garden – The End