A Walled Garden (or Hortus conclusus)
Posted by goodgrief84
25th Oct 2018

“Growing apart doesn’t change the fact that for a long time we grew side by side; our roots will always be tangled. I’m glad for that.”
- Ally Condie, Matched

The garden of our childhood was ragged and illustrious. The turf would split and sods would erupt in chunks in the melee of a football match; held in close quarters. The patch below the patio wall was bare from the beatings of a cricket bat that hurled up dust in the hazy sun of summer holidays. Below the bough of an awkward Buddleia, mud pies were lovingly prepared only to be tossed in the direction of unsuspecting dinner guests; a deliciously textured sludge. In the middle of the patio bed a bird house sat on top of a length of Victorian guttering. It was swarmed daily by mobs of starlings and sparrows; squabbling over stale bread and un-shelled peanuts. This foray was mimicked and mirrored on the grass by sodden children; desperately dashing and hurling water-balloons. Brightly coloured t-shirts that reached the knees clung to their skin and chafed as the soldiers knelt behind a dilapidated wheelbarrow, or an awkward Buddleia, in order to avoid the bombardment. At the bottom of the garden the rusty frame of a goal stood, precariously. The net would bulge with wonder-goals and bombastic celebrations would ring out. It was often the winning goal. It was usually scored with some few seconds left; against the odds; and superior opposition.

In the respective shades of a towering conifer at one end, and a mighty Horse Chestnut at the other, these memories, and many more, were cultivated. As the shadows stretched, and the sun would only just pierce the edge of the roof above the conservatory, we would know to retire to a bath; or the dinner table; or a telling-off. Those who entered the garden were numerous, and nuanced in their relationships to the main protagonists. There were three main protagonists. And the three of us grew side-by-side in the rays and the rain that fell upon the garden. Every graze; every gash; every stinging, streaking tear; and every muddied, bloodied knee, marked us, as though medals of honour. And every unspoiled summer day of unadulterated joy still dances, if called upon, from the music boxes inside our mind. The gears whir and click for a short time, and then the lightest melody that only a childhood moment can compose, springs forth; skipping through the fabric; awakening further moments that were thought lost in the oblivion of adult preoccupations.

There were almost seven years between my brother and me. This was significant. When I arrived he was already an accomplished footballer, in possession of an army of mates, and ran mum and dad ragged with a constant need to expel the unnatural reserves of energy he had been gifted (or cursed with). His games always had to involve other people. Playmates were my brother’s subsistence throughout his entire life. I was a helpless infant, wriggling around in a variety of soft furnishings. I was no good to him. Not for some time at least.

By the time I was seven, my brother was nearly fourteen. He was a teenager, deep in the throes of puberty. He was sullen and smelly and inordinately greasy. He left unwashed plates in his desk drawers and milk-stained glasses on the side (if there was room on the side). His baths would produce a hairy slick around the rim and when he put his well-worn socks on the glass front of the gas fire, the fumes emitted would make the eyes water. There was a pack of playing cards in his room that had naked ladies on the front, and the discarded glacÚ cherries from Bakewell Tarts stuck to the underside of his desk. There were these, and all manner of other things that seemed alien and, sometimes, slightly unpalatable to me. None of these unsavoury attributes could negate a magnetic pull to be included by an older brother however.

Now I was seven, I had developed some uses. I could fetch things. I was asked if I wanted to go down to the arboretum to play tennis on the old Victorian courts. I would not actually be playing of course. I would be the ball boy. When we played cricket in the garden I would fetch the tennis ball every time one of us “knocked it for six”. Depending on whose garden it landed in would have a huge impact on the chances of me returning, unscathed. If it soared left, the relevant neighbours would barely glance up from the dishes if they spotted me rooting around in their garden. If it soared right then I would find myself deep behind the hostile lines drawn up by a cantankerous enemy. A best case scenario would be a barking dog, determined movement from within the house, and a stern ticking off as she lurched out of the backdoor and craned over the wall to set her beady eyes to work. Worst case scenario: she might simply implore him to “Get the gun!” (Disclaimer: I was never actually shot at, and there was no gun).

“Relationship with the heavens is emphasised in a walled garden as it eliminates the outside world, converging the garden below with the heavens above. There is a stark contrast between the containing walls and the vertical endlessness of the sky — truly a vertical landscape.”- Todd Haiman

My brother, one of the three, is lost to us now. One facet in the recollection of memories has been blackened by silence; the spectrum cut short from refracting his version of our lives together. And so the remaining protagonists must grasp all the more tightly to the roots that spread. A wall must be built around the garden in defence of a treasure house of formative echoes. No trespassers, determined to nullify the joy that we felt, or infect the innocence of a child’s nostalgia, may be granted entry. The dusty, limestone walls will be adorned with ivy and clematis; Sulphur Heart (Hedera colchica) and ‘Perle d’Azur’. The oak door will be obscured by a climbing rose (Mortimer Sackler). In the winter, Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) will mask the boarders of the garden and in the summer, Jasmine (Jasminum officinale) will creep up the trellises in the northern corner; caressing a swinging seat; suspended from the bough of an awkward Buddleia.

When I sit and swing on the seat I do so possessed with a withering exhaustion, pressing just behind the eyes. It is the exhaustion that comes from a resistance to an unrelenting barrage of grief. There are times when the pain lessens to an almost undetectable hum and life in the summer of the garden radiates a richness and vitality. And then the fumes of a memory’s pollen penetrate the senses and the resistance gives way; crumbling. Weeping, without shame, I am watering the garden of those formative echoes in the sure and certain hope that they will never wither. As I walk down the many paths that traverse the garden I tend to the past; and further blooms burst into the air as though discovered for the first time.

“Sometimes since I’ve been in the garden I’ve looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden — in all the places.”
- Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

In grief there have been desperate moments when it seemed as though all of the magic had been banished from the world. Thoughts of the past expose a yawning chasm of longing for those bright, untarnished days. The future is still readjusting itself, slowly and painfully dragging its limbs from the expected destination, to a new reality. It is a reality burdened by the absence of him and the presence of his loss. As I lie in the walled garden, I gaze only upwards for a time. The view of a sky, un-bordered and unrestricted, allows space for this new reality to arrange itself without the nagging wrench of anxiety, or the stumbling and uneasy bones of a malaise. This landscape seems truly limitless.

The walls ensure that I will not be disturbed whilst I bed-in the seedlings and saplings of a new spring. The page is a fertile soil for planting and shelters young buds from the unforgiving elements of a tempestuous mind. Grief must have a future that does not only partake of pain and anguish and loss. If this is always going to be with me (as I sense it will) then I must find a way to live alongside it. The knowledge of a childhood that held so much joy has taken on an increased value and the desire to capture those halcyon days on paper has taken on a new urgency. I am building a walled garden to nurture these recollections. There will be times when I leave through the oaken door, push aside the climbing rose and slip past the Cherry laurel. The scent of Jasmine will grow distant as I venture towards the rest of my life. But from time to time I will return, laden with the fruits of future happiness. New seeds will be planted and perhaps new visitors to the garden will be welcome too.

“A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors.”
- Charles Baudelaire

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