A Garden on My Mind


At first, the colors call themselves to my attention: Shocking pinck, scarlet red, snow white, spring green, lavender blue. Then I notice the lines.

Someone could draw a line between the two red poppies that stand in the upper middle of the page. That line could be extended three ways to form a rectangle. Millions of green threads hang from that imaginary rectangle.

Below the green threads are red and pink poppies. Some are opened fully; others are still in bud. They sit on the page and look like kisses, like lipstick prints. Just below one of the closed flowers, I expect to see the name, Claude Monet.

But I do not. This picture, which makes me feel as if I'm sitting in Monet's garden at Giverny, isn't a painting. It's a photograph on the front cover of a garden catalog for Spring 1993. I look through the catalog and wonder what it has to say about spring.

Before I get very far, I see the order form. To keep getting this catalog, you have to place an order. Well, I think, it's worth it. I'll send away for something, flowers, possibly. "D-I-A-N," I begin to write my name, then stop. Flowers require so much time and work. I already have a lot of work to do and very little time. I turn the page.

Halfway through the catalog, there's something called the English Meadow Wildflower Mix. I glance at the flower names and say them aloud: "Godetia," "Globe Gilia," "Bird's Eyes," "Love-in-a Mist." What's in a name? I ask myself Shakespeare's question. Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?

I look for roses. A somewhat shaggy cerise-pink rose is named "Zepherine." "Mermaid" is the name for a creamy yellow one. The one with soft pink petals and white centers is "Ballerina." "Climbing Cecile" is the name of a bush with tiny pinkish-white buds "born in loose clusters."

I imagine Cecile -- its perfume, lighter than air, carried through the air. Cecile is in the sun's light and in the bird's song. I'm on a bench made of fern fronds, morning glories, grapevines. And I'm surrounded by roses. The pink cluster of their flowers spills across the fence.

I see a smaller picture of the flowers that caught my eye on the front cover. They are, according to the caption, part of the American Cottage Seed Collection. Planted together, they will supposedly paint a picture of a typical American garden from the 1900s.

As I'm deciding what a typical American cottage garden might be, I read names: Bachelor Buttons, Shirley Poppy, Clarkia, Red Corn Poppy, Godetia (again). Clarkia and Godetia. What are they, I wonder. How do they smell? I think of a mixture of cinnamon and lemon.

Soon I realize that this is not merely a garden catalog. This is the ultimate wish book, Inspiration, the Muse, herself. Maybe I don't want a garden. Maybe I want to read about a garden and write words about a garden.

I think back to Claude Monet and remember how he spent his last years caring for his garden and pond, taking particular pains with certain flowers and plants. These were the ones that he painted almost unceasingly. I want to put flowers into words the way Monet put flowers into paint.

I begin to look up poems about flowers. I find several. One especially moves me. I read it to myself over and over. Written in the 17th century by the English poet, Thomas Campion, it's called, "There Is a Garden in Her Face."

The speaker of the poem was passionately in love with someone who may have returned his love, but didn't return his passion. The poem is his attempt to find peace by calling to mind the beauty of his loved one.

I read the poem and listen to how the poem sounds. The words make a sorrowful music, when you put them beside each other, they speak of a place where roses, cherries and white lilies grow, a place of paradise, of pearls. In this place, you can find laughter, rosebuds and love without passion. In a way, spring is such a place.

I look back at the catalog and see the "Field Notebook." It's covered with a weather-resistant canvas. Inside is glistening white paper. Sitting on the paper is a sprig of lavender. I read that this is an indispensable book to record plans and inspirations. I decide on my order, pick up my pen, and continue writing my name.

Diane Scharper teaches writing at Towson State University.

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