Favourite fictional gardens

Tuesday was a garden triple whammy.

I suppose the first garden is technically a roof terrace, but still… I noticed that the rain had made my beloved raspberry bush suddenly sprout masses of berries! I even gobbled one that looked particularly ripe and it was completely delicious.

And the first hint of a rose started appearing out of one of the new rosebush buds. So that was all terribly exciting.

Then the husband and I made a little trip down the road to the Geffrye Museum. It’s a lovely museum, which I have often visited for inspiration for my novel about a derelict house. Yesterday we spent a while idling in their beautiful English gardens.

This one was my favourite. We even happened to be there when aeroplanes zoomed past en route to the flyby for the Queen! That was pretty special.

Being in this cloistered walled garden made me think of The Secret Garden, one of my favourite childhood novels and I got home itching to re-read it. Typically, having hunted high and low for it, I realised it’s still languishing forgotten at my mum’s. But consolation was just around the corner.

When hunting on iPlayer for something to watch, what did I see but the film of Tom’s Midnight Garden – which happens to be my second-favourite childhood novel about a garden. What a treat! I watched it with utter glee, while the husband sat there rather uncommunicatively. He wanted to watch Patriot Games.

In honour of this gardening hat-trick, here’s another hat-trick of some great grown-up fictional gardens:

1. The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani

This brilliant novel, which I first wrote about here, centres on a wealthy Jewish family’s tennis court at the time that the new Italian racial laws meant that Jews were kicked out of the country club and so had nowhere to play tennis. The Finzi-Continis’ garden is big enough to include a tennis court, and a very nice one too, with red shale and a butler who endlessly brings out delicious picnics. Although not much description is given over to the garden itself, it is on the tennis court and in the old coach house at the other end of the garden, that the narrator falls for Micòl, the daughter of the house. It’s the perfect setting for first love and a wonderful coming-of-age story.

2. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

 The gardens at Manderley seem quite as threatening to the young Mrs de Winter as the house. The description of the drive is wonderfully ominous, with the tree branches entwined overhead, making a roof so thick that ‘even the midday sun would not penetrate’. Then there are more trees, ‘trees I could not name, coming close, so close that I could touch them with my hands’. EEEK! But the trees are nothing compared to the:

wall of colour, blood-red, reaching far above our heads. We were amongst the rhododendrons. There was something bewildering, even shocking, about the suddenness of their discovery. The woods had not prepared me for them. They startled me with their crimson faces, massed one upon the other in incredible profusion, showing no leaf, no twig, nothing but the slaughterous red, luscious and fantastic, unlike any rhododendron plant I had seen before.

Scary! There can be something alien and utterly terrifying about a profusion of flowers. I remember a couple of years ago getting completely freaked out by my pansies.

Incidentally, Virago (my publishing heroines) have just brought out this gorgeous hardback edition. How I long for it – and the rest of their lovely hardback modern classics, of which you might remember The Tortoise and The Hare from a few months ago.

3. The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley

I’m not sure a plant has ever been given so much fictional attention as deadly nightshade in The Go-Between. “Delenda est belladonna” chants Leo ominously as he uproots the deadly nightshade by the outhouses. This is a fantastic book and the deadly nightshade is utterly central to it. There is also a very tense showdown between Leo and Mrs Maudsley by the magnolia, when she catches him delivering a note that perhaps he oughtn’t …

The most exciting thing about these last two books is that I will be doing my Walking Book Club for each of them at the completely wonderful Port Eliot festival this summer. The festival takes place in the lovely grounds of a beautiful stately home, and the walks will be a perfect opportunity to natter about a couple of brilliant books and see some pretty scenery. I hope to see some of you there. You better get reading…

As for more lovely literary gardens, I would definitely plump for Lady Chatterley’s, and, of course Eden in Paradise Lost. More suggestions are, as ever, most welcome.

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2 Responses to “Favourite fictional gardens”

  1. Alex Says:

    My favourite is the Weasley’s garden at the Burrow. I have always wanted to de-gnome a garden! I was bitterly disappointed they left that scene out of the second film.

  2. FleurFisher Says:

    I caught the film of Tom’s Midnight Garden too, and my reaction was just the same. Otherwise my favourite fictional gardens come from Elizabeth Von Arnim (another Virago author) and Frances Hodgson-Burnett.

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