Monday 16 July 2018

Fictional Gardens and Gardeners, Claire Fayers

The July heatwave has seen me at my allotment more often than usual, engaged in a battle to keep everything alive. This, naturally, has made me think of the many similarities between gardening and writing. Plenty of people have written on this topic before – the metaphor of planting seeds, tending the ground and waiting anxiously for ideas to sprout. So I thought I’d do something a little different today and talk about my favourite gardens and gardeners.

Samwise Gamgee – The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien

I like Sam. He’s quiet, kind, unassuming. So much so that he successfully eavesdrops as Gandalf tells Frodo about the rings of power, and later he sits in on the secret council meeting in Rivendell and no one notices he’s there until he starts shouting. It’s fitting that, at the end of the book, he is given the task of replanting the Shire. Gardens are often used to symbolise growth and healing and Samwise is eminently suited to bring about both.

(There are several garden-lovers in Lord of the Rings. You may remember that the warrior, Eowyn, talks about putting aside her shield and starting a herb garden - a symbol that she has become healed and whole, as if killing the Nazgul king was just a tomboy phase she needed to grow out of. I like to think that within a month of conforming to gender stereotypes she’s bored stiff and she and Faramir ride off to become freelance adventurers.)

Mary Lennox - The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

In nurturing a garden, you nurture yourself. Unloved Mary is as thorny and sour as a neglected plant, but when she discovers a hidden garden in her uncle’s manor home and decides to bring it back to life, she also finds friendship and a new family. The garden even restores the health of Mary’s cousin, Collin. I’ve found that gardening is more likely to cause a bad back than cure it, but I do find my time at the allotment quite therapeutic, especially when life is busy. I like to think that Mary and her friends set up their own garden supplies and chutney shop and lived happily ever after.

The Rose Garden – The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The Little Prince has a single rose on his tiny asteroid home and he believes her to be unique. When he arrives on Earth he visits a garden full of identical roses and he is devastated that his rose isn't special after all. But then he meets a fox who teaches him a valuable lesson about friendship. It’s the time he’s put into caring for his rose that has made her special. She is unique to him because he loves her.

The Hydra's Teeth – Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

This one was suggested by my husband, and demonstrates why I love him. Who else, when asked to suggest a fictional garden, would think of King Ae√ętes sowing the Hydra’s teeth and skeletal warriors burst from the ground? It is gardening of a kind, I suppose.

I watched this film every time it was on when I was a child, captivated by the perilous quest, the interaction of gods and heroes, and, of course, the walking skeletons, which stayed in my imagination until they strolled into my latest book.

The Night Gardener – Jonathan Auxier 

Orphans, Molly and Kip, are hoping for work and a place to stay at the Windsor manor. Instead they find a mysterious tree that can grant all your wishes, in exchange for… No, best not think about what the tree wants. Or about the mysterious gardener who roams the estate at night.

This children’s book is brilliantly creepy and features a strong pair of siblings characters, an ancient curse and a wonderful Gothic setting. There’s also a strong theme of stories saving the day.

The Lie Tree – Frances Hardinge

Creepy trees don’t get creepier than the eponymous Lie Tree in Frances Hardinge’s Costa-winning novel. You feed it with lies and its fruit shows you the truth. It might even be the original tree of the knowledge of good and evil from the book of Genesis. Or maybe it’s just a weird plant with hallucinogenic fruit. I am pleased to say I do not have any lie trees on my allotment.

It looks like the sunny weather may continue a while longer, so please do share your gardening tips and your favourite books with gardens.

Claire Fayers is the author of the Accidental Pirates series and Mirror Magic. Website Twitter @clairefayers


Abbeybufo said...

What an interesting selection! My first thought on reading the title of your piece was 'Tom's Midnight Garden' - which I had the privilege of being shown around by Phillipa Pearce herself...

Moira Butterfield said...

Not exactly a garden - but I'm currently doing an audio script for the latest Elmer picture book, and that jungle of his has to be one of the most luscious spots in the imaginary plant-world. I'm having to find ways to describe its fantastical colours and shapes to blind children, and it's a challenge! Back in the real garden world, I'm married to a professional gardener and he's tearing his hair out waiting for rain, but I can reliably confirm over many years of hastily re-organised plans that the 'summer monsoon' very often arrives around my birthday - the 27th.

Claire Fayers said...

I was torn between The Secret Garden and Tom's Midnight Garden. It must have been such a great experience to explore the real Midnight Garden with the author. I remember the BBC adaptations from when I was little - I wish they'd rerun some of those classic serials.
Moira - I am waiting desperately for the monsoon. I've been spending at least an hour a day watering the allotment. We're not allowed hoses so we have to fill cans at the water trough. Happy birthday for the 27th!