Friday, April 25, 2008
I like the melancholy atmosphere of derelict gardens, even waste places like abandoned rail lines, old roadways, forgotten graveyards. Next to our house on Federal Twist Road clumps of daffodils, a huge deutzia, and tangles of white wisteria make it clear this was the site of someone's house many years ago. I haven't yet found physical evidence of the house, but an old well pump, probably in the front of the house, and a pond, likely at the back, suggest where it could have been. The whole area is so overgrown with multiflora rose it's difficult to explore. Nevertheless, it's a pleasant place to spend a few moments of contemplation.
Two springs ago, on a visit to see my ailing mother and my sister in Oxford, Mississippi, I stopped by to visit William Faulkner's house, Rowanoak. The house has been restored to the genteel shabbiness appropriate to the time of his residence there. The gardens around it haven't, which I'm grateful for. But they show someone's attention to a sort of formal design long ago, with old brick paths and brick lined beds, a double row of cedars along the path to the entrance, and rather gappy formal hedges of privet. Several outbuildings, most probably dating from the 19th century, add architectural interest.
The garden probably was never brought to a state of more than middling finish, but it has a peacefulness and charm, and offers a sense of privacy and security, hard to find in our 21st century world. Let's call it a strolling garden, a contemplative garden.
It's possible to make a circuit around the house, where you see remnants of old shrub plantings - hollies, hydrangea, hostas, but with no discernible plan, a simple maze-like arrangement of waist-high privet hedges in the back, a wisteria growing on a post, dogwoods (Cornus florida), red buds (Cercis canadensis), camellias.
Off one side of the house you can walk through open clearings surrounded by woods, where Faulkner kept his horses. These small fields are mowed and make a pleasant stroll to the edge of the woods where a massive grape vine (probably muscadine) writhes like a serpent in the Laocoon.
In more open space nearer the house, the cedars have been trimmed high, leaving irregular clouds of green at the tops of narrow soaring columns, dark against the blue spring sky.