When I visited my grandmother’s house as a child, I
saw a small framed print hanging on the wall in her bedroom. The painting may or
may not have been famous. I never noticed the artist’s name. It was
inconsequential then. But, after all these years, my mind’s eye can still gaze
upon the scene as clearly as my child’s eyes once did.
This captivating artwork depicted an old English
cottage* surrounded by a low stone wall. It beckoned me to swing open the wooden
gate and enter its Victorian garden where summer roses, cheerful daisies, and pink
hollyhocks competed for space, spilling over the front walk. Unlike a formal
English garden with its tidy boxwood hedges, manicured lawns and neatly trimmed
walkways, this parcel was messy, crowded, and exquisitely beautiful. It looked as
if the gardener had tripped while carrying his load of seeds, accidently
spreading them in wild chaotic non-patterns.
At either end of the cottage’s thatched roof, swirls
of smoke stretched upward from solid stone chimneys to mingle with billowy
clouds. A trellis of climbing ivy surrounded the home’s sturdy wooden door, and
deep-set windows with black shutters and mullions invited me to press my nose
against the wavy panes.
Because the rear garden was not visible from my
favorite viewing spot where I nestled among Grandma’s pillows, I appointed
myself the official landscape architect of all that lay hidden behind the
cottage. Following the stone footpath around the corner and through a
vine-covered pergola, I entered the backyard where my purposefully arranged
flowerbeds bordered a curvy patch of verdant lawn. Here the trail meandered
between generous clusters of blooms, separating them according to genus and
species. Flitting butterflies, hummingbirds, and honeybees devised their own
paths, feigning ignorance of local air traffic regulations.
Willow trees reached their weeping arms over the stone
fortress just far enough to offer their gift of privacy, but not so much as to shade
the flowers from life-giving sunlight. Selected to bloom all summer and into
autumn, these beauties emitted sweet, intoxicating scents. Roses, gardenias,
jasmine, and peonies competed for first place in the contest of my olfactory sense,
but kindly kept their pollen on the canvas. Behind them at the wall’s edge, neatly
pruned shrubs of holly, laurel, and euonymus stood as sentries, guarding the vibrant
annuals and perennials.
Beside a small pond where lily pads floated and frogs performed
their nightly choruses, I positioned an ornate wrought iron table painted white.
Two matching chairs, their seats softened by thick floral cushions, completed
the grouping shaded by low-hanging branches from the only tree permitted within
the garden wall.
As a child, I made no effort to lock the painting in
my mind’s eye. I was barely conscious of its effect on me then. Yet it sparked
my imagination and still does. Even now, whenever writer’s block threatens, the
cottages’ back garden is where I set up my laptop and invite my muse to join me
for a cup of Earl Grey tea.
*I’ve attempted to find the original watercolor from which the remembered print was taken. A Google search of “old English cottages” took me to numerous websites and hundreds of images, but failed to produce the exact painting. The site https://www.zazzle.com offered the closest image, entitled “Cottage in the English Gardens Poster” produced by Koobear’s Photography & Design. It depicts a “lovely little cottage nestled among the flowers in Assiniboine Park.” This English garden is not in England, but rather in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and, for a reasonable price, one can have it reproduced on a t-shirt, notecards, calendar, necktie or just about any surface.
Cindy L. Freeman is the author of award-winning short
stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark
Room, and I Want to Go Home.
Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available through
amazon.com or hightidepublications.com.