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.