Thursday, June 16, 2011

Walled Gardens and Secret Spaces ~ Random Memory #26 ~ Iran


A fragrant branch overhanging the enclosed garden wall outside our room in Guerneville, California.


My mother gave me a copy of Francis Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden one summer in Maine, a very long time ago. It was the beginning of a lifelong fascination of hidden spaces and walled gardens. I loved them because they seemed simultaneously safe and mysterious. Burnett's writing had a powerful effect on my childhood imagination...

It was the sweetest, most mysterious-looking place any one could imagine. The high walls which shut it in were covered with leafless stems of climbing roses which were so thick that they were matted together.

She goes on to describe little Mary Lennox's discovery.

All the ground was covered with grass of a wintry brown and out of it grew clumps of bushes which were surely rosebushes if they were alive.


She walked under one of the fairy-like gray arches between the trees and looked up at the sprays and tendrils which formed them.

And with this, I was forever enthralled.


Everything was strange and silent and she seemed to be hundreds of miles away from any one, but somehow she did not feel lonely at all.


A walled garden seemed so exotic all those years ago. I had the expanse of my grandmother's magnificent garden in Maine. She had a rainbow palette of perennial blossoms, an asparagus patch with tall feathery fronds that gently waved over my head and marvelous outcroppings of rocks that were responsible for many a skinned knee. Across the road, were chokecherries, a cherry orchard and an old hen house, barely standing, with a forest of wasp nests inside. I ran through meadows of wildflowers and searched for indian pipes in dim mossy woods. I cherish those bright memories and, after awhile, the wish for a walled garden faded until I found one of my own in Iran.

Random Memory #26 ~ Iran

We settled on a two story house with a porch and balcony overlooking rows of rose bushes and a swimming pool planted exactly in the center of the walled garden. It wasn't even close to Mary Lennox's hidden bower. The swimming pool which had appeared so sparkling and inviting when we saw the house with an estate agent, was later found to lack a water filtration system. Our landlord had, apparently, emptied and refilled the pool every three or four days. The water had turned to a slick slimy green by the time our shipment arrived, so we drained the water and gazed out at the large empty rectangle for the rest of our stay until we moved into another house much later.

Access was through a locked, sturdy metal door. Visitors rang a buzzer and announced themselves on the inter-com. It was surprising how that small enclosed space shut out noise, smells and the vitality (chaos) of Tehran. Stepping inside to the roses and empty pool was so welcome after a day in perilous traffic and haggling in the markets. After a time, the garden became a safe haven, shutting out the increasing demonstrations that were a prelude to the Iranian revolution.

The news from Iran worsened all throughout our summer in America. Peter left early and I flew back with the children just as martial law was announced. Our plane was late and we were warned we might have to stay in the airport until morning if we could not reach our destination in Tehran before curfew. Our driver, Arshok, appeared just as I was contemplating how to make two exhausted children comfortable for a long night on the floor. That dear, grandfatherly man leaned on his horn, sliced through traffic and wove his way through a maze of tiny streets until we finally pulled up in front of the familiar metal door. We stepped through to masses of roses, Goli and a tray with three glasses of tea on the porch.


  1. Hello Carol:
    There is, as you describe in this post, something totally magical about an enclosed, walled garden and it is something, looking back over the years, we should have much liked to have had. It is a long time since we read 'The Secret Garden' - we should go back to it.

    You must now recall your time in Iran with very mixed feelings.

  2. You're right about the draw of enclosed spaces, whether walled gardens or cloisters. I think my ideal would be a walled garden with the sound of water and fragrant both day and night. I have never read The Secret Garden and I think it high time I did.

    P.S. the Celt's uncle and aunt had to leave Iran when the Shah's reign ended.

  3. What a sense-filled memory. And what is paradise, but a walled garden? And how lovely to have had a mother hand you this book of books, to show you the way. And then there's the musical of The Secret Garden weaving together the delightful sounds of life. It's in the mid 90s here after two days of rain. So humid that the call of the garden is being drowned out by the sound of the air conditioner! Hope Cooper is all tucked up for summer.

  4. I think we all dream of a magical, green space to call our own. A place to escape.

  5. Hello Jane & Lance ~ If you'd had a walled garden, you would have put your very special stamp in it. I do have mixed feeling about Iran today, just as I did when I lived there. Still love it dearly.

    Blue ~ You have just described the classic Persian garden! We were in Iran at the same time as the Celt's aunt and uncle...perhaps we met.

    home before dark ~ I still love that book with its promise of health regained and new life. Tried to enthuse my grandchildren, but I think they thought it old-fashioned.

    We have moved into the cottage and, so far, the days have been unseasonably cool and overcast. Cooper, however, is a transformed dog! So many new scents and a gazillion chipmunks to terrify. He wakes up and wants to get right to work!

    Dearest Janet ~ With much effort and planning, you have created your own magical green space.


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