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My green haven

Updated on January 26, 2016
The Orangerie in the Gardens of Versailles with the Pièce d’Eau des Suisses in the background (French formal garden)
The Orangerie in the Gardens of Versailles with the Pièce d’Eau des Suisses in the background (French formal garden)

If I could name one place that I would want to be for all time, it would be Sterling Gardens in upstate New York. I used to go there in the late sixties, as a short hop from my school address. At that time, parts of the Gardens were still being developed; I can just imagine what they are like now.

Sterling Gardens is broken into many different kinds of gardens – English, perennial, wildflower, cutting (bulbs), formal, and so on. It takes days to walk through since these are not tiny little examples, but rather the size of the 'back yard’ of a mansion. Wild birds can (and do) move into habitats they like, including flamingos and peacocks.

Now, fifty years later, I imagine what the gardens would be like.

The Chinese garden would let me wander a meandering path banked by rocks, trees and flowers. Each step would be a lesson in life. Pines, bamboo, and the Chinese plum, the Three Friends of Winter” , would be scattered evenly throughout for the colder months. The pine represents longevity and tenacity; the bamboo is a wise man; and the plum symbolizes rebirth. Interspersed among these would be other fruit trees – the peach tree, symbolizing longevity and immortality; pear trees, symbolizing justice and wisdom; wily apricot trees; willow trees bringing friendship; and pomegranate trees for the newlyweds. A quiet stream would wander throughout the garden, ending in a small and rocky waterfall where one could sit on a bench or under an arbor and contemplate life. Everywhere there would be flowers, especially orchids (nobility and impossible love), peonies (opulence) and lotus (search for knowledge). Everywhere I look, it will seem as if these all grew here naturally, rather than being tended and landscaped.

The Dutch garden would be jam-packed with plants, especially, of course blankets of tulips, each in a different color. The garden would be walled by a low, well-trimmed hedge, and the plantings would follow geometric and symmetrical shapes. The flowers populating the shapes would be tulips, anemones, Calla lilies, narcissus, roses, snowdrops and crocuses. I could walk around the shapes over a low lawn.

The English garden would be less formal than the Dutch. There would be a lake and sweeping lawns, with groves of trees. The occasional statue or mini Greek pavilion would be surrounded by flowers such as primrose, calendula, roses, daisies, violets, and even patches of herbs. There would be a rose arbor covering an ornate cast iron settee. Ivy would climb all over the statuary.

The French formal garden would be patterns of shrubs and trees around a round pool with a sprouting fountain in the center. There would be grootos, labyrinths and mythological statuary upon which I could feast my eyes. For my pleasure in the summer, the patterns would be filled with flowers, with only paths to walk around.

The Persian garden would bring up thoughts of the Taj Mahal and the Babylonian hanging gardens. Lots of fountains, levels, and landscaping. The flowers would not be as prim as the Dutch garden, but rather a profusion of shady trees and flowers that survive on little water. Sitting in a pavilion, I could enjoy the celebration of the sun.

Lastly, I would have a natural forest of the flora of the area around Sterling, which is so lovely as it grows. I would make one exception by making a clearing and planting there a butterfly garden ringed with sand to catch pooling rain water. I would have flowers that attract and nourish butterflies and moths there – purple and yellow cone flowers, sunflowers, marigolds, poppies, cosmos, salvias, daisies, verbena, milkweed (a favorite of the monarch butterfly), asters, lilies, coreopsis, zinnias, pentas, and of course the butterfly bush.

With all these realms in which to wander, I could soothe any mood and enjoy any season, even the starkness of winter.

© 2016 Bonnie-Jean Rohner


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      Mary Norton 23 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      I can relate to what you desire. We are lucky to have our cottage so in the summer I get closer to this haven.