‘Thoreau says it is necessary to see objects by moonlight as well as by sunlight to get a complete notion of them.’
Last night I toured my new garden space by the glow of the full moon. It was rising above the treeline, in all pale magnificence, and I hoped to absorb a bit of the silvered light that filtered down and transformed my ferns into fairy wands.
The lack of success in a fabulous tonal mood capture you can blame on my feeble photography skills, my iphone capacity, or the fact that the sweetly deafening symphony of the crickets disarmed my best intentions. (Have you ever tried to track down where crickets are chirping from? They are masters of ventriloquism!)
Gertrude Jekyll (1908) and Vita Sackville-West (writing in 1950) both popularized the idea of a ‘moon-garden’, or an all white and gray garden that would glow with luminosity by the light of the moon. And Beverley Nichols wrote in his Garden Open Tomorrow (1968):
“It has taken me over thirty years of tireless experiment to discover the glory of grey in the garden, to reach the stage where I can write that it now seems to me as important as any of the colours on the gardener’s palette, and maybe even more important.’
Yet no one wrote more compellingly about this subject than Louise Beebe Wilder.
In 1918 Wilder published what was to become her most popular gardening book, Color In My Garden. Her chapter entitled White Flowers in the Night Garden, is a masterpiece of evocative prose. In just a few well-crafted paragraphs, Wilder infuses about as much drama into a night-time walk in the garden as it is possible to have.
Re-reading this chapter, with the moon in mind, made me want to drop everything, rush out and begin to plant my night garden.
‘We are conscious of a powerful reserve in the graven beauty of the night garden. It gives us little, drawing into itself while yet it presses upon us with a curious impersonal insistence. Its stillness is more exciting than sound, and every small happening seems fraught with significance; the silent flitting of a moth, the delicate rush of a capricious breeze fixes all our attention.’
When Louise Beebe Wilder wrote of this garden, she was dreaming of the future. Her night garden had not yet been planted. Yet, as a seasoned gardener (and lover of color) she had spent many hours enjoying her garden by moonlight, and thus her comments have the note of authority.
‘And while we stand, held by the imperturbable personality of the night, the moon slips from her garment of clouds…lovely forms develop out of gloom and stand forth in ‘silvered symmetry’.
All of this reminds me of Antinous. Let us step over for a moment to the giddily enthusiastic, slightly snarky, and utterly charming world of Beverley Nichols. If you have met him via his gardening books, then you have met Antinous.
‘Antinous is the only statue in my garden. Even if I wanted more statues, I should never be able to have them, because Antinous is so beautiful that he would put all the other statues to shame. They would fold their grey marble arms over their faces, and drift away, to hide in the woods.
My Antinous, I feel, is of a different class. He is very beautiful, in himself. He once stood in the garden of an old house in Bedford Square. He was covered with grime and his limbs seemed stained eternally. I saw him first after lunch on a grey day of February.
Was it joy or sorrow that I was to read in those silvered features?…But always he kept his secret — he remained a white and lovely enigma against the fathomless curtains of the night.’
Of course not all of us can have a cool marble statue that stands, luminous and otherworldly, in our small urban gardens. But we can plant white pools of flowers, if we have a bit of space, and give the moon a chance to exert its transforming power.
Or, as Louise puts it: ‘to release us from the stricture of the dark.’
Reading Beverley Nichols, and his fixation with his garden statuary, gave me pause. Although thoroughly enjoyable to read about, I really wonder if it is true, as he claims (in A Thatched Roof) that he single-handedly was responsible for the expensive introduction of electrical power to the tiny hamlet of Allways. And all because he wanted a light to shine perpetually on Antinous. True? Does anyone know?
I have been a bit fascinated with garden statues, myself… or at least photograph them a great deal… see yesterday’s post here.