"Look at the beautiful Nymphaea flowers!”
I gathered my students in humanities to see the rare sight, red, white, yellow, purple flowers rising out of the clear pond meeting the early sun, and peeping through the blades of cattails. The scene was perfect for photography.
However, when a guest photographer showed me her own version of the Nymphaea flowers, I realized there was something my students and I had not seen. Like poetry, her Nymphaea was telling us a message behind words. The flowers were peeping through the cattails (Typha). As we examined her photographs, we seemed to be seeing "flowers behind bars." It brought a sense of nostalgia definitely romantic, classic. I was reminded of a secret garden.
To many people the secret garden is the least trodden place. High walls surround it; the door is locked, and the key has long been forgotten.
It is The Secret Garden of novelist Frances Hodgson Burnett, who tells her readers that many of us know of a place which was once beautiful, but which we have turned our back against, fearing to visit it, much less to tear down the vines and weeds that have now covered it. We hesitate to make that garden beautiful again.
Some of us live unhappy lives because we fear to go into this secret garden again. Even the chirping of a bird that comes from across its walls brings sad memories instead of joy, and we do not even know that spring had come and gone.
But there are those, Burnett tells us, who take courage to unlock the gate to the forgotten garden and find in there something more, much more, than the beauty they had lost. Here they find new hope, peace, and quiet. They even discover a new person in themselves. They find time to reflect on the growth of buds on the leafless narra (Pterocarpus indicus L), which make for the tree a new canopy, even when the weeds and grasses around it have turned brown in summer. There are those who rejoice with the sudden bloom of chrysanthemum and cosmos as soon as the rains come, filling the ground with colors the same way cherry blossoms color the sky come spring. These people are not afraid of the thorns under the bright petals of the rose.
Mary, the principal character of The Secret Garden, woke up one morning to find the streaming light coming through the window. “Look at the garden!” She cried.
The rain and the warmth had made the new shoots push up through the earth. There were fresh clump of trees and purple, red, white, and blue flowers all around. She was breathless with happiness. A robin was building a nest. She called her friends, among them a lame boy who soon began to walk. The secret garden became very beautiful again. Since then its gate was always kept open for anyone who wished to enter.
A garden in a park or school, or a home garden, for that matter, can be this kind of garden - open to the inquisitive mind, the seeking heart, the longing spirit. It is a place of peace and quiet. It could be the opposite. The garden is a place for biological and social research. Here the seasons of the year are best observed in plants. They form ecosystems, which are basic to the relationships of living things, including those among people. One finds humility in plants; but there are plants that appear to be proud, as there are those that exude benevolence; there are plants that are parasitic. There are dominant species, there those that are frail and often dependent on bigger and stronger ones. Here we see a single tree the abode of countless organisms. We discover a mother bird in her nest. A colony of bees hang on a branch, cicada chirping, crickets fiddling. Beneath our feet are burrows of earthworms, tunnels of termites, a carpet of mosses, a bed of liverworts. Never is a garden truly idle, nothing is waste, and time is never prodding yet never dull.
Nature keeps a dynamic order; it is in diversity that there is unity. We may not fully understand this mysterious order of our world, and perhaps it is better not to probe it at all - for it is our deep faith in the maker of that garden that we are earns our place there to live in harmony with all creatures.