Locus amoenus

Echinops retro-photograph by David Elliott
Echinops retro-photograph by David Elliott


The novel The Insistent Garden began with thoughts of a garden. My two decades working as a landscape architect–and I hardly knew it at the start–fed the writing of it. The original aim of the book was to explore themes of human territoriality, repression and boundaries but the narrative took on a life of its own and although these themes remain it eventually focused on the power and meaning of garden-making. The garden has been viewed in many ways throughout history, in Eden the setting for original sin, at Vaux-de-Vicomtes as a display of power, and at Sissinghurst, as an exquisite essay in colour, but I was most interested in the notion of locus amoenus- the garden as an idealized place of safety and comfort. But a garden is never static and I was intrigued with how I might also draw on its dynamic qualities. The garden could be a character in a story. The growing garden could drive a plot.

I lay low, merging into the background as tempers frayed, only entering the kitchen when it was empty. Only then could I sit at the table and listen to nothing but the ticking of the clock, moving time forward. For me.

Finally, in the last week of the month, a translucent quality to the air suggested that the earth was tilting onto a new axis. Fresh aromas began to seep up from the soil, clinging to the clothes flapping helplessly on the washing line, carried into the house in the bottom of the laundry basket and rising up from my pillow as I laid my head down at night. Light levels shifted imperceptibly and one day in early February the sun came out. I stood at the kitchen window marveling at how I could see right to the back of the garden. But the garden was different. Something lay on the ground. Something purple.

The Insistent Garden.


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