It’s slowly creeping towards spring here in Colorado! The tulips and other early risers are starting to peep their heads out of the fairly frozen ground, and that got me thinking on how wonderful nature, and especially gardens, can be in a book. In novels such as The Secret Garden, The Swiss Family Robinson, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Language of Flowers, and Elizabeth and her German Garden, plants play a critical role in the progression of the story. Gardens are the setting for activities, they can help descriptively set a scene, or they can be a source of food for those that happen upon it or tend to it.
When beginning the process of developing your setting or creating a civilization it can be overwhelming to decide what parts of the world to add into your story. But a garden may be just the thing your story or novel needs. Close your eyes and imagine a garden, any garden. It could be a pristine, highly manicured English garden, or someone’s small vegetable patch, or even a few blossoms of color popping up in a field where someone once scattered some seeds. A garden is an instrument that plays on all five senses, a convenient tool for show and exposition. Everything in the garden you can see, smell, touch, hear, and even taste. You’ve got vibrant colors and scents, singing birds and chattering squirrels, and the sweet, yet tart, sugar from nibbling on a dandelion head, just to name a few.
Along with all of the senses that are toyed with in a garden, a garden can toy with our minds as well. Gardens can evoke memories and feelings. Have you ever caught whiff of something out in nature that took you to another place? Our olfactory sense, or sense of smell, is the one most closely linked to memory. You could use this in conjunction with a characters memory, or you could use this to take your reader to another time and place if they may be familiar with a particular type of vegetation.
Plants aren’t the only characters in the garden either, there are the many people and creatures that play critical roles in the garden. If you have a garden it needs to be a success or a failure, and that may all depend on those taking care of the garden. This could even open up a new job or task for the characters in your world. Not only is there the aspect of taking care of the garden, but there are also the people that play in a garden, visit it for its beauty, or stop by to have a picnic with mother nature.
Last, but certainly not least, a garden may be the home of medicines or ritual herbs that are used in your community. Remember, a garden is not limited to one particular thing. It can be far from the standard hedges and neatly formed beds, and the railroad tie vegetable plots. It is possible to grow anything in your imaginary garden, and the uses of plants in your story are limitless.
A garden doesn’t need to be traditional to be relatable. It’s something nearly all readers will be able to insert themselves into and understand, whether the components are real or completely imagined. Maybe the mushrooms glow, maybe there is a flower that cures all illnesses, maybe soil dwellers are crawling out of the corn field and terrorizing the village. No matter what aspect of the garden you decide to work with, nature is still nature, and it is connected everyday life. So next time you’re trying to figure out what to put in your story, possibly try connecting with your reader through a garden!
Share the books or stories that you love that are driven by gardens and nature in the comment section below! Or anything you’ve plant related that you find compelling!