Only that which does not teach, which does not cry out, which does not persuade,which does not condescend, which does not explain, is irresistible.
There are gardens you have to stumble upon. There have been two in my experience that ‘catch the heart off guard and blow it open.’3 One is the Rodin Sculpture Garden in Paris which I came upon unaware, as I turned a corner into a street unknown to me. The other was the Shekina Sculpture Garden in Glenmalure, Co Wicklow, Ireland. This latter I visited in August. The trees were heavy – laden and an unusually bright sun for the time of year picked out dragonflies on a crimson lily pond. Near perfect salmon pink roses scattered petals like butterflies on newly mown grass. The garden nestled into uninhabited Wicklow countryside, a polished stone on a craggy rock. Half its beauty was the wild surrounding claw that clutched it. The mountainside encroached as an animal waiting to pounce. I could imagine it, a hundred years from now, swamped by jungle and offering the visitor some tiny sculpted landmarks as signs of former domestication. And it wouldn’t really matter because the site had once been branded in such a way that forever it would hold a sculpted shape. Jacob made a monument out of the stones he used as pillows, in the place beyond the ford of Jabbock where he wrestled with the angel. Years of struggle and uphill maintenancein this u-shaped glacial valley of the Wicklow Mountains would survive any ravages of time. Once the meteor has landed its traces remain.
It is not by accident that both these gardens where I felt this presence were sculpture gardens. It was as if both God and nature were working towards one another, tunnelling through a mountain from either end. It is the art of incarnation: the meeting – point between the human and the divine in co-operation. Nature becomes the element through which transubstantiation occurs. Ordinariness is shaped into forms that capture some immensity, as shells on the seashore echo the ocean if placed accurately against the ear. Accidents arrange experiences unique to every passing moment: a robin squatting imperiously on a circle of Dublin granite, poised on a square of the same material, provides a living circumflex to a half – buried key letter.
All the senses are engaged. Eyes travel across mostly green shapes and shades, soothed by running streams, songs of birds, and the improvised tinkling of gently ruffled chimes. Delicate scents waft upwards, honeysuckle, rose petal, frehly cut grass, sicut incensum. The body glides through tactile surfaces, grass under foot, granite curlicues and elongated root – spills of bog yew, to a thick black rounded lozenge of Kilkenny limestone snapped in two releasing a dream world inside. I sit on the hyphen between two worlds.
The most direct and tangible meeting happened as I stood at the entrance to the gazebo. Three green chairs were facing me and three bright red geraniums corresponded geometrically with each seat. I was invited, as if entering their tabernacle, by these three chairs, to make up the fourth dimension they seemed to have been waiting for. We swayed together for several seconds in double – world vision.
Such a garden is an opening into another world, always present though seldom recognised, parallel to the one we take for granted. Those visiting should be allowed latitude and freedom to make their own connections. I would be disappointed by attempts to guide and direct me, even tell me what I should be experiencing. This garden is like an ancient pot with holes in it which has sunk to the bottom of the sea. Fish should 3 swim in and out of it at random without any attempt to direct traffic. Each person has their own particular point of entry which the overall assemblage provides in abundance.
A garden is a lovesome thing,
Ferned grot, –
The veriest school
Of peace; and yet the fool
Contends that God is not –
Not God! In gardens! when the eve is cool?
Nay, but I have a sign;
‘Tis very sure God walks in mine.
Mark Patrick Hederman
1 Poem by William Blake
2 W.B.Yeats,Essays and Introductions, London, MacMillan, 1961, p 341.
3 ‘Postscript’ from Sprit Level by Seamus Heaney
4 ‘My Garden’ by T.E. Brown.