Last week, when I woke up in my hotel in New York City, I discovered much to my delight that, on the rooftop of the residential building just across the street—and this was 43rd and 8th, mind you, a stone’s throw from Times Square—there was a terrace with bits of a garden.
The photo above doesn’t do it justice—there was a section out of sight to the right with more properly gardeny tangley greenery, but of course I didn’t think to take photos of that. I was too busy standing there happily looking out, drinking my coffee, and watching the gardener at work in the mornings.
But it made me think of how we humans always seem to strive to carve out little bits of beauty where we can, in the least likely places.
When I travelled to St. Petersburg in northern Russia several years ago, for research, I was struck by something similar while standing in the inner courtyard of one of the tenement-like apartment complexes, well off the beaten tourist path. Because even there, people had set out planters, and hung flower boxes from their windows, making space for little bits of beauty.
“Gardening is an exercise in optimism. Sometimes, it is a triumph of hope over experience,” wrote the photographer Marina Schinz. “This hope for the future is at the heart of all gardening.”
Maybe that’s why I’ve always loved giving my characters gardens to walk through and work in.
Do you have a fictional garden—or real one—you love? Or a gardening character who warms your heart? What is your bit of beautiful?