“How can you bear to leave your Japanese garden?”

Friends asked us that over and over when we were leaving Roslyn.  Fair question.

We’d begun the garden years before, inspired by my toddler memories of drifts of cherry blossoms.

For over 18 years we’d watched the garden unfold as it grew, section by section, as our dreams elaborated, and as we could afford. Finally it encircled the entire house, and was finished off by a wonderful stone lantern.

And that’s how we could bear to leave our Japanese garden: there was nothing left to do. It was complete.


In mid-November, when we’re bought our Berkshires condo, there was only bare brown earth and sticks of shrubs. In March the ardent Swiss owner-gardener took me on a tour of the bare beds:  “There are jonquils, lots of jonquils!” We’d never had any daffodils in our Japanese garden, because it was austerely authentic.

Azaleas and rhododendrons, yes, because they flourish in Japan also. But for a truly Japanese garden, it was necessary to leave out many things, among them the old-fashioned flowers I’d loved as a child: pansies, geraniums, daffodils, zinnias, lilacs.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved our garden. It’s just that one never has everything; there are always choices to be made.


It took a while, but at last I discovered that the color of

spring in the Berkshires is lilac, lilac, lilac. They’re everywhere.

In the door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac bush, tall-growing, with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom, rising, delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle.

There are still a few lilacs on Long Island, but old farm-houses have become scarce since Walt Whitman’s day and lilacs scarce along with them. And, of course, they Would Not Do in a Japanese garden. Not at all.

The promised jonquils were finished by the time we finally moved in. But in our own dooryard were blooming two tall lilac bushes, splendid, spiked extravaganzas of delicate scented florets, and, as the poet said, every leaf a miracle.


There were lilacs everywhere in the Berkshires! On the most mundane errand I’d be overwhelmed with their profusion: billows, waves, veritable oceans of lilacs.  Having relinquished one garden, I have received in return whole roadsides of gardens.

So I have had lilacs to my heart’s content, and will have them again next spring, and a hanging basket of bright red geranium and another of lilac-colored petunias. I gave up a tradition, and have received — freedom.


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8 Responses to LILACS

  1. pauline says:

    I read this at the beginning of autumn when the roadsides are orange and scarlet and buff and faded green and remember happily that spring will come again. Your description is so vivid and concentrated – just like the perfume of the lilac.

  2. Touch2Touch says:

    Pauline, your comment is more vivid still! Especially because the reds of the maple are so fiery this year, they’ve driven away my remembrance of the paler lilacs. It’s good to be reminded that they will come again —

  3. Betsy says:

    I read this and I become nostalgic for the large garden of perennials that I left in Connecticut when we moved to Arizona. I had never been fond of desert foliage and was somewhat reluctant to leave the greenery of the Northeast; especially reluctant to leave the pergola in our lower garden with the 30 rose bushes that were simply beautiful in full bloom. (I do, however, have panoramic photos from our last year in Canton.) We have been living in the Southwest for eight years now and I have come to appreciate the desert, the vastness of the blue skies, and the wonder of the high desert plain, surrounded by four mountain ranges, that are visible as soon as I walk out the door. Everything is green: not the deep lush green of Connecticut, but a more subtle olive toned green; almost a khaki color interspersed with the brown colors of the earth. Beautiful in its own way. And springtime brings the rich yellow blossoms on the Palo Verde trees, the feathery russet blossoms of the Ocotillo and the exotic blooms on the top of the Saguaros. A different view of nature in a different part of the country…. each with a beauty of its own. I may miss New England’s spring and fall, but every winter I am thankful that we are living here!

  4. Stef says:

    “I gave up a tradition, and have received — freedom.” I adore this closing line of yours. Yes, choices are often to be made; but isn’t it terrific when we find that some choices are actually liberating? Fantastic. 🙂

  5. Joss says:

    I wandered here from Smile, kiddo. Reading this post, I could smell the lilacs as you were describing them. What a treat that was after four weeks of nothing but grey skies and rain here. My lilacs will bloom in another two or three weeks and I will enjoy their scent as ever.
    walk in beauty.

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