Mrs. Caillebotte clips roses at their garden.
A dream cottage garden in England.
Chekhov’s garden, Yalta.
The Custom Officer’s Cabin, by Monet.
Caillebotte’s villas in Trouville.
Yali (summer house) on the Bosphorus. Architectural Digest photo.
Lawrence Rizkowsky Malibu, California Home. Photo from House Beautiful.
Carl Larsen’s home.
“Some houses are made of timber and stone. Some houses are made of words. Mine is made of bits and pieces of dreams.” Luna Melull, Whip of Fire
In my novel, A Pocketful of Rubies, I gave the main character, private eye Luna Melull, a Queen Anne house on a quiet tree lined street. I also gave her a fragrance garden where some of my favorite plants grow–heirloom roses, lilacs, delphiniums, trumpet lilies, sweet williams and jasmine. I would have given a view of the sea, had she lived somewhere other than the village of Heavenly Hollow, West Virginia. Instead, I let her borrow the creek that runs behind my house and my own view of the Potomac river. That view is more like a glimpse once the trees in the woods that separate my half acre from the property of a rich lawyer leaf out. In autumn, winter
and early spring , I have visual access to a more satisfying panorama, especially from my study, on the second floor. Luna does her river gazing from a belvedere I covet almost as much as I covet the kiosk in Gustave Caillebotte’s family summer home property in Yerres. Someday I might take Luna to one of the Ottoman yalis (summer home) Orhan Pamuk mentions in his Istanbul memoirs.
Water is an essential element in the landscape where I build the house of my dreams. I would like to walk into one of Caillebotte’s painting of villas at Trouville as much as I would like to settle into Monet’s painting of the custom’s office cabin in Pourville. Neither of these places seems to have a garden though a greenhouse is visible between the villas. That is for the best. I can build for either gardens of the mind, borrowing from Chekhov’s home in the Crimea and Renoir’s in Cagne.
My all too real and much beloved log house is nearly engulfed by a wilderness of volunteer cedars, the dratted tree of heaven that pops up everywhere and that must be pulled up before it can kill its cultivated neighbors with poisonous exudations. Brambles that yield bitter blackberries spring up amid roses and peonies, poison ivy makes itself at home where there should have been a Whiteflower Farm abundance of daylilies, inkberries grow enormously tall between the little clump of gooseberries and the quince tree. Gardening at this house, variously called Traveller’s Joy, Dove House and Roseiral, is a fierce battle. On one hand, I must think of the birds, turtles, and butterfly that share my exiguous lot; on another, I dislike intensely the uncouth inkberries sidling up to my supremely elegant Sombreuil roses. Dream gardens allow me to compromise. What are gardens, after all but ever evolving dreams? For all their apparent solidity, so are houses.