My most spectacular garden is the one I’m constantly creating and re-creating in my head. Where budget, space, and lack of time limit real gardens, these constraints vanish in my ever-evolving fantasy garden. The crowning feature of this fantasy garden is the artist’s retreat: a small architectural jewel mostly swallowed by jasmine vines, climbing roses, and pomegranates. As the sites for my fantasy garden vary—sometimes a small urban courtyard, other times a river valley in the Blue Ridge, or sometimes a high elevation conifer forest—the one constant in every garden is this retreat.
[Mark Twain in his writer's study at Quarry Farm, photo from Elmira College]
Often during quiet moments, I ruminate on the pleasure of inhabiting a small garden shed or retreat draped in vegetation. Mark Twain’s writer’s study is one of the more delicious structures I've ever seen. Built as a gift to Twain by his brother-in-law, the small octagonal structure used to overlook the Chemung River Valley. Twain wrote much of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in this study.
[A view inside Twain's study; photo courtesy of Mike Paul]
“It is the loveliest study you ever saw," Twain wrote his friend William Dean Howells in 1874, "Octagonal with a peaked roof, each face filled with a spacious window...perched in complete isolation on the top of an elevation that commands leagues of valley and city and retreating ranges of distant blue hills. It is a cozy nest and just room in it for a sofa, table, and three or four chairs, and when the storms sweep down the remote valley and the lighting flashes behind the hills beyond and the rain beats upon the roof over my head—imagine the luxury of it."
[Image on left is Landscape with Draughtsman Sketching Ruins by Claude Lorrain, 1630]
One of my favorite blogs celebrates the lasting image of ruins. Romantic Ruins: The Sweet Lure of Decay, Death, and Destruction is dedicated to the continuing power that the image of romantic ruins holds in the contemporary imagination. The blog is written under the mysterious moniker I.N. Vain, and cleverly shows how ruins still influence fashion shoots, movies, and advertising.
[A former storage shed is transformed into an art studio. John Sutton Photography]