“In this Month your Garden appears in its greatest Beauty.”
“The Blossoms of the Fruit-trees prognosticate the plenty of Fruits for all the succeeding Summer-Months, unless prevented by untimely Frosts, or Blights.”
With these words the seventeenth century writer of The Gardeners Monthly Directions introduces his … and it would certainly have been ‘his’ in the seventeenth century … words of wisdom for the month of April. And his lyrical enthusiasm for this month continues. “Now is the time that whets the Wits of several Nations to prove their own Country to have been the Garden of Eden, or the Terrestrial Paradise, however it appears all the year besides.” And yes, I like that wonderful caveat ‘however it appears all the year besides’ for, pleasant and enjoyable as a spring day can be in central Scotland, there are undoubtedly times when ‘pleasant’ and ‘enjoyable’ are not the first adjectives that come to mind when a north-easterly wind is driving unseasonable sleet into one’s face!
So where was the Garden of Eden? Is it, perhaps, merely mythical? Or does the term refer to a real place either in the past or in the present? The majority of British people today were probably introduced to the idea of the Garden of Eden in their childhood through the biblical Book of Genesis … the opening book of the Old Testament … where, in Chapter 2, we read: “The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” (I suspect, gentle reader, that the younger you are, the less likely you are to be familiar with these words.) No doubt in the mind of the writer of these words then; it’s a real place. And many Bible commentaries place this garden in the Middle East, somewhere near the confluence of the rivers which we call the Tigris and the Euphrates. Other biblical scholars, however, have pointed out that the great flood post-dated the creation; and that the world Noah’s ark ran aground on after the flood was a very different world to that from which Noah set sail, invalidating any attempt to locate the garden by reference to the story of creation.
Then, of course, there are parallel beliefs in a paradisiacal garden in other faiths. In Greek mythology, the Garden of Hesperides is very similar to the Christian Garden of Eden; the Persians envisaged paradise as being a magnificent sort of royal garden, a theory which is close to the Christian concept; some Jewish scholars argue that there are what we might term ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ gardens and the no mortal eye has ever seen, or ever can see, the upper garden, the true Garden of Eden; and the Koran has an account of the creation of man which is very similar to that given in the Old Testament, an account in which both Adam and Eve eat from the tree of immortality, despite having been forbidden to do so by Allah. The Garden of Eden, in short, is a sublime garden which features in many religious traditions. It is most assuredly real in the minds of countless millions of people, both past and present. But it seems to be just that - a belief, which will forever defy attempts to locate it in any earthly site.
The American author, Ernest Hemingway, spent 15 years working on the manuscript of his novel The Garden of Eden. Never completed, it remained unpublished for many years after his death and was, controversially, heavily edited before appearing in print. The Garden of Eden is the complex story of the relationship between man and woman and has no horticultural references to explain the title. Perhaps, as in this novel and as in many faiths, the Garden of Eden is actually a backdrop, a stage-set, the entirely perfect conceptual setting for an entirely perfect relationship which is beyond human comprehension.