The garden in your head


‘Everyone has a garden in their head’.  This was the secret a friend, whose party trick was hypnotizing people, told me years ago.  One day, in expansive mood, revealing his Machiavellian ways, he let slip that to relax their subjects a common device used by hypnotists is to ask them to close their eyes and imagine themselves in their favourite garden.  For most people it will usually be a real garden from their childhood.  Real or imaginary, however, once identified, it will always be the same.  This fact, he said, was indispensable to hypnotists, who need to make their subject feel secure, contented, fulfilled, calm and relaxed—in short, highly susceptible to whatever humiliating routines he had planned for them.  ‘Just get them into the garden’ he crowed.  ‘And you’ve got’em’. 

‘What if they don’t have a favourite garden?’

‘Everyone has a favourite garden.’

The idea fascinated me.  The genius of it was its individuality.  The moment he said it, I knew I had just such a place.  It was the garden of the house my grandmother owned; a Cotswold farmhouse with a big lawn with a stream running across it, a great Irish yew and a white flowering cherry.

The house was sold when I was five, but, before leaving, Granny had a painting done, immortalising it in the watery spring sunshine.  And there, in my mind (I now discovered) I've been ever since, sprawled on the lawn between the yew and the cherry.


When I started making our mountain garden, I was haunted by this garden in my head.  Why was it so special?  It wasn't that I was desperate to have it back, or even to recreate it. 

Having pestered endless people over the years about the gardens in their heads, the words that keep coming up, again and again, are “safe” and “relaxed”.  

Is this what gardens are really about?  The shrinks certainly think so.  The psychological impulse, they say, behind the human longing for paradise (a central part of almost every religion) is the yearning to regain the stage of preconscious infancy (the so-called “paradisial” stage) when our every physical and psychological need is met by our mothers. Eden before the Fall, some might say.
The garden in my head, it gradually dawned, was nothing less than paradise - my own personal garden of innocence, buffed and bubble-wrapped by rose-tinted memory, anchored in time, all unpleasantness, thorns, midges, greenfly, etc, ruthlessly excluded.
A place where the sun always shone, the cherry was always in flower and fate hadn’t yet had the chance to meddle with my plans.  
No real garden, alas, can ever deliver at this level.  Still, the garden in your head is a pleasant place to potter in spare moments.