The Geffrye Museum, once an almshouse, showcases the changing interior of a “middle-class” home from 1600 to the late Victorian era. You walk from room to room (a series of dining and living room/parlors) to notice how the function and decoration changes with time. At one point, you encounter a garden room, a long space along the “back” of the house with windows and a mural painted on the interior wall. From here you can view the gardens.
In keeping with the changes in interior living over the centuries, the Geffrye has laid out a series of gardens to match.
Again, another garden to visit in the spring/summer when it’s new and living within its borders!
The Geffrye gardens have identifying markers to describe the plants used for each era: Elizabethan, Mid-late Georgian, Mid-late Victorian, etc. There are plants and herbs for dyes, medicines, food and salads, cosmetics, and the household (often aromatic), and from one garden to the next the plants are often the same, indicating the tradition of handing down “receipts” from one generation to the next as well as the dependence the people of the past had on their gardens before food and medicine production became outsourced, as it were.
The museum directs visitors to walk the exhibits inside in chronological order; the same is done outside, with paths that work–as paths tend to do–to keep you off of the grass and moving in an orderly fashion from one garden to the next. But because of the layout and the lack of walls, I could look up and down the garden and see the “past” and the “future.”
And that brings me back to borders. A garden is only a garden because we keep it inside borders that we set, but the plants will always grow beyond those artificial restraints. They’ll grow up and over and remind us that our image of a perfect garden is something frozen in time. From one year to the next–from one week to the next–the garden is not the same, but it is always a garden and always in the same place. And that has me imagining the garden in my novel as made of layers, each “garden” (from 1600 to 1750 to 1880 to 1915 to 1950) existing simultaneously. Unlike at the Geffrye where the gardens are laid out along a path from one end of the space to the other, in the novel the place border keeps the gardens together through time, one on top of the other.