My Magical Garden

Delta Winds cover 2009Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


My Magical Garden

Heather James

I live in Mokelumne Hill, a town that has not been touched by time much. We are nestled in the foothills along the banks of the Mokelumne River. The town sits just off Highway 49 and is scattered with an array of older homes. I live in the center of town, up on a hill, with wonderful views. I would like to invite you in to my most favorite place on earth, my magical garden. Come up the ramp at 8225 Marlette Street and enter through the picketed gate, the one with seven pickets standing tall, one a little small; all are painted white to match their adorning arbor. You'll notice the aroma of jasmine as you pass under her cover. She will delight your senses with sweetness, but only briefly; she's quiet. Now come along, we have lots to see.

As we enter the garden let's look to the right; rose of Sharon lives here. Her white "silk paper" flowers have long since fallen off; she sleeps in wait for warmer days. Her neighbors are camellia and rhododendron; they have just begun to wake up from winter's rest. Camellia's dark green, waxy leaves are a beautiful contrast against the pale yellow house. Wait, I see fuchsia peeking out from her swollen buds. It won't be long; she'll soon put on a marvelous show. Follow me now to the herb garden, where many herbs once grew. Lavender and rosemary never rest. They are the only ones left now. As you can see, the earth has been turned up around them; it's soft and damp, ready for spring's seeds. I can smell the earthworms and decaying leaves. Break a sprig off of rosemary and rub her bristles roughly between your fingers; do you smell it? So pungent is the aroma of this herb, slightly sweet with a touch of mint. I think I'll take some with me for the dinner I will prepare later, roast chicken.

Would you like some clippings of lavender? I have three varieties. The plants with the large, deep purple flowers are traditional. The ones with smaller light lavender or white flowers are heirlooms. They all have tiny sage green leaves. Put some under your pillow tonight and you will rest peacefully, though be wary of your husband's pillow; it may make him frisky.

Let's follow the mossy brick path around to the top of the garden. Be careful: The worn golden bricks get slick on the incline. There is a small cove above the vegetable garden, surrounded by English ivy, where we can pause on an old bench. Let's first marvel at the views from here across the rooftops of town. We can see the peak of Butte Mountain from across the river. The Catholic church's steeple, pure white, pokes its way through the kiwi-green landscape. There is the Hotel Leger; it has stood on Main Street since 1851, and comes with loads of haunting lore. On a clear night you can see the lights of the town of Jackson, from eight miles across the river. I feel as though I am at the top of the world when I stand here looking out across the landscape.

I want us to sit here for a while on this old rickety bench, worn grey from the elements; it's cold and damp. Close your eyes with me and take in the sounds around us. I hear the steady hum of the clothes dryer from the old red schoolhouse next door. The jays are having a squabble in the barren lilac tree. Their noisy squawks drown out the other birds that are trying to sing. Be quiet, jays! Hmm, maybe the calico garden cat will chase them away. Oh, there is a familiar song: the robin with his regal red breast has called to his friends across the garden. Robin's song is the sound of spring to my ears.

Let's move on. There is still more to see. Old rock walls set down one hundred years ago still line the flowerbeds offering many places to hide for sneaky garden creatures. If you watch carefully, you may catch site of an alligator lizard scurrying under a rock. But these are also great hiding places for magical creatures--fairies and gnomes that have lived here in the imaginations of children. I'll tell you a quick story:

When I first found this house for sale and fell head over heels in love with it, I contacted a friend who has lived in this town for many years and her family for many generations before her. When I told her of my intentions to purchase the property she became overly excited, childlike and giddy. She told me that the family who built the house (in 1905) were relatives of hers. She stated that she had not been to this house for many years but that she had always held a special place in her heart for the garden here. When she was a child (40 or so years ago), she spent many hours playing in the garden with mystical creatures of enchantment: engaging in games of hide and seek, hiding along the rock wall or ducking under the ivy. She then told me that this was a magical place and fairies really did live here.

I myself have not witnessed any "Lilliputians," but I cannot argue the enchanted feelings that overcome me whenever I spend time here. I welcome you here to watch and wait. I would love to hear your story. Now let's get back to the tour.

Straight ahead, in front of the yellow potters-shed where crepe myrtle stands tall is my favorite tree of all. Right now he is adorned with colorful glowing bulbs--lights on a string to provide some warmth, enough to melt the frost and protect the treasures within. He should not stand here, not at 1200 foot elevation, but we are in the banana belt. That is where a warm air current travels constantly through the foothills, exactly at this location. The current is one-mile wide and allows Mokelumne Hill to be the only place in the Sierra where citrus trees thrive.

Yes, my favorite tree is the lemon tree. Through brilliant green leaves and spiky thorns, bright yellow treasures can be found. Watch your hand as you reach in for your pick. His thorns are no joke, not to be messed with. They are about an inch and a half long, and coming at you from all directions, they are hard and fierce. When you pick your lemon, hold it in your hand for a while. Feel the thick, smooth rind; roll the lemon between your hands with slight pressure and it will release some oil. Smell the oil; it is bitter and acidic, good for getting red wine stains out of wood. My lips begin to pucker at the anticipation of biting into its sour flesh. I think I'll take a few lemons with me for later, and mix with sugar, water, and ice for a mid-winter's treat.

Box hedge, potato plant and azalea mark the edge of the garden. Together they create a living wall in varied hues of greens and browns. At the end of the wall leans wisteria. He is old and cragged. Long, skinny, naked vines entwine the lattice covering, like lovers frozen in time. Seed pods hang from the brambles. Reach up and grab one; they truly feel as though they are made from velvet. Soft, fuzzy olive green pods in teardrop shape hold the next generation in wait.

The tour is now complete though never over. This ever-changing garden brings new delights with each changing season. Spring puts on a wonderful show of surprise and color. Autumn reaps a plentiful harvest. I hope you will come back again and again. I feel blessed to belong to this amazing place and love to share its joy.