When my husband and I moved into this condo community back in 2012, we received such a warm welcome from everyone we met, we immediately felt we had made the right decision to move here. And as we met and talked with people, nearly every one of them said the same thing at some point in the conversation.
“Make sure you visit The Secret Garden! It’s fabulous!”
“Secret Garden? we asked. “What garden? Where?”
You know how it is…they would explain in that vague and often confusing way people have when attempting to provide directions. “It’s just around that first bend right after you come in the entrance,” or “I’m not sure what street, but it’s kind of hidden along the back of the property,” or “You can’t see it at all from the road, you have to meander around behind that first group of homes.”
It was late September when we moved in, and what with unpacking and getting settled and then a long Michigan winter, we had forgotten about The Secret Garden.
Until spring, when another neighbor reminded us.
“I’m going to The Secret Garden,” she said one afternoon. “Let me show it to you.”
Imagine my surprise when I learned it was an easy bike ride from my house! And yes, it is most definitely tucked away along the back of the property. Truly, you can’t see it from the road, which is what makes it so charming and – well, SECRET.
But what it really is is ENCHANTED. When we walked down the path into the deep, shady bounty of the garden, I felt like a child again. Between the flowers, the sculptures, the bird houses hanging from within the trees, the wind chimes tinkling in every tone imaginable, the little stream babbling quietly, I felt as if I’d been led into a fairyland.
“Who made this beautiful place?” I asked, when I could finally find the words. My friend pointed at the condo right behind us, whose upper deck looked out over the beauty of these acres.
“The couple who live in that house right there,” she said. “I’ve never met them, but I heard they love to garden and when they bought the house started clearing the woods behind it and over the past 20 years have turned it into this. Word soon spread, and they opened it to the community for others to come in and enjoy.”
In the past three years that we’ve lived here, I have come to this Secret Garden countless times, and so Dear Neighbor, a note of thanks to you is long overdue. I am beyond grateful for the sense of peace this spot provides, for the benches where I can sit and listen to the birds, watch the butterflies flit among the blossoms, and bask in the deep green shade of the trees. The past three months, I have been grieving for my mom who died in March – she who loved flowers and gardens and quiet outdoor spaces. Your Secret Garden has been a destination for me, a place I can come on my daily walks or bike rides, a place that offers respite from the trials of my journey.
Sometimes we go about our lives engaged in activities we love without realizing how much those things can mean to others. You obviously love to garden, and I’m sure all the planting and tending must be rewarding for you. But did you imagine that your garden could be a place that eases the troubled heart of your neighbor? A place that makes complete strangers smile and feel enriched for just a few moments before they go back to whatever life might hold in store?
That is a gift, Dear Neighbor, and one I appreciate so much, especially this summer.
Before I close, I wanted to share this poem with you. It’s from a favorite poet of mine, named Mary Oliver. She writes of the beauty and importance of the natural world and the lessons it teaches. This poem, appropriately titled “The Gardener,” is a newer one of hers.
Being here in this garden you’ve made gives me a place to quietly reflect and consider. I leave rested and renewed, to go back to my world and be sufficiently grateful for the happiness I experience, to be graceful in enduring this new loneliness. I go back determined to plant and tend seeds of compassion, empathy, and peace.
So if you’re looking out your upstairs window some afternoon and see a short, dark-haired woman sitting on the first bench by the stream, you’ll know that’s me. Someone who is ever so grateful for the gift of your Garden.
With sincere appreciation,
*Poem The Gardner, by Mary Oliver, from her collection, A Thousand Mornings
About the Author: Becca Rowan
Becca Rowan lives in Northville, Michigan with her husband and their two dogs. She is the author of Life in General, a book of personal and inspirational essays about the ways women navigate the passage into midlife. She is also a musician, and performs as a pianist and as a member of Classical Bells, a professional handbell ensemble. This summer she has developed a newfound love of gardens, and you’ll find her spending lots of time outdoors, either in the Secret Garden, or puttering around in her own flower beds. She loves to connect with readers at her blog, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.