“As Long as I Live My Imagination of Paradise Will Retain Something of My Brother’s Toy Garden.”

“Once in those very early days my brother brought into the nursery the lid of a biscuit tin which he had covered with moss and garnished with twigs and flowers so as to make it a toy garden or a toy forest. That was the first beauty I ever knew. What the real garden had failed to do, the toy garden did. It made me aware of nature—not, indeed, as a storehouse of forms and colors but as something cool, dewy, fresh, exuberant….As long as I live my imagination of Paradise will retain something of my brother’s toy garden.” – C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

I have a passionate love for miniatures, and I understand completely the enchantment of this tiny garden. When I was young, I used to play with a hose at the base of  a tree that had a very complex sets of roots. I’d make pools, waterfalls, and gardens there.

For you Tolstoy fans–this passage also reminds me of how Tolstoy’s older brother told him about the hidden green stick that contained the secret that would bring happiness to the world. “This secret he said he had written on a green stick buried by the road at the edge of a certain ravine, at which spot (since my body must be buried somewhere) I have asked to be buried in memory of Nikolenka.”

  • bill

    This article reminds me of my childhood toys,books and things I treasure,all of which I put into a small cabinet given by my parents as a place for my “personal belongs”.It’s like a bank of fun.When I went back to school,I used to go to the small cabinet and take out some to play.It seems there are a lot of things in common between famous people and laymen.

    • gretchenrubin

      I love the phrase “bank of fun.” We all need a bank of fun.

  • peninith1

    For me, the ‘magic’ was the ability to decorate the walls of one’s own room with painting. My half-sister, who lived with my Aunt, painted her attic level bedroom like a magical kingdom. I also loved a scene in a movie with Doris Day (I think it was Calamity Jane?) in which the very tomboyish Jane acquires a roommate and they pretty up her cabin with painted flowers on the doors and shutters. Being able to make wall art seemed to me the height of magical fun–turning your own house into a dollhouse.

    Interesting to me that C.S. Lewis, Tolstoy, and your commenters all mention being inspired by others — children or playmates — to create the magic world.

  • Ha, that sounds wonderful, making gardens with tree roots 🙂 I remember at school when I was young, we didn’t make gardens per se, instead we brought the garden into our ‘cooking’, in the form of mud pies. We’d mix all sorts of nearby flora into a our ‘mixing log’ (a tree trunk turned on it’s side with a sort of crevice), and then dish up! I can’t say it tasted like a garden in the mouth, we never tried it for obvious reasons. Thanks for the post, and a trip down memory lane!

    • peninith1

      Maybe that’s the biggest appeal of a ‘buche de noel’–the French Christmas cake made to look like a tree log with mushrooms growing on it and snow all around!

  • AliB

    Ah… loved making miniature gardens with my grandmother when I was little – the best bit was the little mirror that she kept for use as a tiny pond – with moss all around the edge it really was magical…. reminds me of one of my favourite childhood books – the secret garden

  • Nicola Davies

    I love the idea of creating worlds within worlds. When I was a child the bottom of our section would flood in the rains and we would create tiny waterbound kingdoms and float around them on a tyre tube, gods and creators to the people below. Even now as an adult I am fascinated by the idea that our world could be just an atom or cell belonging to some huge giant being.

  • Heather Bestel

    How wonderful! Reminds me of the fairyland I made in the garden when I was a little girl, with fairy houses made from petals and furniture made from twigs and acorn cups. A magical stream ran around fairyland with leaves for boats. Thinking about it now, I’m transported back to that special place where I spent many happy hours. It was my sanctuary, my respite, my sacred hidden pleasure and I protected it fiercely.

  • Carol Gray

    Gretchen, if you like “little” landscapes, you must visit the site of one of our local photographers and her Lilliputian lands
    You’ll love it!

    • gretchenrubin

      LOVE these!

  • SDW

    Is there a picture of your secret place miniature by jacqueline schmidt on your blog?

    • gretchenrubin

      Hmmmm…no, but there’s a picture of it in Happier at Home.