The unfolding garden

On Sunday afternoon, Mynelle Gardens reminded me of why I like Jackson, Mississippi. I needed a reminder. The arboretum is nestled in a mixed-use neighborhood in the western section, and it’s so close to I-20 that, on a clear day, you can see the cars hovering in the distance above the haze, rumbling down the interstate. A Popeye’s Chicken is across the street. Mynelle Garden’s entrance building lies on the corner of a major thoroughfare and a residential street.

Now, that reception building didn’t inspire confidence, nor did the small, potholed parking lot . Once, I suppose the building was painted chocolate brown. The shingles and window trim looked like they were still straining under the terror of Hurricane Katrina, which laid waste to the garden four years ago. Inside, there were a few sun-bleached gardening books and cracked linoleum.

But the receptionist was awfully cute, the entrance fee was a measly four bucks, and fish food was 50 cents a bag. All good signs.

Like Portland’s Japanese Garden—my all-time favorite—Mynelle Gardens starts small. The opening path is several feet below the main garden, and rises up in a slow winding fashion. A tree looms overhead but otherwise all the color is at ground level. Some tiny herbs, growths of azaleas and hydrangeas, some monkey grass—so far, it was nothing spectacular.

Then, I strolled upward a few feet, into a large open lawn with a centerpiece fountain, a variety of blues, pinks, and red flowers bordering the area. The red-brick and spacious Westbrook House (currently undergoing renovation) lingered on the edge like a fleeting thought. Honeysuckle and magnolia blossom perfumed the spring air. Sensation began to seep into my nose and my eyes. I heard bird chirps everywhere but never saw one, a single one, in my whole visit.

The house—for the Westbrooks did once live on the grounds, in the 1920s and 1930s—enticed me but the paths dovetailed into growth that I couldn’t quite see through. I chose the paths, and found more azaleas and un-nameable blossoms. Where the entrance and lawn featured plants mostly at ground level, I quickly found myself draped and drenched in color and aroma, a blanket of colors above and around me. Bumblebees hopped from blossom to blossom, doing their work. A creek snaked through the gardens; two bridges straddled it. A huge pond, engorged with fish and turtles, swelled at the garden’s center. Wisteria, cypress, baby’s breath, Queen Anne’s lace, and roses tumbled down and swung from crevasses that seemed too small to contain them, like an overstuffed closet bursting open.

Indeed, Mynelle Gardens’ interior felt like the TARDIS—impossibly larger on the inside than it looks on the outside. Paths and minor gardens—fresh revelations, all—unfold from space throughout the garden. It’s gigantic, and lovely. Adding to the otherworldiness, the city noise—honks, car wheels on asphalt, dogs barking—reminded me that I was walking through part of a neighborhood. Most private and public gardens (most American ones, anyway) are set well away from the bustle, to act consciously as reprieves to the urban life.

Whether by accident or design, Mynelle Gardens is, however, right inside the tumult. Somehow, its location in the Jackson noise makes me like it all the more.Its fragile comforts are made more poignant because it’s not isolated from the industrial, working-class, mostly black neighborhood in which it resides.

I’ll be back, and soon. Hell, we haven’t had our spring rains yet… so I didn’t even see the gardens in full bloom. I can’t wait.

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RELATED: I’ve written about gardens before.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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