The garden within
The love of nature is reflected in our art, poetry and even daily conversation
May 1, 2006
No matter how big or small our homes may be, I am convinced that there is a gardener inside each Iranian. We are in tune with nature and it seems as if the mere act of cultivating the land, brings back memories of our true home. As I prune the rose bushes in my yard, as I feed them and water their thirsty roots, I am reminded of a climbing rose on the other side of the world. Its branches arched over a brick driveway and those multi-colored buds greeted me throughout spring as I came home from school.
Unlike many gardeners, I am accustomed to working those bulky, stiff, gloves, and sometimes even forget to wear a hat. As my bare hands dig into the soil and feel its texture, for a moment I feel as one with the earth. When someone asks me if I know the names of the roses, I shake my head and wonder if I need to. A rose is a rose; I don’t need to call that large pink blossom Princess Diana or the red one Mr. Lincoln to know what they are. But roses here are named after people, places, and events, not to mention silly commercials. Weight Watchers Success Story? Give me a break!
Back in Iran, one did not need any attributions in order to admire a rose and we simply enjoyed them for what they were. We were taught to bring the flower to our noses and take in its strong fragrance, we presented them to our beloved, and we learned how to ignore the thorns. Some people argue that roses were originated in Iran; these are often the same people who also claim a Persian origin for Baklava, backgammon, and many other good things. I must admit, I never questioned it, nor did I care enough to investigate its validity. Can’t we simply enjoy things? Do we need to own them, claim them, and slap a label on everything?
I water the pansies and the mild fragrance of their velvety petals takes me back to early spring in Iran. I remember how gardeners planted them in rows of purple, blue, white and soon all the parks and boulevards had them. As the Baba Teher poems go, Banafsheh became the messengers of spring. Do I choose my flowers based on memories? That’s possible, but somehow Bird of Paradise and Yuka aren’t the same as the more delicate and fragrant flowers. As much as I may admire those chunky plants in other people’s gardens, when it comes to choice, my hand reaches for geraniums, petunias and Jasmines.
Flowers alone are not enough of a garden for an Iranian because we want herb gardens, vegetable patches and fruit trees as well. No matter how much produce is available in the market, there’s just something about home grown mint, basil and tarragon. Our tomatoes may never be as red as the grocery stores’, but the aroma when you pick them is to die for. We plant sour cherry trees just to watch the birds eat them and we plant import mulberry even though the tree may never grow as big as grandmother’s and we didn’t even like figs back home, but now insist on having the tree.
Horticulturalists have acknowledged the fact that gardens originated in Persia. That may explain why Iranians continue to find a bit of Persia in every garden. Give an Iranian a choice between walking in a spectacular garden and the tour of a museum and it may surprise you as the majority -- if not all -- choose the garden. The love of nature is reflected in our art, poetry and even daily conversation. One of our most frequent terms of endearment is “Gole-e-man” -- my flower -- a good person is Gol, and the word continues to symbolize not only beauty, but cleanliness and purity as well.
Now the sun has come up and I know I should go in before it burns me, but there’s still so much to do, so many dead leaves to pick and dry branches to prune. Gardening knows no time limit, as it seems to be a never-ending job.
I straighten my back with some difficulty and wonder how many more years I would be able to continue with gardening. As I pick a lemon to be used for cooking, the fresh scent of its skin fills me with memories of Northern Iran and the plush lemon groves of long ago. For a moment, that lemon is no longer from the single tree in my arid backyard. I close my eyes and let the deep green of a damp field wrap around me, taking me back to a time and a place that will never be again. I kiss the lemon and know deep in my heart, for as long as there is life, I shall remain a gardener.
Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a retired dentist and a freelance
writer. She lives in San Diego, California. Her latest book is "Sharik-e
Gham" (see excerpt).
Visit her site ZoesWordGarden.com