Since the radical transformation the garden has undergone since planting the evergreen box hedging, its greening has continued with the arrival of some new plants and the (frustratingly slow) coming of spring! We now have two slender cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens) flanking the entrance of the garden, its dense sprays of dark evergreen leaves adding another level to the landscaping.From ancient times, the cypress was closely associated with death: it was used in funerary rites and to wreathe statues of Hades, god of the underworld; to this day it grows in graveyards and memorial gardens in Italy, and throughout Europe.
Ovid recounts how the cypress became a symbol of mourning. Grief transformed Cyparissus, beloved of Apollo, into the tall evergreen tree after he killed his own tame stag in a tragic accident:
‘Though Apollo consoled him as far as he possibly could and implored him not to distress himself overmuch, Cyparissus kept sobbing away and asked, as a final gift from the gods, to mourn to the end of time.
‘He wept and wailed till his blood drained out and the whole of his body started to turn the colour of green. The hair that was hanging over his creamy forehead was changed to a shaggy profusion, which stiffened and rose to the starry sky in a slender point. The god sighed deeply and sadly exclaimed,
“You’ll be mourned deeply by me, you will mourn for others and always be there when they mourn for their loved ones.”’
– Metamorphoses 10.106-142
In the beds either side of the garden we have also planted two cornelian cherry trees (cornus mas) which in late summer they will bear glossy, ruby-red berries that can be eaten raw (although they are a little sour!), used to make jam or to infuse alcohol to make liqueurs. Over autumn its leaves will turn from green to shades of crimson and purple before falling, then in winter its bare branches will be covered with clusters of brilliant yellow, star-shaped flowers. Some of these flowers still clung to the branches of the trees we planted.
The fruits of this cherry tree were associated with the Golden Age when man lived in harmony with nature and the earth brought forth its fruits in abundance:
‘Content to enjoy the food that required no painful producing, men simply gathered arbutus fruit and mountain strawberries, cornel cherries and blackberries plucked from the prickly bramble’
– Metamorphoses 1.102
Work will continue as the weather gets warmer, next we’ll be planting anemones (anemone coronaria and anemone nemorosa) and potting lollipop bays and olives. Meanwhile, we are beginning to see the fruits of our labour as the spring bulbs start to emerge, promising the garden’s first flowers!