A Garden for Moonlight

A MOONLIGHT garden is best built above the sea, for the moon never shines so brightly as on salt water; and although the moon’s scintillations filter pleasantly enough through fresh water, there seems to be on the surface of the sea an oily, resilient patina that amplifies her rays, and sends them rebounding upwards, like rain on slate.

Fresh water, as it appears, absorbs light; salt water, in sparkling regurgitations, refracts it; and there may be a still more deeply rooted affinity between the moon and the sea than is generally guessed at, for an oceanic vastness alone hardly explains why lunar tides swing the ocean, yet cause no rhythmic flux, no ebb and flow, of inland seas, or freshwater lakes, or rivers.

Below the sea we know lies an unknown, a stranger sea, as black as coal, as dense as rock, as cold as ice, where the fish, supporting on their fins the weight of half the world, move like arc lights. This submerged ocean is the mercury backing the sea’s glass; this is the culet of a diamond which has for girdle the earth’s immeasurable seashores, and for table the moon’s disk. Its facets intensify the radiance of moonlight on salt water.

That our vision shows us but one such nexus to the moon is a disadvantage that may be alleviated somewhat by the plan of the garden, which should have a central path running due north to facilitate the enjoyment of the zenith or lunar noon, a path going eastwards to greet the rising moon, and a third traveling westward toward its setting.

All dipping finally into the sea, these paths should be proportioned as was a Crusader’s sword, the eastand westgoing paths cut short, like the cross on the hilt, the northern path long, like the sword blade. The pommel would give the hint, dimensionally, for a fourth path, having at its tip the doorway into the garden; it should have but a little gate.

A basin to hold the stars should be put where the four pathways meet. Their dark foliage pitted by the Pleiades, or by wheeling Orion, with tiny sequins of light, four magnolia trees, placed so that they do not overshadow it, may flank the basin.

While the walks in a moonlight garden are best made of light-colored granite (marble, unless it be liberally clouded over with pink, is too white), the star basin should be lined with malachite, or black marble, or some other dark substance, so that Betelgeuse or Aldebaran lose nothing in the reflecting. For this reason the water should be sunk, lest the winds ruffle it, below the rim of the platter. Yet it should not be set down so deep that a hand may not reach the stars.

Since lotus buds in the moonlight open so quickly that it is possible to hear the plop the petals make in sundering, — as if they kissed at parting,— since the yellow water lilies of the Euphrates or the dim Asian kinds blossom only at night, it is a temptation, to some, to mix lilies in with the stars in the basin. But it is better to limit oneself to the galaxy. For lilies, unlike violets, have no legendary association with the sea. White violets may be scattered lightly over the rocks, well above the inrush of spray at high tide. But lilies are landlubbers.

It is not known how souls are begotten. That they may grow on the human mind — parasites of experience — gives life but a tame climax. That they are in reality begotten in mystic intercourse with a Divine Consonance, — that those who are, in the body, childless may yet be the foremost breeders of souls, — is a theory not without appeal; and as a breeding ground for souls a moonlight garden may have its uses, particularly if it harbors a crooked acacia, whose tarnished, off-white blossoms may brush the moon with silver, may stir the senses with exhalations so sweet, so faint, so fleeting, that only souls can catch them.

A moon bow, though among the rarest, is not the least brilliant of the diadems of night. Snaring within its triple arches humid cerulean, veiled rose, saffron, purple, lime-green smeared with maize, it echoes palely a rainbow’s hardier chromatics. A moon bow is never so rare that it may not be hoped for; in rainy weather, with a full moon moving in puffs of light through a piebald sky, a moonlight gardener may expect to see one.

It is wisest to let unserried waves of fringed hydrangeas break, whiter than arctic snows, against the edges of all the granite paths, lines of moonflowers, their milky pendants brilliant as candelabra, linked with them as seventh waves. Beyond the moonflowers stone pilasters must lift up feathery cascades of white wistarias — some fifty or sixty vines spreading out into fans of ebullient foam. White azaleas, and acacias, and oleanders must fringe the limits of the garden, the flash of surf in the shelving bays beneath them always glittering through their exquisite intricacies of branch and bough.

When in silver flocks the sea birds troop home across this silent, lovely promontory, some sea eagle or migrant white owl may stay to rest in the acacia boughs, or some deft osprey fish from the granite steps that dip into the sea, or a white, languid peacock may be cajoled to walk here. But if the moonlight garden is to be kept, as it should be, primarily as a hatchery for souls, it should be kept solitary.

None but sea voices should be heard by those who frequent this garden of the moon and sea; no sound but the hesitant sibilants of the waves, and the whisper of the sea winds.