The secret garden, part 2

Cloisters gardensNote: Part 1 of this story appeared on Monday.

The heavy wooden door opened onto a series of squared-off brick passageways, open to the elements, yet almost private, with their series of variegated columns and keyhole windows. We stepped into a series of garden rooms, high above the rest of the city.

According to the signs, the gardens feature a café in warmer weather, but I was glad it was too cold for icy glasses of Coke and petit fours. The gardens belonged to me and Alex, and we roamed through it, peering through windows and looking at the wildness that had been brought on by the waning Fall.

“I bet this is beautiful when it’s all blooming,” I said.

We stopped to look at birds playing in a dry fountain, admired the stone work, peered through an opening in the wall toward the George Washington Bridge in the distance.

Then I caught site of the tree I had seen from below the Cloisters.

“I don’t think that’s an apple tree at all,” I said. “It’s a quince!”

And sure enough, it was. Smack in the middle of the more open of the gardens, there were four quince trees still laden with overripe fruit.

The last time I had seen a quince tree was by the pool that our townhouse community in Madrid shared when I lived there growing up. All it took was the smell of the slightly decaying fruit to take me back there.

The rest of the garden showed what an amazing place it must be at the peak of its season, too. Ivy clambered the walls in thick swaths; three kinds of sage, each one bushier than the next, stood together; a huge ornamental cabbage would have lumbered about if it could have picked up its roots.

I spotted Lamb’s Ear and made Alex touch it—it is, after all, the softest plant in the world. And we took photos of each other in a variety of archways—if you can’t be photogenic at the Cloisters, you might not be photogenic anywhere, really…

In 20 minutes, we were thoroughly chilled by the November air and ready to return to the medieval art. We ducked back in the heavy door, and a few folks in the museum itself looked at us with surprise. Who would be outside on such a day? What could there possibly be to see?

All I can say is this: sometimes the best things in the world are behind the doors we aren’t sure about opening. The Cloisters gardens? They rank right up there.

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14 Responses to “The secret garden, part 2”


  1. 1 Don December 19, 2007 at 11:12 am

    Nice writing, darlin’… makes me feel like I was there with you.

  2. 5 sharon December 19, 2007 at 6:30 pm

    I wondered when you were going to find out you had seen the quince trees behnd the wall. I grew up in Washington Heights (when it was a good neighborhood) and thought that Fort Tryon park and the Cloisters existed only for me. I wished I could live in the Cloisters, but, alas not. I am going to look for a photo (or photos) I have of my family in the garden in the Spring. I think you will recognize it. Thanks for sharing your visit and bringing back many fond memories.

  3. 6 inadvertentgardener December 19, 2007 at 9:33 pm

    Sharon, in all these years, I never realized you grew up in New York! I’d love to see a photo of the family in the garden — I’m guessing it’s just gorgeous. I’m going to have to try to go back sometime that time of year — I can’t even imagine…

    I would love to live at the Cloisters, too. It’s so beautiful!

  4. 7 Heather December 20, 2007 at 10:53 pm

    I can’t believe with all the times I’ve been into the City I have never gone to the Cloisters. It’s on the list for a summer visit. I just feel so dirty when I go into the city during the summer. Maybe a cool spring day…

  5. 8 inadvertentgardener December 20, 2007 at 10:55 pm

    Oh, Heather, you must-must-must put it on your list. It’s beautiful!

  6. 9 chigiy December 20, 2007 at 11:49 pm

    What a fun garden adventure.
    It must have been nice to have it all to yourself.
    The pictures are beautiful.
    The architecture looks Moorish.

    When I was in Peru we were following a tour guide around a church.
    I saw a hallway that looked like it lead outside so I skipped out on the tour and followed the hall. I ended up in a BEAUTIFUL garden. No one else in the group saw it. I took pictures of it. I just learned how to put a photo album in my sidebar. It’s there if you’d like to see it.

  7. 10 inadvertentgardener December 21, 2007 at 8:12 am

    Chigiy, I’m definitely going to go check that out — thanks for letting me know about the album!

  8. 11 kate smudges December 24, 2007 at 12:40 am

    I enjoyed reading about your tour through Cloisters. Your photographs were great – and there wasn’t any snow!

  9. 12 Christina December 25, 2007 at 1:44 am

    Beautiful. Yes, it may be lovely when it is all spring-like and blooming, but I think this winter mysteriousness is just as gorgeous. Thanks for sharing it.

    Merry Christmas.

  10. 13 inadvertentgardener December 26, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    Kate, I’m so glad you enjoyed it — thanks for checking out the story!

    Christina, Merry Christmas (or, well, Happy Boxing Day at this point!) to you, too — glad you enjoyed the mysteriousness. I definitely did, too!


  1. 1 The secret garden, part 1 « The Inadvertent Gardener Trackback on December 19, 2007 at 7:51 am

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