The Garden of Worlds

A faint clap of thunder
Clouded skies
Perhaps rain comes
If so, will you stay here with me?

Yukari in The Garden of Words by Shinkai Makoto,
from Man’yōshū, Book 11, verse 2,513

1 – The Garden of Worlds, part 1

As the clouds start to gather ominously over me, I walk faster on this forest lane. I think I lost my way, and I might get soaked soon. Ahead, I spot a greenhouse. Intrigued, I can see potted blue bulbs from outside the window panels. Nobody seems to be there. I open the door and step inside. I leave my bag on the floor and look around. I come closer to the clay pots.

They don’t host plants. These are small planets. Is it a conservatory of worlds? 

Fascinated, I reach to one of the tiny earths when an electronic sounding voice startles me.
“Welcome to the Garden of Worlds. You might think I’m a god cultivating multiple worlds.”

I haven’t thought of this at all, but, frozen, I listen. “You can call me the Gardener. You see, these globes represent different futures for Earth, but they’re drying and withering away. You’re the first person to come in today. Would you help me water them with your hope?”

Is it a metaphor? I relax. This person or AI doesn’t seem dangerous. I think about greenhouses, and how comforting they can be, however ruined the world might be around it. Whoever is watching me now, I will share these moments.

2 – France, 2014

“Somewhere in France, can’t really remember where but even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you. My urbexer friends and I were exploring an abandoned children home. It had been all very eery and wistful. Forlorn beds with torn bed sheets, abandoned plush toys, expecting their friends back for an eternity, and a claustrophobic cellar where people had taken refuge during WW2, their scribbled messages the only ornament on the walls. The world could all become derelict and meaningless, all traces of human history quietly rotting away. We escaped to the garden and took a deep breath. We were standing near an abandoned greenhouse, and we were in awe. The unsophisticated metal structure had half rusted and the glass had disappeared. Plants that would have been contained were now sprouting through the grid rooftop, unless they were the children of trees that used to be outside. The barrier had disappeared between the garden and the greenhouse. It was incredibly beautiful, and a reminder that ruins don’t have to be regrets from an ancient time. That sometimes, there is no going back, but it is fine. We can outgrow this if we want to.” 

“Show me, please”, the now eager sounding voice says. I think for a few seconds, find my phone in my pocket and open my picture folder. I can’t really see a camera anywhere, so I just slowly wave it around.

3 – Botanic Garden of the Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland, 2018

“Great. Just put the phone in front of you, I’ll see perfectly like this. Do you have another story?” it asks.

I talk while I scroll some pictures.

“I’ve visited more, say, classic greenhouses as well. I remember the Botanic Garden in Krakow, in a sunny October, too sunny for its own good. I had a photoshoot planned with my friend, Maciej, in the afternoon, an urbex photoshoot, and it would end up being an amazing memory as well. But I had felt restless in the morning and needed to go for a run. Near where I was staying, I quickly found after 5 minutes of running the Botanic Garden of the Jagiellonian University, whose entrance price was quite cheap. On a whim, I bought a ticket in broken Polish and carried on with my jog inside. I had to stop when I saw this alien looking greenhouse.

Look! I think it was rebuilt a few times, but the first greenhouse in this garden was actually finished in 1797. Inside, a wealth of intricate structures, plants and pots.

The pond was such a complicated microcosm when observed from above, looking like its outdoor counterparts, apart from the reflection of the roof on the water.

The more I went inside, the deeper I looked, all these details and peace were a reminder of how science and ornament don’t have to clash, how we could benefit from growing bananas in Poland

or being able to appreciate bumps on bicoloured leaves I don’t even know the name of.

How knowing might be useful. Although this greenhouse wasn’t a true microcosm by any stretch, it was alive, and I feel it knows more than I do right now.” 

Lost in my train of thoughts, I carry on without being prompted.
“That reminds me, Maciej had photographed me in a greenhouse before! In London, in the Crossrail roof garden. I don’t have my own pictures as I was the model, but it was very memorable. Look!” I show it my blog post:

4 – Barbican Conservatory, London, UK, 2019

“Speaking of London, a more recent memory: the Barbican conservatory. One of the biggest in London. It’s one of a kind, really. Imagine this maze-like building. Concrete and glass – all manmade by-products of sand, looking completely different, embraced in a structure hosting so many plants.

Imagine vegetation has invaded the urban landscape. It shows you what it would look like – Regrowth and hope. This mix of nature and manufactured landscape has always fascinated me.”

“Hum, like in this urbex activity you were talking about?”

“Yes, exactly. The Barbican is a concrete utopia, and the conservatory is quite unique, making you feel like an explorer in the middle of the city. If you find your way around the labyrinthine pathways, you’ll find cacti, if you come at the right time you’ll see artificial – yet not tacky –  lights, turning green into purple.

 One Sunday, Alexis and I had gone to the conservatory to read. 

The sun set surreptitiously while we were entranced by our books.

I had finished reading the most gripping graphic novel, full of wars and plots and cunning and intricate decors. When I rediscovered my surroundings, on edge, the pond had darkened into a mysterious portal, fellow explorers had become scarce, leaving us alone, and leaves were brushing my face. I just sat there, blinked, and far from threatening, the secluded environment was an oasis of calm and peace.”

5 – Eden Project, Cornwall, UK, 2020

“That’s lovely, but my miniature worlds need even more comfort I’m afraid”, the Gardener says, with urgency in its voice. 

“Let me tell you about the Eden project”, I reply. “It is an amazing place, incongruous in the middle of the Cornish countryside. Alexis and I had walked for an hour and a half in the rain, our shoes covered in mud and our clothes drenched. However eager we were to come inside and dry, we paused for a few precious seconds in front of the giant beehives structures, admiring the sci-fi landscape.”

“It doesn’t look too wet”, the voice replies, as if it didn’t believe me.
“You’re right,” I chuckle. “This picture was taken when we came back, two days later. That’s how much we loved this place. The giant rainforest inside the domes on the left is an actual biome. They recycle everything and there are small animals living there, to gorge on the plant eating insects. When we learnt there were geckos, we were overjoyed. We managed to see them during our second visit.”

“Are they in a house?” asks the Gardener. “I think the geckos liked to stay under the sheet metal rooftop of this hut, where it’s warmer and a bit dryer. There were also a few species of birds, elsewhere in the dome.”

“They really look like figures of death, though,” the voice says.
“I did look like one too, but kept it playful,” I answer.

“I know it is strange, but you can understand if you are a Gardener. Can you have life without death? The cycle of life embodied in the Eden project brought us such hope for the dying rainforests around the world, from the educational displays, to the scientific projects they help run.

We learnt about the ethics of cocoa, palm oil, rubber and bananas. And literally so many different viewpoints. Looking at the forest from far above was very impressive, but also a reminder of how fragile it can be.”

“Wait. The last picture doesn’t look like the rainforest, ” the Gardener interrupts.
“Ah, that’s because it’s not. It’s the Mediterranean biome. I might have mixed the pictures, sorry about this. But on a smaller scale, the details were also incredibly moving. Lonely flowers, leaves seeking attention, bee-loving colourful shrubs… I hope we gave them the attention they craved.

And after a few hours we knew we could stay here if we had to. The outside world had completely disappeared, the greenhouse now a complete universe with all its complexity.
We could stay in the Zimbabwean house or the gecko hut.”

6 – The Garden of Worlds, part 2

I pause for a few seconds and put my phone back in my pocket. I look at the Garden of Worlds around me. Are the orbs getting slightly brighter?

“Thank you for these memories, ” the Gardener says, but I can hear some sadness in its otherwise featureless voice. “It looks like it won’t rain in the end, so you’d better carry on with your journey.”

I look at the door and hesitate. The planets seem to need more watering. I don’t fully believe it, to be honest. I think the Gardener is probably an eccentric character talking nonsense to me. But is it less worthy for that matter, if they just need someone to talk to?

I sit down and say out loud: “There is no rush. I think I’ll just tell you a few more stories.”

A faint clap of thunder
Even if rain comes not
I will stay here
Together with you

Takao in The Garden of Words, by Shinkai Makoto,
from Man’yōshū, Book 11, verse 2,514


The greenhouse full of tiny planets was a display in the outdoor gardens of the Eden project.

I hope you can visit all these amazing places when the lockdown stops.

Speaking of which, more info about the Eden project on their website or Instagram.

Find more about the Jagiellonian Botanic gardens in Krakow on their website.

Some info on the Barbican conservatory on their website.

The opening and ending quotes are dialogue poems from the Man’yōshū book of poetry, as adapted by the characters in the animated movie the Garden of Words by Makoto Shinkai.

All pictures have been taken by me, apart from the picture of me, taken by Alexis.

The linked article about Chaos Theory with another greenhouse features pictures by Maciej Żywioł.

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