I’m definitely going through a phase of re-reading Mary Stewart’s ‘romantic suspense’ novels right now – not just for the wonderful plots and locations, but to re-explore some of the gardens and wildflowers mentioned in them. This week I decided to revisit the Lebanon and Dar Ibrahim’s Seraglio garden with The Gabriel Hounds.
My main garden memory from this book is actually the Seraglio and its neglected garden, with ‘a pool at the centre’ and ‘the shimmer of cool water’. It’s first introduced in Chapter Four and visited again several times throughout the plot.
I’ve always wanted to see one of these Islamic courtyard gardens, ever since I fell in love with pictures of the Alhambra and the Generalife. The descriptions in The Gabriel Hounds conjure up the fictional Seraglio garden well – the contrast between the formal style and the natural growth is described as being ‘like a formal Persian painting gone wild’.
The centrepiece of this huge, overgrown courtyard is the lake, with its island and Persian-style summerhouse in the centre, the broken bridge and the paved walkway around the outside, with briars and ferns coming up through the cracks in the marble. The lake itself is ‘paved thickly with lily leaves’ and has irises that ‘had spread into dense battalions of spears’ around the edge (Chapter Four).
However, as I started reading again, I rediscovered some of the other gardens and flowers, starting with the orange-blossom-scented courtyard in Damascus in the very first chapter, where Christy takes coffee with her cousin Charles and watches the powder blue water lilies close up their petals for the night. There’s also a mention of the tubs of orange trees, the gold fish within the pool and the mosaics, making me wish I could visit this one as well.
In a total contrast to this and to the Seraglio garden, the first courtyard Christy is taken to at Dar Ibrahim (in Chapter Three) is much neglected. The marble troughs now hold grass and some greyish buds instead of flowers, there are grey thistles in the gaps of the pavement and a spindly tamarisk overhanging the dry pool’s broken coping – but I’d still like to see it.
Then there are the apple, almond and pear blossoms that Christy sees on her driving tour; she also sees the ‘waxy flowers’ of oranges and lemons (Chapter Two) and hunts for wildflowers such as pinks, dandelions and red anemones, growing beneath sunflowers. I’ll keep reading and see if there are any flowers or gardens that I’ve forgotten; can anyone else think of any?