The gardens of Malfoy Manor lapse into an artificial disorder so perfect and so cunning, that one might think here is a real wooded thicket! Here is formed a true miracle of greenery! without ever knowing that this is all the work of a beleaguered house elf, ordered to work and work and work and work until he had produced a simulacrum lovely enough to compete with nature herself.
And the gardens of Beauxbatons are ordered, symmetrical, divine. They force a strange effect on the mind; first, awe at the scientific exactness of it. And next comfort, a powerful sense of human rightness and mastery as one looks on all those regular hedges interspersed with beautiful statuettes, with singing mermaids in each fountain, with rows and rows of orange trees so identical that one might suppose nature has been bested.
But the greatest garden in the world is in the far West of Asia where was once the kingdom of Xerxes and Darius and then Alexander. It is so perfect that one might assume it is not a garden at all, excepting that the white palace at the center is no palace, but a rare lily with four million petals branching out to form domes and columns; and a stem that is a central stair in jade green, and inner courtyards with sweet-smelling pools that are its syrupy aqua vitae.
The rocks surrounding the garden, too, are plants. Chip away at them and it is not dirt you will find, but sap and inner greenery and a great concentration of healing water; the mountain is no mountain. It is one of those hard spiked desert plants so prized by mediwizards. And ringed around it are temples which are pistachio trees growing all together to form walls, and statues which are nothing more than massive, peculiarly cultivated berries that have sprung from the ground, itself no more than a branch of some tree which protrudes from the center of the earth. The leopards which stalk the garden are shrubs and mandrakes that have seized upon magic and given themselves new form. The vipers are walnut shells and willow leaves, which have soaked in the power of the place and attained a kind of independent life.
This is not nature controlled by witch or wizard. This is nature controlling itself, the highest form of gardening. And it is a puzzle to all who have visited. Phyllida Spore, who came when very young and stood on a cliff nearby and gazed at the place, asked, “Why imitate us? Why make a human place, and a human city?” She received no answer.
And Pomona Sprout, who came when very old, concluded that this was because the garden was a trap, a network of meat-eating plants that sought to entice passing fools with its beauty, and devour them whole with enchantments once they’d passed under its almond-fruit gates.
And this may be so. For few who enter the garden come out again. It inverts the human trickery of Beauxbatons and Malfoy Manor; here we find humanity consumed by forest and hedge, by nature exercising her most magnificent artifice.
But Neville (who made it back out again, thanks to hard work and courage) believed that this was simply herbology in its most perfect form, the plants themselves proving that anything arrogant man could do, they could do twice as well. And Ginny (who went with him and also survived, thanks to her ferocity and her will), understood that there was beauty in the trials the garden subjected one to, that the place was no devourer, but simply designed to reflect all the pain and loveliness in the world, a great testing ground to make one stronger.
But Luna (who had gone and gotten herself lost in it in the first place, thanks to her curiosity and her cleverness; and who was subsequently rescued by two dear friends, though, if you’d asked her, she would have been very shocked to realize that she needed a rescue at all) theorized that it was all the work of the creator-elf; that is, the universe’s most overworked and mercurial house-elf, the one we call Nature, who had made the world and was forever keeping it from sliding into man-made ruin.
And that here one might find the wellspring of all magic.