April is National Poetry Month and the perfect time for a visit to the Poe Museum. Not only is the Poe Museum currently exhibiting a manuscript for Poe’s early poem “To Helen” as well as rare first editions of Poe’s volumes Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems, Poems, and The Raven and Other Poems, but the Museum is also home to a garden inspired by Poe’s poetry.
The Poe Museum’s legendary Enchanted Garden opened in April 1922 as Virginia’s first memorial to Edgar Allan Poe. The garden remains the heart of the Poe Museum complex and continues to thrive as a living embodiment of Poe’s poetic ideals. The name of the garden was borrowed from a line from Poe’s 1848 version of “To Helen.” The layout was derived from his poem “To One in Paradise,” and most of the flowers, trees, and shrubs were mentioned in hiss poems and short stories. Among the many plants visitors will encounter in the Enchanted Garden are begonias, clematis, geraniums, hyacinths, hydrangeas, pansies, roses, violets, and tulips. The grassy lawns are lined with ivy (said to have been taken from Poe’s mother’s grave at St. John’s Church), and the exterior staircase is covered in jasmine. Shade is provided by lovely old boxwoods which have grown to the size of trees. Other trees and shrubs include dogwoods, camellias, a magnolia, and a huge photinia, each of which displays beautiful flowers at different times of the year.
In addition to planting a variety of colorful plants, the founders of the Poe Museum incorporated building materials from a number of demolished buildings associated with the poet. The pergola was constructed using bricks and granite salvaged from the office of the Southern Literary Messenger, the magazine at which Poe began his career in journalism. The garden also contains elements from Poe’s foster father’s office, a boarding house in which Poe lived in Richmond, and from one of Poe’s New York homes.
If a garden seems an unusual memorial to a writer best known for his tales of murder and madness, you might be surprised to learn Poe loved nature and wrote a number of pieces about nature and landscape gardens. Among these are “Morning on the Wissahiccon,” “The Landor’s Cottage,” and “The Domain of Arnheim.” In the following passage from “The Domain of Arnheim,” Poe explains how a garden is like a poem:
“Ellison became neither musician nor poet; although no man lived more profoundly enamored of music and poetry. Under other circumstances than those which invested him, it is not impossible that he would have become a painter. Sculpture, although in its nature rigorously poetical was too limited in its extent and consequences, to have occupied, at any time, much of his attention. And I have now mentioned all the provinces in which the common understanding of the poetic sentiment has declared it capable of expatiating. But Ellison maintained that the richest, the truest, and most natural, if not altogether the most extensive province, had been unaccountably neglected. No definition had spoken of the landscape-gardener as of the poet; yet it seemed to my friend that the creation of the landscape-garden offered to the proper Muse the most magnificent of opportunities. Here, indeed, was the fairest field for the display of imagination in the endless combining of forms of novel beauty; the elements to enter into combination being, by a vast superiority, the most glorious which the earth could afford. In the multiform and multicolor of the flowers and the trees, he recognized the most direct and energetic efforts of Nature at physical loveliness. And in the direction or concentration of this effort — or, more properly, in its adaptation to the eyes which were to behold it on earth — he perceived that he should be employing the best means — laboring to the greatest advantage — in the fulfillment, not only of his own destiny as poet, but of the august purposes for which the Deity had implanted the poetic sentiment in man.”
A visit to the Enchanted Garden is like walking through Poe’s poetry, and National Poetry Month is a great time to see the spring flowers in bloom.