Asya’s Idea of Paradise

The word paradise comes from the ancient Persian word pairidaēza, “an enclosed garden,” and for a Ukrainian, a cherry orchard is an idea of Eden. It has the same potent connotations as a white picketed fence house in the context of the American dream. It doesn’t mean that all Ukrainians dream of retreating to the village and tending to cherries—no more so than all Americans want to live in the suburbs and obsess over greens lawns—but the image has force beyond its mere components.


In many folk songs, the cherry orchard is where friends meet, families gather for supper and beloved yearn for each other. It is a place of safety and beauty. It evokes all of the things that matter—family, love, friendship, bounty. It’s not a coincidence that one of the most popular works in Ukrainian literature is a short poem by the national bard Taras Shevchenko. Recite the opening lines to any Ukrainian—“A cherry orchard by the house. Above the cherries beetles hum”–and you will see his face light up and his mind travel to his own fantasy garden. “And nightingale their vigil keep,” he murmurs the poem’s romantic coda*.

Our cherry garden with the water tanks that reflect the black lace of lilac branches, the damp warmth of tool sheds, and the bitter, raspy odor of dandelion flowers on the compost pile is my great-grandmother’s idea of paradise and her domain. When I think of Asya, the image of her floating up in my mind has the cinematic background of our Poltava garden. She passed away almost two decades ago, but as I rock in the hammock wrapped in her old brown coat, I imagine that she’s still around, cleaning dahlia tubers or experimenting with a new method of grafting grape vines. The cherry trees were planted by her. And so were the periwinkle vines covering the cherry trunks with their delicate tendrils. And the violets breaking through the cold, oily soil. The intensity of her presence in the garden is a reminder of loss, but at the same time it’s comforting.

On returning to Poltava, I follow a ritual established during the summers of yesteryears—I walk around the orchard, noting which of the plum trees have split during the winter, how many tender shoots surround the old apples and whether the daffodils are already pushing through the damp earth. I rub the craggy bark of a sour cherry tree for sticky resin, a favorite childhood treat that tastes of licorice and myrrh. The rickety gate flanked by two ancient lilac bushes swings open, and I can see the vegetable garden and bashtan, the melon patch. “Why would you go to a land where watermelons don’t grow?” my great-grandfather used to ask my aunt Lola whenever she returned from Montreal and told stories of the harsh Canadian winters.

Asya was obsessed with her garden, something that all of us absorbed.  “When I can’t fall asleep, I transport myself to our garden and walk around counting cherry trees,” says Lola. My mother sends me photos of her suburban American garden transformed into a miniature version of Asya’s. I haven’t done any garden work since I left Ukraine more than twenty years ago, but somehow my hands remember how to tie the branches and build the water channels around the trees. But Valentina, Asya’s daughter and my grandmother, made the orchard her idée fixe, an ever evolving project. If I were to call her right now and announce my return, I know exactly what she will say: “I can’t imagine greater happiness.” And then she will add, “The garden could use an extra pair of helping hands.”

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

*Taras Shevchenko, A Cherry Orchard, translated by Boris Dralyuk and Roman Koropeckyj, Ukrainian Literature. Volume 4, 2014.



  • Sandra: Beautiful thoughts and love reading about your memories.
    This photo is so refreshing to look out now that its fall her and all the trees are bare.

    You of course look amazing in that photo-what a great spot to read December 9, 2016 at 8:49am Reply

    • Victoria: Late spring is the best time for flowers, and when the cherry orchard is in bloom, it’s such an exhilarating sensation. It’s a nice image to have in the middle of winter.

      Thank you! December 9, 2016 at 10:12am Reply

  • Linda: What a beautiful photograph and article! December 9, 2016 at 10:04am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Linda. December 9, 2016 at 10:13am Reply

  • Annie: How lovely! I can only imagine how good this garden smells. Do these trees produce edible cherries? December 9, 2016 at 10:22am Reply

    • Victoria: These cherry blossoms don’t have a very potent scent (unlike the fruit that comes later), but when all of the trees come in bloom at once, the air smells fresh, a little sweet, a little honey-like. And yes, they’re edible cherries, but they are sour cherries. We usually use for them in jams and cakes, although I like to eat them fresh. They’re intensely perfumed. December 9, 2016 at 10:29am Reply

  • Nikki: How beautiful V! I love the photo, it is just amazing. Thank you for a very timely story! December 9, 2016 at 10:34am Reply

    • Victoria: Spring and fall are two of my favorite seasons, especially in that garden. December 9, 2016 at 11:09am Reply

  • Richard Potter: “Our cherry garden with the water tanks that reflect the black lace of lilac branches, the damp warmth of tool sheds, and the bitter, raspy odor of dandelion flowers on the compost pile is my great-grandmother’s idea of paradise and her domain.” How lovely and evocative.” December 9, 2016 at 11:18am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much. 🙂 December 9, 2016 at 11:24am Reply

  • kekasmais: What a beautiful memory. And what motivation for me to try and nuture a green thumb. That orchard looks like absolute heaven. December 9, 2016 at 11:26am Reply

    • Victoria: What would you grow in your garden? December 9, 2016 at 2:50pm Reply

      • kekasmais: … my, what wouldn’t I grow. If I had the room for a full orchard, then definitely cherry trees, but also apple trees, pear trees, some blackberry shrubs and tomato vines to stuff myself sick on during the summer time. And a willow tree, just because I’ve always wanted one in my backyard ever since I was a little girl.

        But for a reasonable-sized suburban plot, irises will make me happy. Maybe some climbing roses or wisteria for my own little reading nook, and some wildflowers to draw in honeybees. December 10, 2016 at 12:46am Reply

        • Victoria: Willow blossoms, the soft fuzzy ones, have such a wonderful scent. Yes, I’d love one small willow too.

          Your idea of a garden sounds wonderful! December 10, 2016 at 7:41am Reply

  • Maria: Beautiful text and a wonderful photo! I know how strong are those memories from the grandmother’s gardens, far away from your actual home. My garden of souvenir is exuberant and smell like goyaves and mangoes.

    And just for your grandfather, Montreal’s winters are very harsh, but I can assure you, delicious watermelons grow here during summer :-).

    Thanks again Victoria! December 9, 2016 at 11:49am Reply

    • Victoria: A garden of guavas and mangoes sounds like heaven to me! I’m now wondering if mango blossoms have an aroma. Do you remember? December 9, 2016 at 2:53pm Reply

      • Maria: I don’t think so, but I’m not sure about it. I promise you next time I will see them I will inhale leur aroma. There was also an exotic fruit whose name, if I try to traduce it literally, is something like “rose apple”. It is fantastic!! Imagine a fruit that tastes like a sour apple, but smells like a rose :-). December 9, 2016 at 4:23pm Reply

        • Victoria: Is it the one that looks like a bell? If so, I remember tasting it a couple of times, and what I loved even more than the taste was texture. It’s so crisp and juicy. December 9, 2016 at 4:40pm Reply

        • Victoria: Here is what I meant:
 December 10, 2016 at 2:56pm Reply

          • Maria: Yes!!!! Those that grow in my grandmother’s garden were the Malaccense variety. They are rounder than the ones you’ve eaten, but their texture, taste and smell are very similar. What a sensorial experience! 🙂 December 12, 2016 at 12:06pm Reply

            • Victoria: The first time I tried them was in an Indonesian salad called rujak, and I couldn’t figure out what was the crunchy, juicy fruit or vegetable. I went to the street stall to see how the salad was made and I saw a lady slicing what I later learned was the rose apple. Unfortunately, we don’t get them here in Brussels, so I have to wait for another Asia trip to taste them. December 12, 2016 at 12:27pm Reply

              • Maria: Or to Latinamerica:-)! Next time i will try them in salad too. December 12, 2016 at 1:16pm Reply

                • Victoria: I’ve never been anywhere in Latin America. I’d love to visit. December 12, 2016 at 1:25pm Reply

  • Marc: Looking at this photo I feel relaxed. 🙂 December 9, 2016 at 3:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: Very glad to hear it. 🙂 December 9, 2016 at 4:41pm Reply

  • Zazie: Lovely story and pictures!
    I totally subscribe to this idea of paradise. Cherry orchards in bloom are so exhilarating.
    I didn’t know about their significance in Ucrainian traditions, thank you so much for sharing.
    Now, as I type, I am wrapped in a thick and cold foggy morning…if only I could take a sunny spot under those blooming branches on your right, with a good book to read!!! 🙂 December 10, 2016 at 2:30am Reply

    • Victoria: Same here! It’s foggy and cold, so it’s good to imagine someplace sunny and filled with blossoms. December 10, 2016 at 7:40am Reply

  • Daniel: I’ve read that Ukrainians are blessed with some of the most fertile soul on earth. Phonemenal yields and diversity of plants. I love to hear the stories of the plants- and the people who love them- they are the real stars in our industry. December 10, 2016 at 5:34am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, the famous black soil. It’s been a blessing and a curse, since many have set their sights on this land.

      I can’t agree more with you on the importance of the raw material growers for perfumery. By the way, there are several coriander plantations near my grandmother’s place, and the essence produced from these plants is used in perfumes and cosmetics. December 10, 2016 at 7:38am Reply

  • ClareObscure: Hi Victoria & fragrant fellow perfume fans. Absolutely gorgeous article, Victoria. Your descriptive & evocative prose really takes us there to the cherry orchard. The poem’s simplicity speaks volumes about intimate moments of contemplation under the trees.
    Thanks for an inspiring visit with your Asya, Valentina, Lola & memories of Poltava.
    I also love the exotic reference to ‘walled gardens’ to draw us the multi cultural importance of gardens as representing peace, quiet labours & sanctuary.
    Your craft as a writer is ever on the ascendant. Happy Christmas to you & yours; and to our Bois de Jasmin community, for me, a fragrant walled garden. December 10, 2016 at 8:42am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for such touching words, Clare! I think that it’s true, that all of us have our personal idea of paradise. Even if it’s only a fantasy. December 10, 2016 at 2:55pm Reply

  • Johanob: It’s Summer over here,and my backyard orchard is full of ripe fruit.There are plums,apricots,quince and yellow cling-peaches.I’ve harvested a lot already,and my neighbour made me the most fantastic apricot and ginger preserve from part of the bounty I shared with her.Alas…I sold my house out here in the countryside of Cullinan,and will be moving back to the bustling heart of Pretoria at the end of January.I will miss this place and the memories so much.It was the last place my Mother lived and breathed as well.BUT!No choking up!New Beginnings!Fabulous great botanical prints for my refurbished couches and chairs!And a new garden to plan.Thank you for the nostalgic memory trip V!x December 10, 2016 at 3:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: Good luck with your move! As difficult as it is to leave one’s place behind, you have much to anticipate. A new garden to plan already sounds like a wonderful project! December 12, 2016 at 11:07am Reply

  • Notturno7: Beautiful article, Victoria.
    You got me crying with the image of you rocking in the hammock, wearing your great-grandmother’s coat. It brought memories soaked with love of my dear grandma, who passed away.

    And now a few unusual, lingual remarks.
    In Serbian, the word for tomato is Paradajz, looks like the it has the Persian root and maybe it tasted like heaven to those who named it so.
    And Bashta is another word for the garden with Bashtina being the word for inheritance.
    It’s interesting how the word garden has found its way into ‘inheritance’.
    I wonder if that’s similar in other languages. December 10, 2016 at 3:55pm Reply

    • Victoria: Fascinating! I seem to remember that in Czech too, tomato literally means “an apple from paradise.”

      In some parts of Ukraine, tomato used to be called “red aubergine.” December 12, 2016 at 11:08am Reply

      • Maria: Is the same in italian, pomodoro means something like gold apple 🙂 December 12, 2016 at 12:08pm Reply

        • Victoria: True! It was even referred to as pomo del paradiso and pomo del’amore. I remember reading someplace that the reason tomatoes were called pomo d’oro, golden apples, is because the first varieties that came to Europe were yellow. Anyway, this is such a fascinating topic of words that still retain the ancient patterns of trade, ideas and fantasies. December 12, 2016 at 12:34pm Reply

  • Wara: Dearest Victoria, Clare…this community is our fragrant wall garden, just like Clare has stated above! The beauty of your writing Victoria and the way in which you honor the ancestors is a special gift and a blessing. Thank you for uplifting our spirits with beauty, poetry, family love and history, and the very special memories of the smells of home! December 11, 2016 at 1:18am Reply

    • ClareObscure: Thanks Wara. I’m glad you like my metaphor of the walled garden. Victoria has written for us all, an inspiring Christmas gift, with her lovely descriptions of family & places. Joyeux Noel. December 11, 2016 at 9:04pm Reply

      • Victoria: Happy Holidays to all of you! Thank you again for your nice words. December 12, 2016 at 11:14am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much for saying so, Wara. All of you contribute so much to make this place, these pages, feel special to me. December 12, 2016 at 11:10am Reply

  • carole: Thanks for the beautiful images, and evocative writing. There is a snow storm here and I always feel a bit panic stricken when the snow starts-it’s light and fluffy and never ending.

    We had an orchard when I was little-the trees were short, and stubby, and more the stuff of nightmares than dreams. But I learned so much about soil and the work it takes to maintain a tree. And we had chickens and turkeys. They were allowed to run during the day and it was their favourite place to be. there was also some kind of dense shrub that produced hops. The smell of that shrub was so green-when I first smelled Eau de Camille the first thing that came to my mind was that wet dense shrubbery. December 11, 2016 at 10:27am Reply

    • Victoria: Given the amount of work in that garden, some of us complain that my grandmother devotes too much time to it. My back still hurts from whitewashing the trees last spring. December 12, 2016 at 11:11am Reply

  • Aurora: You share the memories of your great-grandmother with such eloquence Victoria. I believe she’s the one who made the beautiful cushions with the marvellous colours, so artistic, and the recipe for crepes. I am so glad that you have that special place to remember her, and as long as you do she lives. Thank you also for highlighting the importance of cherry orchards in the Ukrainian culture, an Taras Shevchenko most interesting. December 11, 2016 at 11:30am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m glad that you enjoyed this little journey.

      The grandmother who made the crepes is Olena. But Asya did make the cushions and took care of the cherry trees. She was obsessed with plants. December 12, 2016 at 11:14am Reply

  • Therése: So lovely. I hope to have my own garden some day. December 12, 2016 at 8:11am Reply

    • Victoria: So do I. For now I have a pot of chives outside. December 12, 2016 at 11:15am Reply

  • mysterious_scent: What a lovely article and memory!

    Last year I planted a cherry blossom tree in my front garden. It is a Kanzan, originated in Japan but grows well in our climate. It is still very small but it already flowered in Spring. December 13, 2016 at 8:36am Reply

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