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.

cherry-orchard1

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 could call her right now and announce my return, I know exactly what she would say: “I can’t imagine greater happiness.” And then she would 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.

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89 Comments

  • 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

    • Valentyna: Oh that taste of cherry tar!!!😍and apricot tar.. and apple😄whatever we could reach! When I first encountered a raw styrax, I was immediately reminded of those sittings on the cherry trees, scrubbing fascinatingly amber coloured blobs of tar and its taste/scent was right there! 🍒 February 14, 2022 at 9:33am Reply

      • Victoria: Yes! The scent is very similar. February 15, 2022 at 5:15am 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:
          https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose_apple 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

    • OnWingsofSaffron: In Austrian-German a tomato is called a „Paradeiser“—same reference to paradise! February 14, 2022 at 3:25pm Reply

      • Victoria: Since then I have learned Serbo-Croatian, and I was curious to discover that tomato is paradajz. Or rajčica, which comes from rȃj (paradise) and is a calque of Paradeiser or Paradiesapfel. Fascinating, isn’t it! February 14, 2022 at 3:34pm Reply

        • OnWingsofSaffron: Quite! My mother who grew up as a child in Brunnen, a small town on the Lake of Lucerne (or Lake of the Four Cantons, in German) always told me that one of her most vivid childhood memories was coming home from school in late summer and picking a ripe tomato in their garden. She always marveled that the the fruit was bursting ripe and still warm from the heat of the sun. It was utter bliss for her, and it fills me with both melancholy and gratefulness that such a humble yet vivid image gave her so utmost joy! February 14, 2022 at 3:52pm 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

  • Tourmaline: Dear Victoria,

    This was such a beautiful post. I recall that I discovered Bois de Jasmin and began reading it regularly about a year before I first commented, which was about a month after the cherry tree post.

    The love of your great-grandmother, Asya, for her garden, reminds me of my father’s love for his. He laments that now, aged 93 and quite frail, he can no longer work in the garden for more than half an hour at a time. These days, he hires a gardener to do most of the work. But I remind him that he can still walk around it, aided by his walking stick, and admire all the shrubs and trees that he planted long ago.

    When I was a little girl, I used to help by watering the garden and doing some weeding, and Dad gave each of us three kids a patch of earth in which to grow what we liked. I remember growing carrots, radishes, sunflowers and some smaller flowers.

    To my bucket list I have added finding a sour cherry tree so that I can sample the resin that tastes of licorice and myrrh!

    I hope that nothing ever disturbs the beauty and safety of the cherry orchards of Ukraine.

    With kind regards,
    Tourmaline February 14, 2022 at 8:20am Reply

    • Victoria: What a touching, beautiful story! Thank you so much for this. Sending my best regards to your father. February 14, 2022 at 4:08pm Reply

      • Tourmaline: Thanks so much, Victoria. February 15, 2022 at 6:44am Reply

  • Tanja Deurloo: Beautiful and lovely, to read and to see! February 14, 2022 at 9:22am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, dear Tanja! February 14, 2022 at 4:08pm Reply

  • Cezarina: Incredible. I have the same memories of the Cherry trees in Romania. It was my safe place. Thanks for reminding me of the sour cherry tar. February 14, 2022 at 9:40am Reply

    • Victoria: My project for 2023 is to learn Romanian and travel in Romania! You and Irina are inspiring me even more. February 14, 2022 at 4:09pm Reply

  • Marsi: Thoughts of you and all of Ukraine during these troubling times, Victoria.

    Your March 2020 post about how Asya endured the difficult historical events of her lifetime has been a balm to me. I printed it at the time, and have kept it tucked into my daily notebook to re-read whenever world events make me feel anxious or sad. Thank you for writing it. February 14, 2022 at 10:08am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Marsi! Asya was an incredibly strong, resilient individual. Thinking of her helps me a lot during difficult moments. February 14, 2022 at 4:10pm Reply

  • Hamamelis: What a poignant post. This must be a very difficult time for you. We all wish for the Ukrainian cherry orchards to remain a peaceful paradise. February 14, 2022 at 10:24am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much! I do too! February 14, 2022 at 4:10pm Reply

  • Aurora: A beautiful, touching letter to your wonderful family and your beloved country. February 14, 2022 at 3:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, I’m so glad that it resonated with you. February 14, 2022 at 4:10pm Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: I dearly and most sincerely hope that Russia will not (further) invade the Ukraine! Unthinkable pain, loss and grief! Let us all hope that reason shall prevail. February 14, 2022 at 3:29pm Reply

    • Victoria: It rarely does, but one can still hope. February 14, 2022 at 4:11pm Reply

      • OnWingsofSaffron: I’m afraid your wry assessment, Victoria, has proven to be true. Together with sovereignty, the rule of law, basic human rights, humanity, both reason and truth too have been abandoned. I am truly, truly sorry for all of the people who will experience loss, need and suffering. February 24, 2022 at 11:56am Reply

  • Christina Goebel: That was memory as an art. Beautiful! February 14, 2022 at 3:57pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Christina! February 14, 2022 at 4:11pm Reply

      • Dina C.: That was a beautiful piece of writing. Thanks for sharing it. My best cherry tree experience was when I lived in Turkey, a friend lived down the street in an actual house, not an apartment building like me, and her yard had a cherry tree. One time she and I climbed up the tree and picked cherries and ate them. They were so delicious. February 14, 2022 at 10:36pm Reply

        • Victoria: What a lovely memory! I also remember delicious cherries in Turkey. February 15, 2022 at 5:14am Reply

  • Fazal: Amazing read. I am glad you are drawing attention towards the beauty of Ukraine. February 14, 2022 at 4:55pm Reply

  • Frances: I remember this text from a time when I silently read but didn’t post. This is the opportunity to comment on how beautifully written this text is. The description of this marvellous garden is so poetic and delicate yet so lively. It is more than a dreamy evocation, it is really an incarnation through words. So much so that I felt I could walk through it. From reading your review on Colette Tocca fragrance I know you appreciate Colette’s writing and it shows in your very own writing. You too have a talent when it comes to talk about the wonders of the nature surrounding us and the way they shape us.

    In these very difficult and scary times we’re holding our breath when thinking of Ukraine’s fate. Let’s hope a peaceful spring will come along for the cherry trees and their devoted gardeners. February 15, 2022 at 12:44pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much for such kind words! As a child, I spent a lot of time in nature, helping my grandmothers in the orchard or taking forest walks. Those memories have stayed with me. February 17, 2022 at 3:47am Reply

  • Farran: Beautiful piece of writing, Victoria. February 15, 2022 at 1:27pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much! This means a lot to me. February 17, 2022 at 3:46am Reply

  • Aline: What a lovely piece. I now want to taste the resin of the tree February 15, 2022 at 6:26pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s such a treat! February 17, 2022 at 3:46am Reply

  • rickyrebarco: Such a beautiful photo and a wonderful description of your grandmother’s garden. I’ve never smelled actual cherry blossoms. February 15, 2022 at 9:34pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much! Cherry blossoms have a very delicate scent, with a hint of bitter almond. When all of the trees are in bloom, you simply smell an amazing freshness, rather than a rich fragrance. February 17, 2022 at 3:46am Reply

  • Megan: I never knew cherry trees produced edible sap. I’ll have to see if I can try some. I grow hoya (wax flowers) indoors, which produce a lovely, syrupy nectar that makes me jealous of bees. February 16, 2022 at 7:53am Reply

    • Victoria: I now need to find hoya! February 17, 2022 at 3:45am Reply

  • Ingeborg: Beautiful tribute to Ukraine and its culture! Thinking of you and hoping your friends and family there have found safe shelter. February 24, 2022 at 1:35pm Reply

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