While reading “Kew Gardens,” I could not help but envision The New York Botanical Gardens on the first beautiful Sunday in the late spring that heralds the start of summer. That day of the long-awaited and much-craved balmy temperature marks the time of year when I, like the flowers, come back to life. Like a Lazarus who suffered from January chill, I’m happy (for once) to dust the cobwebs off of my Asics and run across Southern Boulevard to take advantage of the free admission to the garden for exercising Fordham students. Because I hate running with an iPod, I usually evade the tedium and defer the pain of a long run by imaginatively eavesdropping on the other people enjoying the weather by trading the cement stress of the city for the soft, earthen trails of the Botanical Garden. Jogging past them, I am privy to snippets of their discourse; I can hear a word or two of the argument between the old couple, the mother chastising her small child, the lovers making plans. I can synthesize their history and their present from these fragmented syllabic over-hearings.
Exactly what Virginia Woolf meant by “Kew Gardens,” I do not know. By the end of the short work of fiction, which reads more like a painting or a dream, it seems that she means to portray the garden as an isolated oasis, an island whose visitors are allowed melancholy musings of regret and reminiscence amidst the swirling violence of a World War ocean. In a London where residents are forced to constantly face their present plight and look forward to a frightening and uncertain future, Kew Gardens acts as a momentary reprieve. “Voices,” muses Woolf. “Yes voices, wordless voices, breaking the silence suddenly with such depth of contentment, such passion of desire, or, in the voices of children, such freshness of surprise; breaking the silence? But there was no silence; all the time the motor omnibuses were turning their wheels and changing their gear” (89). Despite the serenity offered to Londoners by strolls in Kew Gardens, they must ultimately, like Woolf’s laboring snail emerges from his shell, leave behind the safety of the garden walls and face whatever uncertainty the reality of the city presents them.
Even while running through the deepest and thickest part of the Botanical Garden, I can still hear reverie-breaking sirens.