May is a time of awakening and flowering. I close my eyes and move in my thoughts to my home town of Irkutsk on the far eastern edge of Siberia. I clearly remember how the lilacs were beginning to blossom, the caps of which shimmered with all shades of purple, pink and white.
I still remember this delicate and wonderful smell of miracle and anticipation. The grass under the bushes was covered with the cute asterisks of tiny dropped petals. As children, we spent hours searching for a flower with five petals instead of four. When we found it, we made a cherished wish, sincerely believing it would come true. It was a time of beauty and hope.
In all my travels, I have never seen so many lilac bushes anywhere else. They were generously planted near each and every house and rimmed the outskirts of all the paths. How did this happen? It could not be mere chance. This question lingered in my thoughts, and I returned to it again and again. One day I learnt that it was a beautiful and extraordinary dream. The dream of my wonderful mother-in-law, the famous Siberian dendrologist and florist Antonina.
Imagine Irkustsk, Siberia, 1960. A vast, abandoned and junk-littered wasteland on the banks of the remote Angara River. The Soviet government decided to transform it completely. It would become a scientific centre with nine research institutes.
At that time, it was a revolutionary idea to gather the best minds of science in an isolated area and have scientists live and work so closely in one place. The institutes were located together, and across the street they built the houses and schools, the shops and the pharmacy.
Antonina, then a young botanist, was given a leading role to plant this huge space. Imagine if you were given a multimillion- dollar opportunity to plant any trees and flowers you wanted; a chance to make a dream into reality, to transform a wasteland into a blooming and beautiful garden. What would you do?
What vision, what boldness and determination was needed to plant the thin twigs of future trees and predict what they would be in tens of years, how they would fit into the general ensemble! How would the plants shade each other? How would they grow together in harmony? It was a lovely puzzle that, after decades, became a bright and breathing world.
After years I understood that the master botanist was an artist, a painter of landscapes. I found the “smear” of her palette in placing a green spruce in a group of blue firs, or shading the birches with maple leaves or standing the larch in an elegant row.
She told me later that she thought for a very long time about how to make it not only practical but also scenic; to reveal a beauty that would make people happy so they would enjoy gazing at it for many years.
A romantic and a dreamer, she made such extraordinary decisions. She decided to surround one institute by birches, another by rare blue fir trees, the third by wild ash that are so bright in autumn. Larch, linden, apple, birch, pine, Manchurian walnut and Canadian maple were all brought to desolate Irkutsk from afar.
Antonina was very fond of lilacs and it was her special dream to plant them everywhere in the residential area. And so she did. They are still blooming every spring and make the area where I grew up so different, and well-known throughout the city.
When I think of dreams that were accomplished beautifully, I always remember the lilac bushes under my window which woke me with their languid smell. I am a dreamer myself, and I know that when a person dreams the most unlikely things can happen: suddenly, a bright torch illuminates an unknown path; we become different; we burn with an extraordinary idea that does not allow us to sleep. We are impatient to see the embodiment of our dream which is so difficult and sometimes impossible to explain to other people. We work so passionately because there is nothing like this exciting and thrilling feeling when you see that a gorgeous garden has bloomed, starting just from your dream, your vision, your idea.
Antonina passed away two weeks ago. I like to think she has gone on to an even more lovely garden where she would be so at home, still planting, spinning beauty from her restless imagination.
Nina London is a certified wellness and weight-management coach. Her mission is to support and inspire mature women to make positive changes in their body and mind. Share your inspirational stories with her at ninalondon.com