By Kevin Monohan

21 year old author posing in the southern Alps of New Zealand
Young Kevin in New Zealand.
I was 21 years old, at home for the winter holidays during my senior year of college, trying to get through a book of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe for fun... and maybe as a challenge toward personal betterment. I had the OSU library book open in one hand and a dictionary open in the other.

I was finishing up a degree in Ornamental Horticulture and about to leave for New Zealand to travel and study Landscape Architecture during the southern hemisphere school year. I was also struggling with the big, obvious questions at the time: what was I doing with my life, will I be happy, would I find her, will I make a difference, and how would I pay for any of it? Was I really able to spend another three penniless years studying Landscape Architecture in grad school when I returned to Oregon?

Back to Poe.

The cover image of a book of short stories by Poe
Book of short stories by EA Poe.
I remember liking all of Poe's greatest hits and plenty of his lesser known short stories. The man could write. Somewhere in the book I came across a story called The Domain of Arnheim.

The Domain of Arnheim is about a man named Ellison who, upon turning 21, inherits a vast fortune. A brilliant man and artist, he desires to express "the true character, the august aims, the supreme majesty and dignity of the poetic sentiment." Ellison also contemplates how to make oneself happy. Upon much reflection, he chooses to pursue landscape garden design.

Portrait of Poe in 1849
Edgar Allan Poe, 1849 "Annie" daguerreotype, Wikipedia.
"Ellison maintained that the richest, truest and most natural, if not altogether the most extensive province, had been unaccountably neglected. No definition spoke of the landscape gardener as of the poet. Yet it seemed to (Ellison) that the creation of the landscape garden offered, to the proper muse, the most magnificent of opportunities."

Who knew that reading a largely unknown short story by the great E.A. Poe would offer the support I needed?

I recently bought the 40-minute audiobook and listened to it. Again, I had to listen to many passages repeatedly to properly understand the old-timey talk of his centuries-old messages. Poe is not afraid to use multiple run-on sentences, repeatedly, with tons of commas, some seemingly random, some not, to just partially express a thought. My kind of fellow.

Stepping stone path along a pond
A journey, Boston APLD conference garden tour, photo by KM.

"An anxious examination of (Ellison's) career has given me to understand that, in general, from the violation of a few simple laws of humanity, arises the wretchedness of mankind. That, as a species, we have in our possession as yet the unwrought elements of content. And that, even now, in the present darkness and madness of all thought on the great question of the social condition, it is not impossible that man, the individual, under certain unusual and highly fortuitous conditions, may be happy."

Standing steel ring with a path through it
A portal, Bainbridge Island residence, photo by Lara Vyas.

I enjoy how Poe tells this tale. He spends the first third of the story setting up his argument for the health and happiness benefits, along with the unparalleled artistic merit, of performing landscape garden design. So good.

He spends the middle third of the story explaining what landscape design is and can be. I am astounded at the thoughtful research Poe must have done. The last part of the story describes Ellison's life's work; the creation of a garden tour of unparalleled beauty. I recall finding it truly inspiring to my young self, and it sold me on the value of the journey and the destination.

Council ring overlooking an ocean view
A destination, Windcliff APLD garden tour, photo by KM.

How fortuitous for a young, would-be landscape designer to stumble upon this story. I was offered some powerful validation that what I was pursuing was indeed exactly what I valued.

"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 earth could afford."

Framed painting of abstract landscape images
The Domain of Arnheim by Dustin Haug
About 15 years ago, I shared the story with our construction crew. Later that same year, inspired by Poe's story, my secret Santa made for me the painting on the right. Last Christmas, my wife framed the painting for me.

And this year I get to pass the story along to you. I hope you find the time to enjoy The Domain of Arnheim.

Happy Holidays my APLDWA peeps.

Kevin Monohan

PS. I read an article online that suggested Poe was referring to a mental "domain" by using meditation to create an inner "landscape-garden". I like that but, due to my landscape designer bias, I read it differently. Poe is referring to the physical realm, but he is talking about embedding the landscape garden with meaning (care, excitement, journey, reveal, destination, etc.) to bring one closer to the spiritual world.