“Garden Song” by Phoebe Bridgers on her album Punisher tells a story of reflection and growth through retellings of her experiences and her dreams. Throughout the song, she tells stories from different stages in her life, transitioning from her childhood, to her adolescence, and eventually to adulthood, in which she is finally able to forgive herself for her past. The entire song centers around the idea of growth, and in finding the beauty in destruction.
The song begins by describing her dreams as a child:
And when your skinhead neighbor goes missing
I’ll plant a garden in the yard, then
They’re gluing roses on a flatbed
This start of the first verse uses imagery to set the scene of her killing a Nazi, and planting a garden over his dead body. This creates an unnerving contrast between the beautiful and peaceful garden filled with roses, and the dead Nazi it covers up. This juxtaposition forces the listener to consider what the origins of growth mean for its outcome – is growth still beautiful if it comes from something scary and devastating?
She then continues on to discuss the loss of her childhood as she moves on into adolescence:
I grew up here, ’til it all went up in flames
Except the notches in the door frame
When Bridgers was about 19 years old, her family home caught on fire, literally going “up in flames.” However, this was at the same time that she was witnessing her parents go through divorce, symbolizing her childhood going “up in flames.” The second line then alludes to the notches families often keep on their walls to indicate how tall a child has grown to be, continuing the theme of growth. Since these notches aren’t actual objects, they can’t technically be destroyed by the fire, symbolizing the idea that this catastrophic event in her life didn’t erase her growth.
After discussing the loss of her childhood, Bridgers moves on to reflecting on her transition between adolescence to adulthood:
Then it’s a dorm room, like a hedge maze
And when I find you
You touch my leg, and I insist
But I wake up before we do it
Dorm rooms are often associated with entering young adulthood, and the changes that come with. The mentioning of a hedge maze as a simile in the same line alludes to the image of navigating a complicated maze, indicating the struggle to find your way in life, especially when entering adulthood. This image of a dorm room hedge maze appears to be a dream, but before she can find her way out of the maze and figure herself out, she wakes up abruptly.
The final chorus goes back to the ideas from the beginning of the song:
Everything’s growing in our garden
You don’t have to know that it’s haunted
Bridgers revisits the garden that was planted over the dead Nazi from the beginning of the song. This garden seems to be thriving, and so she leads to listener to wonder if the garden’s history truly matters, or if it’s ok for the death that haunts the garden to remain unknown, since it doesn’t take away from how much the garden has grown. The garden is still beautiful, despite the fact that it’s fertilized by the corpse of a Nazi.
Finally, after revisiting the garden of her childhood, Bridgers discusses recent experiences from her adult life:
The doctor put her hands over my liver
She told me my resentment’s getting smaller
In traditional Chinese medicine, liver health is closely linked to emotional health, meaning that if her liver is in good health, her emotions are too. As her emotions grow healthier, her resentment shrinks away, and she is able to forgive herself for her past, and accept her growth.
“Garden Song” leads listeners to reflect on their life and the idea of growth, and how some of the most beautiful things can bloom from trauma and pain.