Might I Have A Bit Of Earth – Retro Book Review: The Secret Garden

You know, people do reviews of all the new books that come out, but sometimes you just need to reach back and grab a classic. Because books become classics for a reason.   In my Literary English Bachelor’s Degree experience (yeah, that was not really a useful degree to get. I should have realized that after the 3000th time someone asked me “Oh, so you’re going t o be a teacher?”, that perhaps getting a degree in which the only job prospects most people saw were a job that needed another degree with it was a bad idea… but I have digressed) books become classics because they so insularly capture an idea or concept that no other book need be written on the subject.  The Secret Garden is one of these books.

Can I say that I fell in love with book before I actually read it?  I watched it on TV as a young girl, as a Hallmark special. In my memory, it was well done (though I have not seen it since and back then I thought the A-Team was well done too so you can’t really trust my childhood perceptions) and I immediately looked for the book.

When I was 11 years old reading that book, the draw was the mystery and fantasy of The Secret Garden.   At that time, I could not have cared less about all the silly flowers in the garden.   I loved the fact that Mary, Dickon and Colin had the COOLEST secret clubhouse in the whole wide world.

Since then, I have read the book to each one of my boys and I am reading it to my youngest now, which is why it is on my mind.  Â  I think they too love the fact that the children in the book have this place to go that the grown-ups don’t know about, a place where children could make things happen without the meddling of adults (and we meddle alot these days, you know).

As an adult, I am struck by how well Frances Hodgson Burnett captures the heart of a budding gardener or even a long time gardener who has been locked away for the winter.   While there are many passages in the book that convey this feeling, I love this one about when Mary first finds the garden:

“Yes, they are tiny growing things and they might be crocuses or snowdrops or daffodils,” she whispered.

She bent very close to them and sniffed the fresh scent of the damp earth. She liked it very much. “Perhaps there are some other ones coming up in other places,” she said. “I will go all over the garden and look.”

She did not skip, but walked. She went slowly and kept her eyes on the ground. She looked in the old border beds and among the grass, and after she had gone round, trying to miss nothing, she found ever so many more sharp, pale green points, and she had become quite excited again.

“It isn’t a quite dead garden,” she cried out softly to herself. “Even if the roses are dead, there are other things alive.”

She did not know anything about gardening, but the grass seemed so thick in some of the places where the green points were pushing their way through that she thought they did not seem to have room enough to grow. She searched about until she found a rather sharp piece of wood and knelt down and dug and weeded out the weeds and grass until she made nice little clear places around them.

“Now they look as if they could breathe,” she said, after she had finished with the first ones. “I am going to do ever so many more. I’ll do all I can see. If I haven’t time today I can come tomorrow.”

She went from place to place, and dug and weeded, and enjoyed herself so immensely that she was led on from bed to bed and into the grass under the trees. The exercise made her so warm that she first threw her coat off, and then her hat, and without knowing it she was smiling down on to the grass and the pale green points all the time.

Now tell me that is not exactly how you feel the first time you step outside into your garden after the wind, cold and snow of winter has receded.

Anyway, my point is that this winter, while you are huddled and miserable and gardenless in your house (or maybe that is just me), pick up a copy of The Secret Garden. Relive what it was like to be a child (without having to involve silly things like vampires and werewolves) and remember what it will be like to find your own “secret” garden in the spring.

9 thoughts on “Might I Have A Bit Of Earth – Retro Book Review: The Secret Garden
  1. Rebecca on

    I re-read ‘The Secret Garden’ (and ‘The Little Princess’) from time to time, being an inveterate re-reader, but when I do, I find them a bit cloying and sugary, actually. In ‘The Secret Garden’, the mysticism, Dickon (and pretty much his entire excessively rosy and down-to-earth clan), and the transformed Colin all make me itch. ‘Jane Eyre’, however, has lovely passages on gardening, that do not cloy, cause toothache, or inspire itching: “I stayed behind a few minutes to plant in my garden a handful of roots I had dug up in the forest, and which I feared would wither if I left them till the morning. This done I lingered yet a little longer; the flowers smelled so sweet as the dew fell.” Or: “I was a mile from Thornfield, in a lane noted for wild roses in summer, for nuts and blackberries in autumn, and even now possessing a few coral treasures in hips and haws, but whose best winter delight lay in its utter solitude and leafless repose.” Or “the storm broke, streamed, thundered, blazed, and the air grew pure. I then framed and fixed a resolution. While I walked under the dripping orange-trees of my wet garden, and amongst its drenched pomegranates and pineapples, and while the refulgent dawn of the tropics kindled around me–I reasoned thus…the sweet wind of Europe was still whispering in the refreshed leaves, and the Atlantic was thundering in in glorious liberty…From a flowery arch at the bottom of my garden I gazed over the sea–bluer than the sky…” There are several other awesome passages celebrating natural beauty not of mountains and plains but of ordinary scenes in gardens or lanes. For my money, Jane Eyre, while not a book about gardens, has much more evocative descriptions of natural settings.


  2. You’ve just reminded me. In the large box of my childhood things which was recently left on my doorstep (thanks, mom), there is a hard bound copy of The Secret Garden. I think I have a group date with that book, a quilt, and a latte! 🙂


  3. Loved your piece. I must remember to take more time for re-reading and not spend all my time searching the new. Thanks


  4. I read this book when I was 9. It had such a hold on me that I asked my father to build me a small garden of my own. He was not the type of dad who would usually follow through with his word and after he had me do cost estimates & architectural renderings, the project was left forgotten. I am now 33 and have a wonderful garden of my own, FINALLY! There’s not a day that goes by for me in the garden that I’m not reminded of this book in some way. I think my father did not take my project seriously at all, but isn’t it interesting what we know about ourselves and our passions at such a young age?

    Thank you for giving The Secret Garden a shout-out on your blog. It’s nice to see so many people have so much love for it as well!


  5. You picked one of my absolute favorite stories here. Although I’m an out-and-out bookworm, for some reason I’ve not actually read the book. Growing up in the UK I saw the story on TV and I’ve since watched it again with my kids. If it’s the British version you are remembering from the Hallmark channel then your memory is accurate. It’s such a fabulous story – what could be a better advert for the power of nature and gardening? The American movie version, not so much.


  6. It WAS well done. 🙂 I was given a copy by a family friend because her granddaughter’s friend was the star–how’s that for convoluted? But I probably watched it more than any other movie I owned growing up!


  7. Danielle on

    This made me think of all the times I rolled my eyes at my mother in the spring. She would drag me out to her gardens exclaiming over this shoot and that root. I always thought she was a bit of a nerd, but it was fun seeing her excitement. I am now the owner of several gardens she started along with the house her and my father built. They live far away and I miss them terribly. Anyway, I have worked my butt off all summer ( mostly in terror of kiling the plants she left behind) and have caught the fever. I am waiting for spring, the smell of the new earth, the tiny green shoots popping up. It is almost painful to watch the plants die in the fall, and knowing I will not see those little signs of life again for almost seven months. I am grateful to have caught on to this “obsession” because I know long after my mother is gone, every spring she will be with me for our own secret garden moments.


  8. Danielle, “caught the fever” is definitely the way to explain gardening. I remember watching my father tend his garden and never understood why he put so much work into it. My problem was I had never found something that I actually loved growing. Now that I’m growing herbs and other edibles, I get such a feeling of contentment and happiness when tending my garden. There’s something so magical about eating somethng that you grew yourself. I never read the Secret Garden, but now I feel compelled to read about someone else finding that same magic.


  9. I actually have a copy of this book, beautifull. Have reread it a couple of times when waiting for my own secret garden to blossom 🙂


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