“If it were a quite alive garden, how wonderful it would be…”

March 26, 2012 @ 7:54 pm | Filed under: ,

I have to clarify something. In the Two Gardeners ramble I said Katharine White’s Onward and Upward in the Garden was the first horticultural tome I ever fell in love with, but that isn’t exactly true. At first I wrote “the first gardening book I ever fell in love with,” and immediately I knew that wasn’t right: that honor goes to (for me, as for so many others) The Secret Garden—a book I have read at least twenty times in my life, and I think that is a conservative estimate. It might be nearer thirty.

So I changed “gardening book” to “horticultural tome,” not wanting, that day, to digress into the many pages of reasons why The Secret Garden is a book that shaped me, and either it was what taught me to thrill at the first sign of a green shoot poking out of cool spring soil, or else it gave me words to articulate that thrill I always felt. Either way, it was a book that explained me to me, and I would not be me without it. I was not temperamentally sour like Mary, nor sickly like Colin, nor wise like Dickon. I was probably more like Martha, the maid, than anyone else in that book, though I longed to comprehend the languages of foxes and larks, like Dickon, and to be daring and stubborn like Mary, and I admired the way Colin’s mind would fix on something and turn it over and over until he made sense of it. I understood Mary’s rush of emotion and thumping heart at the signs of spring creeping like a green mist over the dead, gray garden. I too yearned for my own bit of earth. (And got it: my mother gave us each a section of her flower bed to be our own. I grew snapdragons and moss roses, and they are still among my favorites and I cannot be without them.) Like Mary, I wanted to know the names of things and how to keep them “quite alive—quite,” and to converse with saucy robins and to smell the wind over the heather.

Sometimes I think there is no finer sentence in all of literature than: “She was standing inside the secret garden.”

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12 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. scott (the other one) says:

    Sometimes I think there is no finer sentence in all of literature than: β€œShe was standing inside the secret garden.”

    Truer words were never spoken.

  2. sarah says:

    I’ve never actually read that book. Rose has though. You’re so right, that sentence is perfection in so many ways.

  3. Alysa says:

    Love this book! And I loved the maid, also. Been far too long since I’ve read it.

  4. Lindsay says:

    Sadly, as much as I loved, loved, loved that book (and reread it many times), I don’t think that it occurred to me as a child reading it that *I* could be like Mary Lennox and have a bit of earth and grow flowers. But, as I have grown to love gardening as an adult and delighted in it in a somewhat child-like way, it has come back to me and become more meaningful. I even wrote “where you tend a rose…a thistle cannot grow” on my gardening journal.

  5. Jennifer says:

    Why don’t I like this book? πŸ™‚ (I almost just left the same comment on Karen’s post about The Hunger Games).

  6. Ellie says:

    I *liked* the Secret Garden — but I **LOVED** A Little Princess. πŸ™‚

    (Oh, Jennifer, your comment gave me a chuckle)

  7. Lesley Austin says:

    Yes, Lissa…so powerful. I am remembering now how I used to try to bend every project in high school and college towards my beloved books and made a secret garden-mortaring pebbles into a large round wall on piece of wood, cutting out tiny spring green felt leaves to glue to twigs for trees,lots of moss, even music to play when I presented it to my teacher. I can’t imagine what class it was that would allow a miniature Secret Garden as a final project?

    One of my “if we had a million dollars” items would be building a walled garden on our property. I have always wondered what Tasha Tudor’s Secret Garden was like. And one last SG thought (so many!). I just watched the really old version of the Secret Garden with Margaret O’Brien. It is pretty dreadful, in my opinion, and I hope you are nothing like the always-loudly-giggling Martha in that version. : )

  8. Emily says:

    Have you ever heard the musical of the Secret Garden? My 5 year old has been listening to it non-stop. It is amazing!

  9. janewilk says:

    Yes, yes, yes! I still get chills imagining her asking, “Might I have a bit of earth?”

  10. Laura says:

    Oh Lissa! It’s so good to read how The Secret Garden shaped who you are today. This book affected me so strongly that I credit it for holding me together when my nine-year-old world was falling apart. Mary’s hesitant request of her uncle, for only a bit of earth, is why our land is called Bit of Earth Farm.

    This is why I call it “the book that saved me.” http://lauragraceweldon.com/2011/03/25/how-the-secret-garden-saved-me/

  11. mamacrow says:

    I wondered, Lissa, how long it would be before you mentioned The Secret Garden! πŸ˜€

    Oh how I LOVE that book (I liked The Little Princess, and wasn’t much impressed with Little Lord Fontleroy)

    And yes, I too asked for a ‘bit of earth’ and grew allisum in it, at the end of my dad’s gorgeous rose beds.

  12. Melissa Wiley says:

    Laura, thank you so much for sharing that beautiful post! Heartbreaking and hopeful and real. Bit of Earth Farm…perfect.

    Lesley, do you have photos of your Secret Garden project? I would love to see it… πŸ™‚