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

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

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 Responses | | Comments Feed

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

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

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

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

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

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

  10. 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. 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. 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™‚