Spring, “The Secret Garden,” and You


I cannot think of a better way to celebrate spring than with a visit to The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic piece of children’s literature about a willful girl, pain and loss, and the healing power of gardening.  By the way, do not be turned off by the “children’s literature” label — it’s a story that knows no age.

I must admit that although this book was first published in 1911, I never got around to reading it – and that was a huge mistake.  Yes, I am familiar with the various film interpretations, but I never treated myself to the beauty of Burnett’s written words. 

My second mistake was downloading the free Kindle version.  With each “page,” I found myself nodding along as Burnett captured in language all of my thoughts about gardening.  And with each nod, I craved an illustration.  Fortunately, the strength of the prose allowed me to paint the images in my mind.

Before The Secret Garden was published in book format, it ran as a serial – sort of like posts on a blog.  To correct my mistakes, I would like to invite Frances Hodgson Burnett to be today’s guest blogger via a few spring-like passages.

          “Springtime’s comin’,” he said.  “Cannot tha’ smell it?”

         Mary sniffed and thought she could.  “I smell something nice and fresh and damp,” she said.

          “That’s th’ good rich earth,” he answered, digging away.  “It’s in a good humor makin’ ready to grow things.  It’s glad when plantin’ time comes.  It’s dull in th’ winter when it’s got nowt to do.  In th’  flower garden out there things will be stirrin’ down below in th’ dark.  Th’ sun’s wamin’ ‘em.  You’ll see bit o’ green spikes stickin’ out o’ th’ black earth after a bit.”

          “What will they be?” asked Mary.

          “Crocuses an’ snowdrops an’ daffydowndillys.  Has tha’ never seen them?”

Nothing in the world is quite as adorably lovely as a robin when he shows off – and they are nearly always doing it.

          “If I have a spade,” she whispered, “I can make the earth nice and soft and dig up weeds.  If I have seeds and make flowers grow the garden won’t be dead at all – it will come alive.”

She worked and dug and pulled up weeds steadily, only becoming more pleased with her work every hour instead of tiring of it.  It seemed to her like a fascinating sort of play.  She found many more of the sprouting pale green points than she had every hoped to find.  They seemed to be starting up everywhere and each day she was sure she found tiny new ones, some so tiny that they barely peeped above the earth. 

          “There’s naught as nice as th’ smell o’ good clean earth, except th’ smell o’ fresh growin’ things when th’ rain falls on ‘em.  I get out on th’ moor many a day when it’s rainin’ an’ I lie under a bush an’ listen to th’ soft swish o’ drops on th’ heather an’ I just sniff an’ sniff.  My nose end fair quivers like a rabbit’s, mother says.”

           “You can have as much earth as you want,” he said.  “You remind me of someone else who loved the earth and things that grow.  When you see a bit of earth you want,” with something like a smile, “take it, child, and make it come alive.”

          “Is the spring coming?” he said.  “What is it like?  You don’t see it in rooms if you are ill.”

          “It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine, and things pushing up and working under the earth,” said Mary.

           “Just listen to them birds – th’ world seems full of ‘em – all whistlin’ an’ pipin’,” he said.  “Look at ‘em dartin’ about, an’ hearken at ‘em callin’ to each other.  Come springtime seems like as if all th’ world’s callin’.  The leaves is uncurlin’ so you can see ‘em – an’, my word, th’ nice smells there is about!” sniffing with his happy turned-up nose.  “An’ that poor lad lyin’ shut up an’ seein’ so little that he get to thinkin’ o’ things as sets him screamin’.  Eh! My!  We mun get him out here – we mun get him watchin’ an’ listenin’ an’ sniffin’ up th’ air an’ get him just soaked through wi’ sunshine.  An’ we munnot lose no time about it.”

And that is my wish for myself and for all of you on this first full day of spring – get out and watch and listen and sniff and get soaked with sunshine and earth – and lose no time about it.

Happy Spring!

25 thoughts on “Spring, “The Secret Garden,” and You

  1. Wonderful! I have not read the book but like yourself saw several versions on film. Maybe I should follow your lead and get the book. It won’t be on Kindle though. I like my books proper and papery. Maybe I’m just old fashioned!

    • It’s definitely a worthwhile read — and it should be devoured the old- fashioned way: paper, ink, and illustrations. You may also want to underline your favorite passages. 🙂

  2. I have followed your strict instructions (who am I to argue!)
    I went out, listened & sniffed & soaked in those warm Spring rays and plunged my porky fingers in a bag of soil…and you know what…it felt good!
    Spring is def’ the best time of year…embrace it all xxx

  3. A wonderful book, and thank you for the quotes you brought many happy memories back! I had the book as a child, and always loved it. The BBC did a serialisation of it, one of their great period style dramas, ostensibly for children but it was very popular. You’ve made me want to re-read it!!

    • It is one of those books that can be enjoyed over and over again — especially while sitting in the garden. Glad to have brought back some memories.

  4. I have seen several movies of ‘The Secret Garden’, but have never read the book. What wonderful words to any gardener! Yes, I am going outside today – to listen, and smell, and watch for spring.

  5. I had a beautiful illustrated edition of the Secret Garden when I was a kid and it was one of my favorite books. I sort of forgot about it, so thanks for reminding me!

  6. I have saw the various movies on the book too but I would love to read the book after your quotes in this posting. I adore the wording and the colorful descriptions. Kevin those white crocus are just so beautiful. That tiny strip of purple in the blooms just makes them stand out more and look so dainty. Enjoy this wonderful weather.

    • This weather is amazing, but the crocus seem to be wilting under the early heat. And enjoy the book — it’s definitely something to be savored.

  7. I read this book as a child and your post makes me realize I need to go back and revisit it now as an adult who loves gardening. I suspect I’ll like it even more now.

  8. I am fortunate to work close to where I live so I can have walkabouts in the garden if I have a break and when I’m at lunch. Nothing compares to the feeling I get when I see something that I planted last year to poke through or waiting for the dahlia bulbs to make an appearance. My father,who is wonderful and amazing lets me ramble on about what’s going on in my garden daily – everyone else runs the other way. Every patch of soil is MY secret garden!

    • That is a beautiful sentiment — the idea that every patch of soil is your secret garden. By the way, we all need someone to whom we can ramble about what’s popping out of the ground. At this time of year, it’s too difficult to contain ourselves. 🙂

  9. The Secret Garden is definitely on my list to read. Spring is just the best season! Each year, I take the week of Good Friday off and garden, garden, garden. When my vacation is over, I feel like a new person even though I have practically worked myself to death in the garden. I enjoyed your post. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • Beth,
      Thanks for commenting. Like you, I also have that same week off and I look forward to being outside and immersing myself in garden work. What’s interesting is that I can be exhausted after a workday, but feel completely rejuvenated after a longer day in the garden. 🙂

  10. Ah, reading this guest post reminds me that it’s time to get out my CD of “The Secret Garden” (Lucy Simon’s musical version). I love to drive around the countryside listening to it and singing along at this time of year.

  11. The Secret Garden is definitely a nice read that it has inspired artists to interpret it in different ways. Your garden blooms are just lovely! It can as well inspire other garden enthusiasts out there. Being in the lawn maintenance Phoenix line of work, thank you for sharing your love of gardening with us.

  12. Pingback: Bloomin’ Update 39: Spring Awakening! | Nitty Gritty Dirt Man

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