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.