One of the stories that I read as a child that has stayed with me is The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. For a long time I had a copy on my bookshelf, but when I had the urge to read it last week I discovered that was no longer the case. Fortunately it’s easy enough to find a free copy, particularly as it’s part of the new range of free Amazon Kindle Classics, which you can read via the free Amazon Kindle app – you don’t need an actual Kindle.
The Secret Garden is the story of a young English girl, raised in India and orphaned in a cholera outbreak. She’s sent back to England to live with her uncle in a stately pile on the Yorkshire moors. When she arrives she’s sallow, skinny and sullen. Her uncle is always absent, and a sad and lonely man who can’t get over the death of his beautiful wife.
Left to her own devices, Mary learns to amuse herself in the gardens. She befriends a grumpy old gardener, and a robin. She uncovers the secret garden, a rose garden locked shut since the death of her uncle’s wife. And she meets Dickon, the younger brother of a housemaid, who lives a feral life on the moors and is able to charm wild animals.
“The Secret Garden was what Mary called it when she was thinking of it. She liked the name, and she liked still more the feeling that when its beautiful old walls shut her in no one knew where she was. It seemed almost like being shut out of the world in some fairy place.”
In time, she discovers another secret – her invalid cousin Colin. Colin has spent his whole life shut away in the house, terrified that he will turn into a hunchback like his father, and fearful that he is too ill to survive. The truth is there’s nothing much wrong with Colin that a less cloistered life wouldn’t fix.
Dickon and Mary entice Colin out into the gardens by telling him about the Secret Garden. It’s spring, and the bulbs are pushing through the soil, the robin is nesting in the branches, and there are buds bursting everywhere.
“The garden had reached the time when every day and every night it seemed as if Magicians were passing through it drawing loveliness out of the earth and the boughs with wands.”
The secret garden quickly works its magic on both of these sickly children. And this is the point to which I have currently read, but from memory there comes a day when it works its magic on the grieving widower as well.
It’s easy to see the magic in a garden in the spring time, when life itself is simply bursting out of the ground and every day brings new transformations. In the autumn the process is reversed, with life apparently disappearing before our eyes as the days shorten and the trees lose their leaves. There are more dark, dank and cold days than bright ones, and we know that winter will seem to last forever.
But the garden is still full of magic in the winter, and all we need to find it is some more appropriate clothing. I love the selection of rain work trousers from Engelbert Strauss, not least because they’re called rain trousers. Special trousers for rain. It’s like dressing up for a (slightly damp) party. Anyway, a nice pair of waterproof trousers means you can gallivant in the garden without a care, and even kneel down to look at the wonders low to the ground.
Ephemeral fungi rise up and disappear in the blink of an eye. Dew covered cobwebs catch the morning light. The birds are always up to their antics on the bird feeders, and if you’re digging in the soil the robin may come to see what you’re about. And there’s nothing like a frost to make the whole world look shiny and bright new again, sparkling in the sunshine that follows a cloud-free night.
Every year my mother parrots the conventional wisdom that autumn is the time to ‘put the garden to bed’. She’s a big fan of sunshine and flowers, and not at all fond of cold drafts and dampness, so to her it makes perfect sense to shut the garden outside for the winter. I prefer to see that life carries on, albeit at a slower pace, and I think that’s one of the reasons I have a winter garden, full of leeks and purple sprouting broccoli, overwintering onions and garlic. (It’s also partly because PSB is one of my most favourite things.)
The pressing rush of spring has passed, as have the hot and heavy days of summer. The garden is a more relaxed place now, and still lovely. It may have slowed down, but the magic is strong, and if you can wrest yourself away from the warm indoors, it will still cast a spell on you.
This post is the result of a collaboration, but the thoughts and words are my own.