“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett continues to be a favorite book that I have gone back to reread about three times already. Published in 1911 in England, this children’s book has always been on my shelf from a very early age. It was gifted to me by an older cousin for one of my birthdays. It took me a few more years to actually read it as reading was definitely not a pastime. One day, out of sheer curiosity and boredom, I began reading it and from the very beginning, I could not stop. For two weeks after school, instead of playing Super Smash Bros on my Gamecube, I’d go to my favorite corner of the house and read about Mary and the work she had done in the secret garden. There was something about the story that was very calling, besides its beautiful depictions of the vast green moor that surrounded the home of Mary’s uncle, there was something about Mary that I enjoyed. I was elated when Mary started gaining weight and coming home with her knees and arms covered in dirt. I remember wanting my own garden and tending it and watching it grow. In fifth grade, faculty set up a garden in the right corner of the school’s field where students were able to go in and help. I was always there every recess, I’d shovel fertilizer, pull weeds or enter the small green house and mist the tomato plants. Once I grew up and started living on my own, I once again wanted my own garden. And I tried during the beginning of the pandemic, I tried to garden and maintain the few small plants I bought and failed miserably in those months. All my plants ended up dying due to dehydration or overwatering. I did not understand what signs to look for when a plant had root rot or how much water they needed as if I had a blindfold on while tending them. Needless to say, I sabotaged myself from trying and instead encouraged my partner at the time to garden. I’d buy them gloves, a trowel, even a cultivator just to enjoy the process through them.
The story begins with neglected and spoiled little Mary who lost her parents due to a cholera outbreak and was sent to stay with her uncle who is introduced with severe depression and grief over the loss of his wife and son’s mother. Mary is frail, self-centered, lacks appetite and closeted to the wonders of the world. Mary would play pretend in an imaginary garden before travelling to her uncle’s manor. She had such a strong disinterest in life and people until she discovered the hidden secret garden where she and her uncle’s ill son, Colin, work together to cultivate their garden.
Burnett details quite exquisitely how tending this garden was a healing and growing experience for both Mary and Colin, as Mary becomes alive and Colin’s health rejuvenates to the point where he is able to walk and reconcile his relationship with his father. The garden gives the children motivation to live everyday with purpose, there is much satisfaction in them coming back home covered in dirt, with so much hunger that every bite of food is the best they’ve ever had. Healing is an important theme in this story as these characters and others are absorbed in their unhappiness until the garden undergoes change. The characters receive an opportunity to develop their inner self by learning to be more compassionate and empathetic as the garden comes alive with the fruits of their labor.
Change is always constant, even when you are not onboard. This year I decided to start gardening once more, and it was the best thing I could’ve done for myself. I find so much joy waking up in the morning to all the plants I’ve taken care of for the past several months. I’ve learned through my mistakes by listening to what they needed from me. I know when a plant is dehydrated, I know when a plant has root rot and I have several methods of saving plants. Whenever I see a plant on the ground holding for dear life, I pick it up and bring her home. I smile when I see my plants’ new growth, new roots or when my flowers bloom. I used to be so afraid of repotting plants or not knowing how to propagate because I did not want to fail. Failing is part of the process, as simple as it sounds, you have to allow failure to occur. Gardening has also greatly improved my mental health and self-esteem as I know now what I am capable of. There has been several studies and trials noting that people’s moods and mental health benefit from just being around plants or nature. Many health professionals have used these holistic therapies or “green care” as a way to help reduce patients’ anxieties, stress, anger or depression.
I’ve learned a lot about myself this year and it is quite revealing of how much I see myself in Mary. There is something about moving around in the sun, touching dirt, focusing on another living being that restores strength and peace in your life.
“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden