Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote a charming young people’s novel. First published in book form in 1911, “The Secret Garden” lures the reader into a world of discovery and possibilities, all in a garden, shut off from the rest of the world.
It’s kept secret for years until a little girl discovers the key. Overgrown from years of neglect, Mary, the protagonist of this story, makes it her mission to unveil its hidden majesty, and in so doing, unveil the hidden majesty in all of us.
Five years ago, we took possession of our dream country home. Surrounded by thick groves of tall trees, a mixture of deciduous and evergreens, as well as dense wild shrubs and, yes, brambles, much of the property was hidden.
Starting in the center, around the house, I started clearing away the overgrowth from the areas most recognizable as once being gardens. As the once strangled plants sought a new lease on life, I noticed numerous bare spots. I wasn’t too concerned, knowing that either the plants around these bare spots would multiply over time, or just as likely, I would fill them in.
It was summer when we moved in, and it was extremely buggy. Especially in the woodsy parts of the property. The thought of venturing deeper into the overgrowth was not immediately appealing.
The arrival of autumn, with its cooler temperatures and nightly frosts, the bugs gave up the ghost and I started to hack a path into my overgrown wilderness. A neighbor had offered to clear-cut the entire expanse to lay bare the entire property. I didn’t want a total clearing. I turned down the offer and just hacked away. And I’m glad I did.
Once I broke through the first barrier, I discovered another world. Neglected gardens full of irises, peonies, daylilies and spring bulbs of all description. Only shabby leaves remained to bear evidence of their existence, including giant alliums, a plant my young son often pronounced as aliens.
I had, in effect, discovered my own secret garden to rejuvenate. Or perhaps I should say, I had discovered multiple secret gardens. I knew the process would be as rejuvenating for me as it would be for the strangled plants.
Over the years I continued to clear away and tidy up continuously. I eradicated, as best I could, the brambles, trimmed dead branches from surrounding trees that were blocking the sunlight from reaching the plants, tilled the soil and added fresh soil and compost. My rewards were endless.
The first spring revealed a carpet of trilliums, followed by columbine and lily of the valley. The uncovered iris and peonies flourished now that they could see the light of day.
Summer brought the wildflowers: wild violets, anemones, false Solomon’s seal, bellflowers, wild bergamot. And my favorites, forget-me-nots, jack-in-the-pulpit and lady slippers. The list goes on.
As my garden grew, I discovered more plants I didn’t recognize and the research began. I studied, learned and nurtured. There was a color for every season and a new carpet of growing surprises appeared on a regular basis.
Gardens are always full of secrets. If nurtured, gardens will reveal them all. Whether or not the garden is truly a secret garden, it’s certainly a product of care and nature. Creatively unique, gardens can be unveiled or constructed in unusual spaces. But the secret is in the gardener and in Mother Nature.