I picked up this classic children’s book because I had a vague memory of reading something similar as a kid – some girl who had discovered a secret garden (which I now believe was Mandy by Julie Andrews) – and loving it. I wanted to find that book again and re-read it to see if it held up. This was not the right book, but I did enjoy it nonetheless. Probably because I’ve always found nature to be full of wonder. Most likely, it is for that reason that I love gardening.
Mary is a spoiled English brat living in a colonised India. She is used to bossing servants around and getting her way. One day, a terrible cholera epidemic befalls India and Mary’s parents die. She is sent to Yorkshire to live with her reclusive uncle. There, she discovers a secret garden, left untended for a decade. Together with her new friend Dickon they nurse the garden back to health. Mary slowly grows into a nice person (just as the garden starts growing again), affecting the lives of the people around her in an almost magical way.
Gardens carry so much potential to heal (and also cause pain, as my back, broken from yesterday’s 4-hour gardening session, would tell you if it could speak). This is beautifully portrayed in this classic children’s book. Even for the reader, the descriptions lift the soul. The moorland, as well, a surrounding presence, comforts and soothes. The Secret Garden reminds us that beauty is all around us, if we take the time to look for and at it.
Perhaps my expectations of children’s books are too low, but I felt that the language (Yorkshire is a tough dialect to understand in written form) and length of this novel would be more suitable for kids older than what a 10-year old protagonist would suggest. Some parts felt repetitive. It was also strange to me for a reason that the protagonist during the first half of the book is Mary, but then gradually the focus shifts onto her cousin, Colin, and Mary becomes a secondary character. The book hasn’t aged very well, considering the frequent appraisals of the children’s appearance and the casual racism with which Indians are talked about. Yet, if you can look past that, it is a beautiful story of hope and overcoming grief. And, of course, the healing power of nature.