Review: Unearthing the Secret Garden

In the Preface to “Unearthing The Secret Garden” – The Plants and Places that inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett – author Marta McDowell asks: “Can a book be a horticultural trigger? A sort of gateway drug for gardeners?” She goes onto say that if this is so, surely that beloved children’s classic, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a contender.

This delightful book takes us through the life of Frances Hodgson Burnett, revealing how gardening deeply inspired her and how events and places throughout her life developed that interest. It contains charming period photographs and illustrations which help set the portrait of a great author and artist in what at times is a deeply moving book, beset as she was with illness and personal tragedy throughout her life.

The author also includes in the book, details of her beloved gardens created in England, Long Island and Bermuda.

The book is beautifully produced and within its pages you will find a cornucopia of images – particularly interesting I found are the ones of Frances herself, however, there are also illustrations from her books as well as images of plants in her various gardens.

Divided into four parts – part one: Before The Secret Garden, part two: Inside The Secret Garden, part three: covers after The Secret Garden and part four: Outside the Secret Garden. In this final part we are treated to further garden writings of Frances dating between 1906 and 1924.

We learn that as soon as a seedman’s catalogue arrived, other household affairs were forgotten, “…such sordid matters as sleeping, writing books, eating and talking shop” ceased! She had an aversion to Zinnias but we are told she was never a plant snob. She also had an aversion to magenta!

The author describes Frances as a complex individual and prolific writer who from early childhood in Manchester loved a good story and was an avid reader. That she penned a much-loved children’s story that is considered a classic today and still enthralling readers, would no doubt have caused her some amusement were she still alive.

Frances died in 1924 and now nearly 100 years later The Secret Garden is still one of the nation’s favourites. The story has been turned into films, television series and serialised in magazines, and never fails to enchant. At the 2021 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, award-winning designer Thomas Hoblyn, designed ‘The Boodles Secret Garden‘ inspired by the book

Marta McDowell is a New York Times bestselling author, writes and lectures on garden topics and teaches landscape history and horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden. Her books include Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life, All the President’s Gardens and Emily Dickinson’s Gardening Life.

Unearthing The Secret Garden” The Plants and Places that inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett by Marta McDowell is in hard back at £19.99 ($25.95) and is published by Timber Press. It will make a superb present at Christmas or for a birthday, but I suspect if you perchance to take a peek inside at your local bookseller you will no doubt be enchanted enough to want one for yourself!

The publishers kindly supplied a copy of this book for review.