My Secret Garden Inspiration

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I'm literally aghast at how quickly the days seem to be going right now. I'm not sure why; not sure why they seem to be going so fast and not sure why that leaves me feeling shocked. Amelia's been in kindergarten for almost five months now, and I don't really know why, either, I thought that the days without her in the house would feel longer than the days when she was in half-day preschool. I guess, realistically, I really only have one extra hour before I leave to pick her up each day. We do two extra-curricular activities — ballet once a week and now we will start once-a-week swimming lessons after school today. Swimming is important, and she hasn't taken to the water very naturally. It feels like it's becoming a thing. Her group lessons in the summer aren't really cutting it. She actually regressed between first and second sessions last summer. I've heard good things about these new lessons so, fingers crossed, this is a fun and productive time because the lessons are expensive and also halfway 'round the world. . . .

For the first time in my life, I spend a lot of time in the car. . . .

THANK YOU for the podcast recommendations! Wow??? MANY RECOMMENDATIONS. Also, thank you for the British mysteries+ recs as well. You guys are awesome. Now I just need to find time to go through all of the recommendations and get them downloaded. I am excited. Someone said that the right podcast totally changed their commute. I like that. Also, I can't believe I forgot to mention Agatha Raisin on my list of must-watches. It's our go-to. For some reason, we literally just watch it all the time. It almost doesn't put Andy right to sleep. If you're going to watch it, though, you must try to find the pilot, which for some reason doesn't appear with the first season (this is all on Acorn TV). It's separate, and two hours long. If you watch "Walkers of Dembley" without watching "Quiche of Death" (pilot) you might be really confused. So be sure to search for it. The second season just started. M.C. Beaton (author) has written five thousand books in this series so lets hope this show goes on forever. I love Ashley Jensen. Well, everybody, really. Mathew Horne as Roy is perfect. I've read a ton of the Agatha Raisin books, years ago, actually, and I love the TV series better than the books.

This past fall, as Amelia entered kindergarten and started to show an interest in reading, I started pulling out the books that I had begun to collect for her before she was born. If you've been hanging around here for a while, you might remember this book list that you helped me put together. I remember that when I was working on that list, I bought a few classic books, including The Secret Garden, to start building a library for my future child. It struck me then and still strikes me now that, as much of a voracious reader as I was as a child, I really had very little exposure to what is considered "classic" children's literature. I'd never read The Secret Garden (or Little Women; or The Wind in the Willows; or Anne of Green Gables; or The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, to name just a few . . . ). I bought all of these and more for Amelia back then, in 2010, and I can remember like it was yesterday how I went to Chipotle right after I was at the Barnes and Noble in Lloyd Center, and I was reading this version of The Secret Garden (by Frances Hodgson Burnett) while eating my burrito, and I was about a dozen or so pages in when I thought, "Oh wow, oh no — this is too good." And I shut the book. And as with so much else in my life at that time, I put it in a special place with a pat and a kiss, and decided to wait, so that I could eventually share that experience with my child. . . . For many years, as I waited and worked to become a mother, I would think to myself (and think to myself; I thought this many, many times), "But everything is still ahead of me! All of the firsts are still ahead of me!" And that thought got me through more hard days than I can even now count.

Time was slow, then. Time was painfully, appallingly slow. You were here. You saw that. I busied myself with sewing, and knitting, and kitting out the house, feathering a nest for not months but the years (I just counted them the other day, and it was eight) it took before we had the privilege of becoming parents. And then, once that miracle arrived, and baby came home, and that adoption was finalized, time sped up like you wouldn't believe. Suddenly you're out of breath. It's like the opposite of hurry-up-and-wait — it's wait . . . wait . . . wait . . . and then holy crow hurry up, because baby is crawling, then walking, then talking, then going to preschool, and then her teeth are dropping out of her mouth right and left, and she's reading. . . . And all of that took mere moments. Moments. Entire years of early childhood that have felt like just a few beautiful, excellent, soul-filled, soulful moments. Because suddenly she is six years old. And ready to hear entire paragraphs as you read to her, tucked under your right arm, under the covers in the big bed, nightgowned, teeth-brushed, drowsy, and waiting to begin.

I won't tell you she's quite old enough to hear this whole story, because I don't actually think she is yet. Her attention span is still not quite long enough for long passages of text, or some of the more complicated issues, or some of the more troubling ones. We've read it aloud at night but we've also listened to it a bit on audiobook in the car, and it's pretty clear that I'm generally more into it than she is. But this time, once I started it, I didn't stop. I couldn't put it down. I couldn't turn it off. It is a poignant book, and, though not without its problems (I found this post the other day and thought it was great; and I also must say that I was frustrated that — SPOILER ALERT! — 1) Martha, who is such a brilliant character, pretty much disappears from the second half of the book, and 2) that the book ends on Colin, who I, personally, found much less compelling than Mary, and I truly felt like it was she who had earned the ending far more than he did — but she, too, kind of disappears before the end), it cuts to the heart of loneliness, loss, neglect, friendship, healing, and growth, both metaphorically and literally. I believed in the power of the garden, of planting seeds, of waiting and watering, and I still believe now, even more.

Sometimes I wish that I had read just this one book back then, in 2010. I think I could've made an exception for this particular one, back then.

The other wonderful thing about this book is just the gorgeous, evocative imagery: the purple heather-covered moors; a big Gothic manor with weird sounds wuthering through the halls; wintergreen and walled gardens; a lonely little girl skipping rope in a hundred circles; tiny plants poking their ways through dead leaves and detritus as they've been doing for many an unwitnessed year. The scene near the beginning when Mary, talking to Ben Weatherstaff the crusty old gardener, befriends the robin was the first in the book that moved me so much. Ben had just finished telling Mary that she and he were "wove out th' same cloth. We're neither of us good-lookin' an' we're both of us as sour as we look. . . ." Suddenly, the robin landed a few feet away in an apple tree:

    "He's made up his mind to make friends with thee," replied Ben. "Dang me if he hasn't took a fancy to thee."
    "To me?" said Mary, and she moved towards the little tree softly and looked up.
    "Would you make friends with me?" she said to the robin, just as if she were speaking to a person. "Would you?" And she did not say it either in her hard little voice or in her imperious Indian voice, but in a ton so soft and eager and coaxing that Ben Weatherstaff was as surprised as she had been when she heard him whistle.
    "Why," he cried out, "tha' said that as nice an' human as if tha' was a real child instead of a sharp old woman. Tha' said it almost like Dickon talks to his wild things on th' moor."
    "Do you know Dickon?" Mary asked, turning round rather in a hurry.
    "Everybody knows him. Dickon's wandering about everywhere. Th' very blackberries an' heather-bells knows him. I warrant th' foxes shows him where their cubs lies an' th' skylarks doesn't hide their nests from him."

For some reason that forlorn, unwanted child, and that sweet robin, and that earthling boy, and the phrase "blackberries an' heather-bells" sort of unlocked this massive whoosh of ideas for me recently. I started designing my most recent craft projects and apothecaries around them. The collection of photos and illustrations above has fed my imagination while I have been working.

"Circumstances, however, were very kind to her, though she was not at all aware of it. They began to push her about for her own good. When her mind gradually filled itself with robins, moorland cottages crowded with children, with queer, crabbed old gardeners and common little Yorkshire housemaids, with springtime and with secret gardens coming alive day by day, and also with a moor boy and his 'creatures', there was no room left for the disagreeable thoughts . . ."

Like Mary, my thoughts this winter have been filled with these things of Misselthwaite, and I hope you might find inspiration in them, too. (If you haven't read the book, or haven't read it in a while, I can't recommend the Inga Moore version enough.) I will probably start taking pre-orders for my two Secret Garden craft kits (one knitting, one embroidery [not cross stitch]) as well as the bath boxes we are working on sometime next week or so. I'm almost done taking photos of the items I am going to include, and I will tell you all about them then. It's been so much fun doing this, and I can't wait to share all the things we've made.

Boy, this really took me a long time to write, sorry! Phew!

Photos and illustrations, from top to bottom: 1. By Molly Brett 2. By Johanna Basford 3. By Flavia Sorrentino 4. Yorkshire Dales by Mike Williams 5. By Emma Lazauski 6. Unknown illustrator, from 7. Vintage postcard from 1908 8. Thwaite, England, by Dave Dunford (and, curiously, Thwaite is about ten miles from the towns [Reeth,Grinton, and Marrick] that my ancestors-I-never-knew-about-until-last-year are from — so trippy!) 9. By Inga Moore 10. Vintage china pattern 11. Frances Hodgson Burnett 12. Still from The Secret Garden movie, 1993 13. By Julian deNarvaez 14. By Johanna Basford 15. By Russell Barnett 16. By Giovanni Manna 17. By Rachael Saunders 18. Vintage botanical print 19. Yorkshire Dales by A. Leighton 20. By Inga Moore 21. Tasha Tudor 22. Biodiversity Library 23. Unknown 24. By Aliki Kermitsi 25. Gathering Blackberries by William Stewart MacGeorge 26. Blackberry by Margaret Tarrant 27. By Leo Paul Robert, from Les Oiseaux dans la Nature 28. Vintage botanical illustration 29. Still from The Secret Garden movie, 1993.


I am so sure you've heard the broadway soundtrack, but just in case you haven't. Welcome to having this on repeat through the weekend (maybe into next week). My personal favorite, "The Girl I Mean To Be". <3

I am so sure you've heard the broadway soundtrack, but just in case you haven't. Welcome to having this on repeat through the weekend (maybe into next week). My personal favorite, "The Girl I Mean To Be".

Oh I love the classics. I loved when my teachers would read them after lunch in grade school and then reading them on my own. Sadly, my daughter doesn’t like them. She also doesn’t like being read to. I keep getting her classics at the library and then taking them back unread. I’m taking back Anne of Green Gables tomorrow. I’m glad she likes to read but a little sad she doesn’t like the same books I liked as a girl.

Catherine Cox says: February 08, 2019 at 01:08 AM

I loved the Secret Garden - I only read it once or twice, but I should definitely revisit it! Have you read Marigold in Godmother’s House by Joyce Lancaster Brisley - to me, it slots into that same category, with that enchanting magic about it, and Amelia is probably exactly the right age for it. There's also (the third book that I think of when remembering the Secret Garden) Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, which my mum is currently reading to my 10-year-old daughter (not sure who's enjoying the experience most!) Different era, but a similar inspiration...

My daughter is now 14, the third child with 2 older brothers. I read to them all, and often the baby was on my knee too. It's amazing what they soak up, and we often underestimate them. But I can't impose my tastes on my daughter, she wants to choose her own clothes/books etc, even though I collected a cupboard full of classics and great modern authors for her from before she was born! But she is still reading voraciously, so I'm thankful, and just have to trust her choices now, and try to get her to bed at a reasonable time! I often catch her reading through the night and have to take away her book or phone where she reads 'fan fiction'. Enjoy your little one and let her help choose books too, there are so many good ones!

Jean Birch-Leonard says: February 08, 2019 at 02:57 AM

I have been a long time follower of your blog, years and years, and I always look forward to your postings. I live in The Peak District of Derbyshire, England, a place I know you would love. I often am inspired by you and discover things through your musings. Today I want to tell you about a book I have just found, by a local author, Alison Uttley. It's called A Traveller in Time, first published in 1939, it is classed as a children's book, but I think it is charming and I think you will too. Thank you for your posts and your creative kits and such,
Kind regards

The Secret Garden is my most favorite book in the world. I don't think I can summarize my feelings on the book in a few sentences. I read it every year, in the second week of May, when the lilacs bloom. When I was younger, there was a great tree in our backyard with a tree swing, and under the tree grew a lilac bush. I would pick a Saturday and sit on the swing as long as I could and read The Secret Garden in one go!

You summarized parenting so eloquently in that paragraph about the waiting and buying and anticipating and then how it speeds up and is gone in a flash---all so true! I cannot wait for the embroidery box! Thank you for your posts about real life and the beauty that it really is.

The liitle girl in the green dress in Gathering Blackberries looks like Amelia!

Looking at your English garden photos cache, I think you would love the Ben Pentreath blog, Inspiration:

I too love The Secret Garden, in part because after my little brother was born, my mother would take time every day to read it with me. I'm not sure I'd recommend it without reservation due to the racism woven into it, but if one takes the time to explain why such things are wrong, it can still be delightful.

Since you may have missed A Little Princess as a kid, that one is also good. And Tove Jansson's Moomin books are at about the same level and are sheer delight.

I loved your thoughts here, thank you! I too have visited many of the children's classics for the first time as an adult in spite of a childhood spent reading. I'll never forget reading Heidi (for the first time) aloud to my children with tears rolling down my cheeks! There is something about that whole experience of reading to our children that is so very special; the reading it aloud, the words so much more beautiful spoken, the relationship--a small person you love dearly snuggled against you and listening to you, and together anticipating the unfolding of the story. It's utterly unique and wonderful. Secret Garden was a first for me too, and first loved under these circumstances (so special!). Heidi, Understood Betsy, the Borrowers, and Racketty Packetty House, and the Children of Noisy Village, among so many others, were also stand-outs.

Michaelanne Neal says: February 08, 2019 at 08:41 AM

Such a BEAUTIFUL post...As always! I will look forward to your little craft boxes! Everything you send out in this world is beautiful <3

Jane Miller says: February 08, 2019 at 08:52 AM

Many years ago we had a huge tree in our yard that had a flower bed planted below it. It was just the beginning of spring and there were little green shoots just barely popping up through the ground. I had spent several days reading The Secret Garden to our six foster kids (elementary school age). The day after we had finished the book the kids came rushing in the house to find me. They were all excited and pulled me out into the yard to show me how they had worked so hard pulling the "weeds" up from under the tree! Just like in the book, they said, so proud of themselves. Well, I took a deep breath and then told them how wonderful a job they had done and that I was so proud of their efforts. The next day we all got in the car and went to the garden center and each kid got to pick out their favorite flower to plant around the tree..and we did, and it was beautiful. I never told them any differently! LOL

I have a very special place in my heart for A Secret Garden. When I was graduated from 3rd to 4th grade, I could barely read. This was not acceptable for my father. He pulled a book from his childhood out and it was The History of the World. Every day I would be quizzed on it. Barely had I start on this book, I had gone to the library and came home with A Secret Garden. Somehow I snuck in this book and in a matter of days, I was speeding along with both books. That story was so perfect for me that I would read when I didn't have to. I remember very clearly seating in the chair in my room and listening to the other children outside playing. And I chose to stay and read that wonderful book !!!!

Oh, I adore The Secret Garden and have read it many, many times. The last time I read it, we were waiting to hear if we'd get our first home, which had a sweet little yard, surrounded by a tall fence and tall trees, which felt very much like a secret garden. It felt very appropriate that I was reading that book when we found out we'd gotten the house. Now we have a very large yard and I think I need to craft a secret garden somewhere on the property!

Tasha Tudor! The most adorable illustrations ever.

Liza Montes says: February 08, 2019 at 10:16 AM

Can I recommend after reading The Chronicles of Narnia to listen to them through Focus on the Family Radio Theatre? It's a dramatized version of all the books and it's so well done and it's word for word. The actors are all so good. She could actually start listening now. I started my son when he was 4 and 5 and we still listen to them today and he's 19. I know they're available at the Library here in WA, but they're also available on CD through Amazon. It's a great way for her to imagine and see characters in her head without movies and/or picture books, speaking from a teacher point of view. Of course, reading does the same thing, but these are fun. And Focus on the Family Radio Theatre also has The Secret Garden, Little Women, Oliver Twist, and for you The Hiding Place, The Screwtape Letters and Father Gilbert Mysteries (kind of like the Father Brown Mysteries).

When my daughter was at this age - learning to read herself, terrible books that in no way satisfied her, but she wasn't quite ready for Anne or Mary or Mary Poppins - we had - not books - like really old, weird paper kind of magazines with Uncle Wiggly stories.
They are the weirdest, oldest, most peculiar things in the whole world. Longer and more detailed than a picture book - not as long as a chapter of a book. My mother, antique scourer of the earth, had picked them up a few years earlier. For this weird part of her life, it was the perfect reading material. Again - I cannot say how strange they were. And there will be other editions of the stories that are crap. But the large, magazine-ish stories were perfect.
I have to say that I did receive the "classics" reading education growing up and the best thing in the world - next to reading them for the first time myself - was reading them to my daughter. I can remember today beginning to read her Anne of Green Gables and how she gasped and said, "how is there this perfect book out there for me?" - it brought tears to my eyes because I remember feeling the exact same way.
So happy for you and your dearest Amelia to get to experience this!

Thank you for your wonderful gathering of photos. They are a real treat for a wintry day.

I remember finding "The Secret Garden" and "The Little Princess" in fourth grade. Such magic!

Somehow my words aren't conveying how full my heart is right now, but thank you!

I remember your journey so well and agree it has gone in a blink. I read and reread The Secret Garden and The Little Princess through my childhood. I'm surprised now at how much I loved them as they were at heart melancholy tales of lonely abandoned children. But of course things come right-ish in the end. I guess they are stories of survival and of making a home and a family in the world. I also loved Elizabeth Goudge's The Little White Horse. I think you might like her books, the adult ones too. They are magical and favour old houses with oak beams, mullion windows and tangled gardens and hints of the past. The Narnia books, Swallows and Amazons series, Little Women, Girl of the Limberlost, Kate Seredy, LM Montgomery and Noel Streatfield are some more books I took to my heart when I was 9- 11 years old. Fifty years later, they have stayed crystal clear in my mind.

Reading is indispensable. My husband would read to our daughter (and me) every night before bedtime. Her favorite books were Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder and anything published by Ladybird Books (British). Our daughter who is now 48 still has those books and is an avid reader to this day.
Having a hard copy book in hand is worth more than gold in our house.
BTW, I'm loving all the Robin photos & that field of lavender is breathtaking. You can almost smell that lovely fragrance.

Susan from Tsawwassen, BC says: February 08, 2019 at 12:09 PM

I, too, have been reading your blog for years. Always truly inspiring! And I, too, missed reading this book as a child but I will change that!!! Much love to you!

Hi Alicia. This is a very beautiful post. Fourth grade was the year our teacher read aloud a chapter or two to our class after lunch each day from “The Secret Garden “ and “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” among other classics. I wasn’t a reader at that age, but I never forgot how beautiful those stories were. I also understand what you mean about preparing for years (and years—16!) for a child and the pure joy of finally seeing all of those fleeting ‘firsts’ and every single ordinary moment happening before your very eyes. It’s like a dream. My little girl is a toddler now. Many of your words here kept me going during the wait especially the one about never never giving up! Thank you so much.

I remember the days, weeks and months you waited for your darling child to arrive and all your preparation, the crib blanket, dresses and hats.. and you've shown such love and attention since you got your little Amelia.. I've loved seeing her grow and become such a lovely young lady. I look forward to your Spring kits! I was introduced to The Secret Garden by happening upon the movie. I need to read the book. Thanks for the suggestion. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at