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.


Many years ago (late 1980's perhaps) Hallmark made a movie of The Secret Garden that I watched over and over again. It's so beautiful, and still my favourite movie version of the book. If you can find it, I think you'll like it :) I used to have a hardcover copy of the book with wonderful illustrations by Tasha Tudor. Definitely one of my favourite books of all time.

My son, too, did not take to group swim lessons. We found one set of private swim lessons (and weekly family outings to the pool where we all played in the pool making it as fun as all get out) and he went back to group lessons just fine. He swims like a fish now.

I love almost all of the books mentioned here! I was an early and voracious reader, but I loved these sweet, girlish, old-fashioned books the best, along with marvelous fantasy like "A Wrinkle in Time" and "Tom's Midnight Garden". Does Amelia have the Brambly Hedge books? I hope so! If not, please find them for her (and you)--not chapter books, shorter, beautifully illustrated British stories about mice. And "The Secret Garden" and "A Little Princess" were truly special to me.

As for swimming, lots of kids regress or just don't make much progress in regular large classes (like Red Cross and Y classes often are)--too many children, too few teachers, too much time between new sessions, etc. My kids made the best progress (and learned to swim beautifully) in private swim schools with low teacher-to-student ratios and WARM water. Often the kids are just too COLD! Maybe the new lessons are like this--if not, look for one, and then try to keep enrolling her often until she loves it.

And this is such a lovely set of photos and illustrations--just my cup of tea!

The Secret Garden was my mother's favorite book when she was growing up. I remember seeing it in the bookcase at my grandparents' house and I inherited the book when my mother passed away. I don't know if it's that book that has made me love gardening, but I do and I even painted a sign for "My Secret Garden." As for time flying, wait until you are getting your daughter dressed for her wedding, or holding your first grandchild and you will wonder where the years went. My youngest is in her forties now and the time keeps flying faster and faster.

I love this kind of art! Am mildly obsessed with it, actually.
My dad bought me all the little girl classics, because I was and am a voracious reader, and he loved that about me. I was never really into them, I think, in the way he hoped I would be, and certainly not at the expected ages. I did read The Secret Garden, but I don’t have strong memories of it. He bought me the first three Anne of Green Gables books when I was ten or twelve. I had zero interest until I was about 18 - and that whole series of books is now among my most reread books, a sign of true love.
I think what I’m trying to clumsily say is what you already implied you know - she’ll get there.

This is glorious.
Also thanks to Amy,who mentioned a Hallmark movie of Secret Garden. Young Colin Firth! (my PBS is currently showing installments of Colin Firth Pride & Prejudice) Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey). Barret Oliver (Neverending Story). What a winning combination!

I cannot begin to tell you the happiness that The Secret Garden movie brought to my children and I many years ago. I loved seeing Mary being dressed in her costume! Such beautiful clothing.

So very true about the years flying by in a blink! The childhood years are so very short and it's wonderful you are creating cozy memories... and we are lucky to be part of that. Love your creative writing and posts - it's almost painful to look back and see our babies grown up! I am a grandma now and I see the same thing happening as they celebrate each birthday! Wonderful and yet, bittersweet! Can't wait to see your craft kits this week and I'm hoping I'll be quick enough to order! Thank you!

Elizabeth Neal says: February 09, 2019 at 09:42 AM

I live very close to the Yorkshire Dales and can see moors and drystone walls from my window so it feels very strange seeing pictures of the landscapes near me on your blog. There's always a tendency to get used to our surroundings and to take them for granted and it's great to see them through someone else's eyes. Normally I read your blog and want to visit all the grand landscapes of America.

The blackberrying picture reminded me of the Milly Molly Mandy books - have you read them or heard of them? I loved them when I was 6 and my son loved them when he was 6. They're charming little stories written in the 1920s set in a tiny English village and have very sweet little illustrations. I think you'd like them.

Beautiful post. Thank You ❤️

There's a fine line to be walked between inspiring children and boring or puzzling them. My children, great big grown-ups now, loved being read to, but when they were Amelia's age I was sticking to books with plenty of pictures and holding back on The Secret Garden and such like. Though some of the more gentle classic fairy tales will work their wise magic at this age.

I am the mama of an only child for whom I also waited. This past fall, he's gone off to college just as Amelia has gone to kindergarten and your musing about how time has passed couldn't be more true! I don't need to remind you to enjoy it all but I would like to thank you for sharing your journey as it helps me to relive some very happy memories.

I teach Middle School and have a special place in my heart for the students who love A Secret Garden....I know they are my people!

Andrea Atkinson says: February 10, 2019 at 10:50 AM

Husband and I live in North Yorkshire and we like nothing better than a drive in the Dales during the summer. We visit Thwaite several times a year. Just down the road from Thwaite is a place called Muker and they have the most amazing wildflower pastures to walk through in the summer time. I sware we have walked down that lane in the fourth picture.

Andrea Atkinson says: February 10, 2019 at 10:56 AM

Lacy, those plants are heather not lavender. The Yorkshire moors are covered in heather. It’s the only thing that can survive all the sheep up there.

Anne Richardson says: February 10, 2019 at 04:22 PM

Two fun wonderful books for her age are Those Darn Squirrels and Those Darn Squirrels Fly South. She will laugh and beg to hear them again and again. There is sly humor for adults--but not raunchy or anything.
They are the kind that will engage her with print and help her to learn to enjoy fun stories even more.

I have three boys (12, 10 & 5) and wasn't sure about sharing The Secret Garden with them. It was one of my very favorites as a child, along with A Little Princess, but I wasn't sure if they'd be turned off by the old fashioned setting or think it is girly. I was wrong and they were obsessed. It was probably the family favorite read aloud of last year. To date, it's the only chapter book my 5 year old has shown any interest in listening to for any length of time. Have fun introducing Amelia to it!

This comment is more for your last blog post..... There is a BBC series that I watch on youtube, it's a kind of living history series that this trio of British people do, here is the link: In case it doesn't work, the woman's name, who is the historian, is Ruth Goodman. Just do a YouTube search on her name. She works with two guys, one is named Peter Ginn and the other is mostly Alex Langland and sometimes it's a guy named Tom. It's from the "BBC 2". Anyway, I think you'd like it because they choose a place in time and a farm to live on for one year and live like they would have back in that time. My favorite is "Tudor Monastery Farm". They have lived in the time of the castles, Victorian times, World War II time, Edwardian time (early 1900's) and a couple of others. It's so interesting to see how they lived ordinary life in those times, esp. on farms out in the country.

I love the Secret Garden too. Martha's mother is my hero. One of my favorite children's book authors is Michael Hague and he did the Secret Garden, here is a link: I really enjoy children's chapter books. Go to the Newberry Award winner list and start reading! There are so many good kid's authors out there, they are my favorite! "Green Glass House" was a great mystery I loved, plus I like the illustration on the front of the book.... I could send you long list of favorites.....

Deborah Smith says: February 11, 2019 at 01:16 PM

I've been following you for a short while but have never commented before, but I just had to on this post! I absolutely love The Secret Garden for one thing, but I wanted to let you know, I've stayed in a cottage in the tiny village of Gunnerside, near some of the other places you mentioned (Reeth, Thwaite, etc.,), which are approximately an hour's drive from where I live on the North Yorkshire/County Durham border in England. I really enjoy your blog, it's beautiful! Debbie xx


I am so thrilled you are taking inspiration from this story. The movie you reference in your photos is my favorite version. Very close to the book as you know, and so beautiful. I have actually made my daughter identical outfits to the ones Mary wears in this film. I am very excited to see where you go with this whole concept. I think a large red floppy tam o' shanter would look pretty cute on Amelia.

If you love "The Secret Garden," I think you'll enjoy "All the Places to Love" by Patricia Maclachlan. I must have read it 100 times and it makes me weep each time. Such a precious story, with extraordinary illustrations.

Perhaps "A Little Princess," also by Burnett would be a good prequel to "Secret Garden." I must have read that at least a dozen times as a child.

(Reading books repeatedly clearly is my stamp of approval!)

One of my favorites, NOW; although when my mother read it to me when I six or so, I didn't much care for it. It was fine, but not my favorite. I love it now and also read it twice in Spanish for Spanish practice. :)

Do you know it's based on Wuthering Heights? When I re-read Wuthering Heights a couple years ago, I kept going ... whaaat? This is so eerily similar to TSG. Finally googled it and found there is a direct connection.

I love this post. Thanks for sharing your reflections. I started reading your blog a long, LONG time ago, then stopped reading any blogs, then found yours again when Amelia was about 3 and went back and read everything I had missed. All your preparations inspired me to started sewing little things and stashing them away, and now I have my girl and she's about to grow into the first few tiny dresses (after having grown out of the 9 pairs of pants I made for her first year). I just love sharing things with her and watching her try things for the first (or tenth) time.

I just had a flash of memory: helping you compile that list back in the day, and you stopping by the bookstore with a beautifully wrapped copy of "Twig," to say thank you, on a day when I wasn't there (which was above and beyond, of course). We still have it; Ewan read and loved it last year. Neither of us had children then (I was sure it would never happen for me), and now we do and they are so big and beautiful and swimming together once a week and I'm sorry the lessons are in the middle of nowhere, but also so very grateful. <3

Christine M says: February 13, 2019 at 07:49 AM

Here, where I live, on the shores of a Great Lake, we are in the depths of winter. White outs, ice, school bus cancellations, treacherous driving... in brief all the trials and tribulations of, you can imagine how my heart soared to visit, even if only in imagination, the beauty of a garden here in your post. Not just a garden, but one I inhabited in childhood as I turned the pages of this timeless story. How I envy you the upcoming delight of sharing this tale with your beloved child. I would perhaps wait until she's a bit older, so she'd have the maturity and attention span to really live and love the experience... perhaps 9 years old? But, just my opinion. Once you have shared the delights of The Secret Garden, I would urge you to find a copy of The Little Princess. Sara Crewe is a wonderful, tenacious character. I could go on endlessly with recommendations a reminiscences of childhood favourites, but I will leave with just one final favourite.. Anne of Green Gables. Guaranteed you will want to visit her magic isle once you turn the final page. :) Wishing you joy in reading!

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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




Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.