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.


Heather Rushing says: February 13, 2019 at 12:13 PM

Catching up here. I haven't stopped by herein a long time.
I've read all those books and many others. Let me recommend an author: Patricia M. St. John . I read one of hers several times as a girl and again to my daughter; Rainbow Garden, Elaine is a lonely but spoiled girl from London. Her single mother must go abroad for her work so she sends her away to stay with an old schoolmate in Wales. This friend is wife to a minister and has 6 very active children. Elaine struggles to adjust and fit in. One rainy Sunday she sees a rainbow and it touches the top of a hill where lies a walled cottage garden. Elaine slips out, up the hill and over the wall and is fascinated by what she finds. She tries to keep it a secret... Another of St.John's books I've had read to me and listened to a radio dramatic version of is Treasures Of The Snow. The main characters are three children in the Alps: Lucien, Annette and Dani. It's quite an adventure with wonderful life lessons - as is Rainbow Garden.
Well, I'll be off now to continue catching up with your blog.

As a gardener, I love the Secret Garden but when I was a child I just adored the Beatrice Potter books, Mrs Tiggywinkle was a favourite. I Kept my books and read them to my niece when she stayed with me as a 5 year old. When she had her first son, I gifted my complete collection of the books so her sons have been brought up with the stories.


Long time lurker but just wanted to check if you have seen the classic books which are illustrated by Lauren Child who wrote the Charlie and Lola books. The illustrations are beautiful. My girls loved Charlie and Lola at Amelia's age and continue to love anything with the illustrations which remind them of Charlie and Lola.

Oh, Alicia, savour every moment because if anything as they get older, the time goes even quicker. Mine are now 18 years and 20 years and their childhoods were gone in blink....

S x

What a wonderful post! Your reflections on the pace of time and the hopes and projections of parenthood are so true and well-expressed. I was hooked by the first picture and thoroughly enjoyed the whole collection as I, too, have always adored The Secret Garden. I agree completely about resenting Mary's displacement by Colin in the last part of the book, but the spell woven by the garden, the cavernous house, the expansive landscape and the softening of poor Mary's defensive and pain-riddled crust carried me through, many many times. Thank you, as always, for your lovely writing.

The images are lovely, Alicia, and it was bittersweet to remember a bit of your journey to bring your precious girl home. So happy for you all. The Secret Garden was a Christmas gift that read about 5 times as a young girl. I now teach it to 5th graders every spring at our classical academy and still love it. If you enjoy that type of literature, you might look into Portland area charter schools, which fall under the rubric of “classical education.” Rather than having a utilitarian approach to education, classically oriented schools encourage students to “pursue truth, beauty, and goodness” in a content-rich, challenging academic environment.

So glad you are still writing these beautiful posts! "We" were here waiting with you. And we were all so happy for you and Andy when Amelia came along. I remember one blog post about seeing your daughter in a clearing thru the trees, remember that one? Sometime later I saw a Carl Larsson painting of a little girl thru the trees and thought of that and wondered if you had seen that picture.

I'm looking forward to reading The Secret Garden this spring and then can we all go on a field trip to the beautiful Yorkshire Dales? :)

Thanks for the recommendation to the Agatha Raisin show, and Acorn! I read audio-booked several of the books a couple years ago and ultimately just got annoyed with Agatha, but am really enjoying the show. Also, I noticed that Murdoch Mysteries is on Acorn--have you ever watched this one?!? I just love it, and have no one to share the appreciation with.

What a sweet story of childhood ! I can feel the cold and the sharp air. Thanks !

What you write resonates so much with me, I love these english landscapes and books,
I also had a collection of books ready for when we finally had kids☺️ guess you are also familiar with the Jill Barklem books? So cute and I think very similar to your taste.
We are so lucky to have a little Red Robin in our garden so now I booked your sewing kit, do not have much experience in that area but will give it a go!

jeanne-marie wichmann says: March 15, 2019 at 06:55 PM

Oh my god I never knew you hadn’t read The Secret Garden. If I’d known, I would have made you read it in the late 80’s! Worse yet, I’m now wondering what other important stuff you haven’t read. No Narnia? Good grief. But I’ll confess to two biggies I put off for far too long: Wuthering Heights (read at 23), and To Kill a Mockingbird (age 32). When I finally closed the cover on the latter, I sat on the edge of my bed and cried. I cried because I hadn’t met Atticus Finch — poster man for integrity — until I was THIRTY TWO. I wished he’d joined my inner life years earlier. I honestly believe that his internal presence could have influenced my external life. And here you are, with no Aslan. Get to it, sister.

Your blog never ceases to bring me happiness,thank you so much.

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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.