The Secret Garden

From Academic Kids

For Irish-Norwegian duo playing Neo-classical music see Secret Garden.

The Secret Garden is a novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, first published in 1909. It is one of Frances Hodgson Burnett's most popular novels.


The book tells the story of Mary Lennox, a spoiled, contrary orphan, who is sent to live in her uncle's manor in Yorkshire. She is left to herself by her uncle, Mr. Craven, who travels trying to escape from being haunted by the death of his wife, and the only one who has any time for her is the chambermaid Martha. It is Martha who tells Mary about the walled garden, Mrs. Craven's favourite garden, which nobody has seen the inside of since she died; Mr. Craven locked it and buried the key.

Exploring the grounds, Mary discovers the key to the secret garden, which has been turned up by a dog digging for moles, then the door. When she is inside the garden, she discovers that although the roses seem lifeless some of the other flowers have survived; she decides to work on the garden herself, but to keep it a secret, in case her uncle should find out and fit another lock for it. Through Martha, she recruits the assistance of Martha's brother Dickon, who is known for being good with plants and wild animals. Dickon begins by providing gardening implements, bought with money Mary gives him, and demonstrating that the roses, though neglected, are not dead. When Mary's uncle visits the house briefly (for the first time since she arrived), Mary asks him if she may have a bit of earth to make a flower garden in, and he agrees.

On several occasions, Mary hears the sound of someone crying in the night, although all the servants deny hearing it too. Shortly after her uncle's visit, she goes exploring and discovers her uncle's son, Colin, who has been a bedridden invalid all his life - shunned by his father as a reminder of his mother - and is as spoiled and as contrary as Mary. The servants have been keeping Mary and Colin a secret from one another because Colin doesn't like strange people staring at him, and is prone to terrible tantrums. Colin decides he likes Mary, and insists on her visiting him often. Mary tells him about the secret garden (although not, initially, that she's found the way in).

As Spring approaches, Colin becomes put out that Mary is spending more time in the garden with Dickon than with him, and flies into a tantrum after Mary refuses to give way to him. Mary stands up to him as the servants have been afraid to do, and when he calms down he asks if he could go out into the garden with her. Mary agrees, as she and Dickon had been planning to suggest it themselves, feeling that it would do Colin good and that in the secret garden he would not have to worry about anyone staring at him.

Dickon comes to visit Colin in his room, bringing various moorland animals with him, and the three children make plans for taking Colin to see the secret garden. Colin's doctor agrees that it might do him good to have Dickon and Mary taking him around the grounds in a wheelchair, and Colin gives instructions that the gardeners are to keep out of the way while they are outside. Colin is delighted with the garden, and goes out to it with Mary and Dickon whenever the weather allows. As the garden revives and flourishes, so does he.

The first person to find out what the children are up to is the old gardener Ben Weatherstaff, who was a favourite of Colin's mother, and has been secretly visiting her garden once or twice a year since it was locked up by scaling the wall with a ladder. When he visits the garden for the first time since Mary's arrival (having had to miss several visits because his rheumatism wouldn't let him go up and down ladders as easily as he used to), he is initially angry with the children until he sees what good they've done the garden, and what good they've done Colin. Colin orders him not to tell anybody, and he agrees.

Colin becomes determined that not only will get better, by the next time his father returns from abroad he will be able to walk and run like a normal boy. He makes great progress, but keeps it hidden from everyone but Mary and Dickon and Ben, wanting it to be a surprise.

When Mr. Craven next returns home, he arrives while the children are outdoors. He goes out to see Colin for himself, and finds himself drawn to the secret garden, where he is astonished first to hear children's voices and then to find Colin not only racing Mary and Dickon around the garden, but winning. They take Mr. Craven into the secret garden to tell him what has been going on, then walk back to the house, astonishing the servants by how healthy Colin is and how much happier his father has suddenly become.

Screen and Stage Adaptations

The Secret Garden has been adapted many times for stage and screen. One notable stage adaptation is a musical with music by Lucy Simon and book and lyrics by Marsha Norman, which opened on Broadway in 1991. The production was nominated for seven Tony Awards, winning Best Book of a Musical and Best Actress in a Featured Role (Daisy Eagan as Mary, at eleven years old the youngest person ever to win a Tony).

In 1993 American Zoetrope made The Secret Garden motion picture directed by Agnieszka Holland.

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