A Secret Garden in the 21st Century

A waterfall in a garden surrounded by rocks and plants.
 The garden has long been viewed as a getaway. It is a place where we let go of our worries and unwind. It is a place where we trade the stuffy confines of the cubicle for the sweet, fresh fragrance of the outdoors. We need these places. We need a place where we can revel in the beauty of nature all around us; to enjoy the beauty of a single flower or a sunset that paints the entire sky.
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to stay in and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” – John Muir

John Muir was envisioning such a place when he penned these words over one hundred years ago. He worked tirelessly to create the first National Parks, as a place where people could reconnect and be refreshed. He could never have imagined the unending race we sprint every day that we call “normal” life. And somehow at a time when people feel more stressed than ever, the idea of a garden is slipping away, doomed to be a magical place only remembered in dusty novels. It is not gone. 

When Francis Hodgson Burnett wrote the classic children’s story The Secret Garden a century ago, she captured something of the hopes of all people young and old. A place, a getaway, where all worrisome things were gone, and beauty was the only rule. She wrote of a place where miracles could occur, and where new life and love sprang up, as if out of the ground. She captured the story of a garden. 

But what makes a garden? What turns a collection of flowers and bushes into a place of healing? To understand the garden, we will have to take a varied approach, looking at The Secret Garden for clues, borrowing ideas from art and science, and examining ourselves to understand nature’s allure. 

A garden’s setting may be the most overlooked dimension. It can also be the subconscious factor that has the most impression on our memory. A garden’s location in relation to the rest of the environment connects directly to the feelings we have there. Humans attach locations to memories and emotions. When you spend an entire day in a crowded street or a busy market, it can be difficult to remember what happened, and in what order. We need distinct locations to help us mark our memories. 

Walk into your 5th grade classroom or a home where you once lived – suddenly a flood of memories return that you had not really forgotten. But those seemingly long-forgotten memories were attached to a place. Our memories attach themselves to places. But beyond the plain memory, even our deepest feelings can be there as well. 

If you have ever gotten sick after eating at a restaurant, you may find it difficult to eat there again. Even if you order different food, even if there are different diners and different cooks, you might still feel uneasy. This is the place where you felt ill. 

Fortunately, this same connection works the other way as well. When your garden has the correct setting, it too can create the same alcove of memory and feeling. It must be a separate place, a place distinct from anywhere else in your world. Maybe it’s a formal iron gate and well-pruned hedges leading to a manicured pathway. Perhaps some simple stepping stones lead across the lawn to a small cove. But it must be a distinct place. When you step up into a formal dining booth, you feel like you have left the restaurant and are in a different place. The secret garden is not far away. It is not difficult to enter. But when you get there, you are in a different place. 

Privacy is the dream of every harried and frustrated mind. The whirlwind of life endlessly chases us, catches us, and lets us go again. If only we could get away. Most people don’t wish to be entirely alone. Instead, we dream of a place where we can relax without the constant judgment of the world. 

When Mary Lennox slipped behind the high brick walls of the secret garden, she shielded herself from the critical eyes of her world and entered a place where she could laugh and live. Maybe you don’t want to be surrounded by high brick walls. But we long to have a place of solitude. Our ability to think, to meditate, and to reflect is connected to our closeness to people around us. People who silently watch game after game on the TV will scream themselves hoarse in the stadium. We buy gifts in a frenzy among a crowd of Black Friday shoppers, and then after Christmas is over wonder why. 

We need privacy to discover our thoughts. Privacy may require more than just a vinyl fence to block the neighbors house. Maybe you need to plant some mature shrubs to hide the garage and its to do list. The gentle sound of running water can cover humming highway traffic or the droning of a neighbor’s lawnmower. And maybe somewhere in the garden there is a bench, or a hammock, or a just a special spot where you can escape.

Each garden is unique, just as each painting or sculpture is unique. And it is the uniqueness that makes each one special. Outside of Eden, there is no paragon of gardens. A garden is made to the liking of its owner, so it is foolish to assume all gardens must fit a certain mold or style. Some are formal and decorous, with manicured pathways and well-pruned hedges and roses. Others are rustic to the point of antiquity, with unkempt wildflowers spilling over so they almost cover the winding pathway. Formal garden sculptures or eclectic stonework; all can be a part of a garden. 

No style is superior, no design less worthy. Rather, each garden in its own way should harness all the capabilities of the senses. The sound of running water, of birds in the trees, is just as necessary to the composition of the garden as the color of the flowers and foliage. The smooth pebble pathway, or the cool flagstone under foot, either one is an important part of the composition that adds flavor and dimension to the garden. Maybe it is a rustic pergola laden with vines, or a tidy pavilion offering shelter from the rain. The composition of a garden reflects its owner’s taste.
When completed, all the elements of a garden combine in a symphony of beauty and life. The fragrance of summer flowers, and the smell of fresh dirt beneath our feet reach out to us, tug us into their world. Fish swimming in a tranquil pond communicate grace like the water lilies who share their home. Breezes wafting through the trees, birds singing their songs, and waterfalls bubbling the echo whisper the secret of the garden in our ear. Welcome to your Secret Garden!

Talk To Us About Creating a Secret Garden
If you’d like to talk with us about creating a dream secret garden of your own, call us at 814-696-3700 or contact us online.