If you love gardens and are interested in the lives of authors, Marta McDowell writes books for you to love. My sister-in-law recently sent me a lovely gift — a copy of Marta McDowell’s new book, Unearthing the Secret Garden: The Plants and Places that Inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Frances Hodgson Burnett is one of my favorite authors. She wrote The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, two of my all time favorite books. She was also an avid gardener, and created three special gardens over her lifetime — one in England, one in the United States, and one in Bermuda. This book goes into great detail about each of those gardens and about the life of FHB herself.
What an interesting character was FHB! She was not at all what I expected, but I enjoyed getting to know so much about her personality and her life. The book was also filled with wonderful photos and illustrations. Two of the photos that I thought were quite lovely are below. The one on the left shows her sitting in her garden at Maytham Hall. I thought the photo was like a lovely impressionistic painting and had to look closely to see her. The photo on the right is of her writing desk, and I love to see photos of the desks and spaces that writers use to create their wonderful works!
FHB sitting in her garden…
Her writing desk…
Her love of gardens and her writing were deeply intertwined.
It was a lovesome, mystic place, shut in partly by old red brick walls against which fruit trees were trained and partly by a laurel hedge with a wood behind it. It was my habit to sit and write there under an aged writhen tree gray with lichen and festooned with roses.
~ From My Robin (1912), describing the rose garden at Maytham Hall..
Marta McDowell divided the book into four sections: before The Secret Garden, inside The Secret Garden, after The Secret Garden, and outside The Secret Garden. At the end of Part Three, she wrote:
Frances Hodgson Burnett gardened as she lived — large — and became the unlikely inspiration for generations of gardeners through The Secret Garden. She unlocked a door that beckons. If you ask a gardener if they have a book — in particular a childhood book — that led them into gardening, many of them would name The Secret Garden. Frances would be pleased.
And for those of us who garden and grab ideas for our gardens from everywhere, there is an extensive table in the book that lists the flowers, fruits, and trees FHB planted in each of her gardens. Finally, I have to rave about Marta McDowell, not just because of this table, but because of all the amazing detail she put into this book! She is a wonderful researcher!