‘Unearthing the Secret Backyard’ Overview: Seeds of a Basic


In temperate climes, autumn is the season for placing gardens to mattress. Gardeners tidy away dried leaves and stems, mulch flowerbeds, and tuck tender bulbs of hyacinth, daffodil and tulip below the soil for a protracted winter’s sleep. Gone are the blossoms and bees, the colours and perfume. Melancholy would appear to be so as. So it’s pleasant to be taught that Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924), prolific author and joyful exponent of horticultural magic, didn’t thoughts the leafless bushes and drab turf of the chilly months. She didn’t welcome the chilly, however she beloved poring over seed catalogs, plotting new preparations of vegetation and anticipating the approaching glory of spring. Within the flowering expanses that Burnett cultivated in England, and later in America and Bermuda, she rejoiced within the cycle of the seasons.

Frances Hodgson Burnett in her backyard at Maytham Corridor.


Frances Benjamin Johnston {Photograph} Assortment, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

Admirers of “The Secret Backyard” (1911) will do not forget that Burnett makes an specific hyperlink between the turnings of the 12 months in a Yorkshire backyard to the rejuvenation of two youngsters: a bitter little orphan named Mary Lennox and her hypochondriac cousin Colin Craven. A 12 months earlier than the ebook got here out, the story ran as a serial. Advertisements for the American Journal extolled the brand new “story of thriller” by the creator of “Little Lord Fauntleroy” (1886) that might present “the magic of nature working below unusual and romantic circumstances.”

Unearthing the Secret Backyard: The Crops and Locations That Impressed Frances Hodgson Burnett

By Marta McDowell

Timber Press

320 pages

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In “Unearthing the Secret Backyard: The Crops and Locations That Impressed Frances Hodgson Burnett,” Marta McDowell takes this reward a puckish step additional. She asks: “Can a ebook be a horticultural set off? A kind of gateway drug for gardeners?” She thinks it may possibly—I do too—for many people novice plant-dabblers acquired our begin, imaginatively if not virtually, in childhood readings of “The Secret Backyard.” Alongside Mary Lennox, we felt our approach alongside the ivy, fitted a key to the lock of a hidden door, and entered the fantastic walled backyard of Misselthwaite Manor. With Mary and Colin and their nature-whispering good friend, Dickon, we watched as, with the lengthening of days, life stole again alongside grey and brittle rose-stems, girded itself and burst into bloom. For each backyard and kids, Ms. McDowell observes, the ebook tells “a narrative about transformation, about second possibilities and adjustments so astonishing they is likely to be known as miracles.” Amongst these miracles, little doubt, is the conversion of many a younger reader into an grownup trowel-wielder.

Nice Maytham Corridor in Kent, England, former residence of Frances Hodgson Burnett.


Suzie Gibbons

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Frances was keen on flower gardens from early childhood. She was additionally a precocious author, and started incomes a dwelling from her work earlier than she was out of her teenagers. But as Ms. McDowell explains, Burnett didn’t take up her pruning shears till she was practically 50, wealthy from her writing and in a position to lease a big property within the Kentish countryside. Ensconced in grandeur at Maytham Corridor, with its stone terrace, acres of formal gardens and rolling parkland, Burnett threw herself into the reason for horticultural magnificence. “Right here started what is likely to be known as her Pastoral interval,” her son Vivian wrote after her demise; “right here entered the Passionate Gardener.” Her gardens at Maytham abounded in primroses, bluebells, azaleas and roses. Burnett adored roses. She wrote (by hand) in a rose backyard, and when she composed “The Secret Backyard,” she put roses at its middle. After 10 years at Maytham, Burnett joined Vivian in America to develop a property on Lengthy Island. Within the gardens of Plandome Park, Burnett planted gladioli, campanulas, chrysanthemums, zinnias and, after all, roses. “By no means a plant snob,” Ms. McDowell observes, Burnett “stuffed out the beds with what she termed ‘old school’ annuals” similar to marigolds, petunias and phlox. Come winter, Burnett took a seasonal rental in Bermuda the place for the subsequent decade she grew amaryllis, poppies, sunflowers, hibiscus and different amenable subtropical vegetation. (One factor she couldn’t abide have been vegetation that flowered magenta. Even a non-snobby gardener has her limits, I suppose.)

Frances Hodgson Burnett in her backyard at Plandome Park, Manhasset, N.Y.


Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library

Affectionate and informative, “Unearthing the Secret Backyard” is just not in contrast to a backyard itself, with its easy lawns of prose and putting exhibits of illustration and pictures. As in Burnett’s enclosures at Maytham Corridor, one is eternally turning a nook—or, moderately, a web page—and coming throughout a contemporary vista. Right here is Burnett photographed at 39, her embonpoint swathed in trendy gauze. Right here she is in later life, her face pale amid darkish furs. Right here too are colour panels from varied editions of “The Secret Backyard”: Charles Robinson’s image of Mary discovering the door from the ebook’s first London printing; M.L. Kirk’s illustration of the kid unlocking it from the primary American printing; and, from a 1949 version, Nora S. Unwin’s drawing of Mary crouched beside the “sharp little pale inexperienced factors” of development she finds inside. Gardeners are eternally swiping concepts from each other. The green-of-thumb will discover lots to encourage on this participating account, which incorporates a list of all Burnett’s favourite ornamentals.

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