The Secret Garden

When I was a little girl my favourite book was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson-Burnett. I have gorgeously, sleepy memories of both my Mother and Father reading it to me at bedtime throughout my childhood. I also recall loving having it read to me even when I was quite old enough to read it myself. Of course, I did read it myself too. Many times over. Though I haven't read it in a long, long time now.
I recently rescued my beloved copy of The Secret Garden from my parents attic. Leafing through the pages stirred up even more wonderful memories for me. You see, I think one of the reasons I loved the book so much was because I could identify with little Mary Lennox, the main character. It wasn't that I was a cross or sickly child, like her, or that I lived in a house with many locked doors and unpleasant relations. 
It was that I too knew the delight of having a secret garden. A place that I visited regularly, but that no one other than me and my family seemed to know about.
Like Mary's, my secret garden wasn't mine and there was a delicious, forbidden thrill about being there. It was not far from our house, which was on the edge of a large town, but it was wild and overgrown and had a faded grandeur that was evident even in it's decay.

On Sunday afternoons we would walk there and climb, one by one, through a hole in an old stone wall. We'd make our way down the overgrown slope to the ancient fountain which was in the centre of the ruin of a Victorian walled garden. The fountain was empty, save for a rusty old pipe that stuck up out of the centre of the floor. We would have balancing competitions there. Seeing how long we could stand on one leg on the pipe while the rest of the family counted the seconds. The fountain was one of the only things that wasn't choked in weeds so we would sit and rest there, eating apples and maybe a biscuit. If we were lucky. Lots of ants ran around us.

Me and My Brother doing our balancing act in 1985
There were little brick plinths in the garden too and I remember we would stand on them, posing, pretending to be statues. I remember the grass always being really high. I remember having to watch out for thistles and stinging nettles. I remember blowing countless dandelion clocks and making wishes on every one. But most of all I remember feeling like we were the only ones that knew about this place. That it was all ours.
Dad balancing in 1985 and Mam posing with my sister in 1987
My Dad tells me that it was on the market for many years during the years we played there and that, if we had had the money, we could have bought it. He believes the price was £10k. Not very much, for such a lot, but too much for anyone in 1980's Ireland!
Little Sister, Gorgeous Mama, Uncle (Napleon Dynamite?!) and Hipster Dad in 1986
I have known for some time about what became of my secret garden. In fact I was back there two years ago and had been intending to bring my family ever since. It's actually really close to where we live now, but somehow we never got around to it. But recently, we finally did. And now it's not anyone's secret anymore. But that's ok, because some secrets are worth sharing.
My garden now has a real name. It's called Festina Lente (Hasten Slowly) and the people who run it do amazing work with people with intellectual disabilities. They have an equestrian centre, allotments, a little garden shop and a plant nursery.

AND, they have painstakingly restored my secret garden to its former, Victorian glory.
It is beautiful.
But, to me, it was always beautiful. 

I'd be lying if I said the nostalgic part of me wasn't pining for the ragged wilderness of my youth, but another part of me is so happy that many more people get to share this magical little part of the world too.

Festina Lente is open 7 days a week and entry to the gardens is free. Do visit!


  1. So cute, what lovely memories! x

  2. Beautiful piece of writing.. Thank you for sharing your memories :)

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by, I'm glad you guys enjoyed it. You're all doing a fabulous job.

  3. Oh WOW wow wow! Loved this post, and loved that book when I was small. A secret garden is on my list of "to-dos" some day. Love the family photos too, you were so blonde :)

    1. Thanks Emily! It is pretty wow! I'm very lucky and YES I was a blonde until I chopped all my hair off at age 18 in a fit of rebellion - it grew back mousey-brown and not so pretty and I've been a brunette for a long time now. My Mama still mourns my childhood hair :)

  4. This piece really jumps out at me! The first "big" book I got completely into was "The Secret Garden" it was my torch under the duvet book, I just couldn't put it down! Fast forward nearly 20 years and my parents were showing me around an old house they had just bought (to be honest I was horrified at the dilapidated state of the place) and then they brought me to made overgrown garden.... and there was an old high stone wall with a rusty old gate through which we walked... and I was smitten! Despite the wilderness I was transported back to my childhood and that wonderful book. At that moment I said "if I ever get married, it will be right here" and two years later that's exactly what I did! I must buy the book and start to share it with my own children now, thanks for this lovely post x

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment Naomi! Your parents garden sounds AMAZING - how nice to have your very own secret garden!! What a perfect setting for a wedding too. It really is the most wonderful book -I'm sure your children will love it. I'm saving mine carefully to share with my girls in a few years. Thanks again xxx

  5. Oh! I loved this book too! I lived next door to a demolished farmhouse. they left the big stone wall standing though and I always fancied there was a secret garden behind it! Thank you for the memory of a lovely book. I must find it again.


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