Updated: Jun 28
With everyone turning to nature for inspiration during lockdown, I thought I would share some glorious writing about gardens for children and look at the themes that run through these texts.
Children can escape into gardens - they are places for adventure and games. Oscar Wilde saw them as inextricably linked in his story about a Selfish Giant. Here at the start of the tale, he sets the scene linking the joy of the children with the blossoming beauty of the garden.
The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde
'Every afternoon, as they were coming from school, the children used to go and play in the Giant's garden.
It was a large lovely garden, with soft green grass. Here and there over the grass stood beautiful flowers like stars, and there were twelve peach-trees that in the spring-time broke out into delicate blossoms of pink and pearl, and in the autumn bore rich fruit. The birds sat on the trees and sang so sweetly that the children used to stop their games in order to listen to them. 'How happy we are here!' they cried to each other.
One day the Giant came back. He had been to visit his friend the Cornish ogre, and had stayed with him for seven years. After the seven years were over he had said all that he had to say, for his conversation was limited, and he determined to return to his own castle. When he arrived he saw the children playing in the garden.
'What are you doing here?' he cried in a very gruff voice, and the children ran away.
'My own garden is my own garden,' said the Giant; 'any one can understand that, and I will allow nobody to play in it but myself.' So he built a high wall all round it, and put up a notice-board.'
How might the garden grow after this and how has the giant acted? Is he right to banish children? What in the writing does Oscar Wilde show of the giant's character?
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The garden as a place of hidden secrets and renewal is evident in The Secret Garden. Here as Mary finally gets into the garden, what she sees is vividly described.
'It was the sweetest, most mysterious-looking place anyone could imagine. The high walls which shut it in were covered with the leafless stems of climbing roses which were so thick that they were matted together. Mary Lennox knew they were roses because she had seen a great many roses in India. All the ground was covered with grass of a wintry brown and out of it grew clumps of bushes which were surely rosebushes if they were alive. There were numbers of standard roses which had so spread their branches that they were like little trees. There were other trees in the garden, and one of the things which made the place look strangest and loveliest was that climbing roses had run all over them and swung down long tendrils which made light swaying curtains, and here and there they had caught at each other or at a far-reaching branch and had crept from one tree to another and made lovely bridges of themselves. There were neither leaves nor roses on them now and Mary did not know whether they were dead or alive, but their thin grey or brown branches and sprays looked like a sort of hazy mantle spreading over everything, walls, and trees, and even brown grass, where they had fallen from their fastenings and run along the ground. It was this hazy tangle from tree to tree which made it all look so mysterious. Mary had thought it must be different from other gardens which had not been left all by themselves so long; and indeed it was different from any other place she had ever seen in her life.
“How still it is!” she whispered. “How still!”'
When nothing is growing and Mary cannot tell whether the roses are dead or alive, why is this garden so sweet? Would your reaction to the garden be the same as Mary's? Given knowledge of the story, why is Mary's visit to the garden written at this time of year?