Unearthing The Secret Garden – Marta McDowell

Published by: Timber Press
Pages: 320
Date published: 28/09/2021 (Kindle) 28/10/2021 (Hardback)
Date read: 22/06/2021

New York Times bestselling author Marta McDowell has revealed the way that plants have stirred some of our most cherished authors, including Beatrix Potter, Emily Dickinson, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. In her latest, she shares a moving account of how gardening deeply inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett, the author of the beloved children’s classic The Secret Garden.

In Unearthing The Secret Garden, best-selling author Marta McDowell delves into the professional and gardening life of Frances Hodgson Burnett. Complementing her fascinating account with charming period photographs and illustrations, McDowell paints an unforgettable portrait of a great artist and reminds us why The Secret Garden continues to touch readers after more than a century. This deeply moving and gift-worthy book is a must-read for fans of The Secret Garden and anyone who loves the story behind the story.

Thanks to NetGalley and Timber Press for the advanced copy of this book in return for an honest review.

At risk of alienating myself from book lovers everywhere, I have only read The Secret Garden once and that was last year, and honestly, I didn’t think much of it. I absolutely adored the Maggie Smith film version from my childhood, but I didn’t find the book that special. But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in the book’s history and how Frances Hodgson Burnett depicted such an absorbing garden.

In Marta’s book, she has provided some of the original illustrations from The Secret Garden which are just simply delightful and make me feel like a child again. Frances came to gardening relatively late and I think that’s why her descriptions of the garden and the imagery portrays a very warm, innocent, almost childlike view.

I know you run the risk of spoilers (can you really spoil a book that came out in 1911?) but I wonder if it would be more beneficial to read this book before reading The Secret Garden? I personally feel I have a more thorough understanding of Frances and her love of flowers that I might give the original text another go as I think I’ll get more out of it.

The way Marta describes France’s hometown of Rolvenden makes it sound like the most magical place and I even went property searching there as it sounded wonderful – we’ll ignore the fact that the house I fell in love with was over half a million pounds.

I love that Marta included some of Frances’ other, less known writings so we can see the woman behind The Secret Garden. She seemed like such a warm and loving woman.

One of the latter sections which documents every plant either mentioned or planted by Frances is absolutely amazing and a godsend for bibliophiles and gardeners. The time and effort that must have taken is commendable. You can really see Marta’s passion for the topic.

Also in her acknowledgments, she mentions that her mother’s grandfather was Vivien, Frances’ son, which makes Frances Marta’s great, great grandmother, so it’s not wonder she’s this passionate. (I haven’t been able to confirm this elsewhere on a Google search so Marta, if you’re reading this, could you confirm that I’ve got the right end of the stick with this please?)

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