As Spring approached this year, I discovered myself devouring the colorful front yard gardens of downtown Palo Alto with a hunger I haven’t felt for some time. Every week, the longing for my own garden in Sacramento grew, the deep desire to compost, grow vegetables and plant more flowers. This seasonal hunger to garden has been with me for as long as I can remember, but more voracious than ever this Spring.
While strolling by well-established gardens—each filled with surprises—my own deep need for roots was awakened again; a need for a place where I know I will enjoy the fruits of my labor year after year, without the typical uprooting I have experienced throughout my life. Though no matter how much I myself have moved, nothing will stop me from enjoying the gardens of others.
Daily meanderings took me to a creek with a green strip of psuedo forest on one side and lovely, open, bountiful gardens on the other. One day I marveled at a huge black crow chasing a white cat into the bush, laughing at how comical nature can be.
Each weekend when I returned to Sacramento, I was curious though as to why people in my own Sacramento neighborhoods didn’t have gardens like these. Why did I feel such an affinity for the Palo Alto gardens? Why was I one of the few growing flowers in my own community?
Then came the evening while reading Virginia Woolf’s, The Common Reader, when a familiar title flashed by in one of her essays: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Like a knee-jerk reflex, a familiar magical flutter filled me as I recalled the tattered, dingy, green bound book with its gold-embossed title; the book I had read so, so long ago. Warm inside like always when remembering this story, I savored the feelings it brought me.
Sunny Spring days continued and Palo Alto’s gardens proliferated with boundless colors, intensifying my hunger, yet also the gratitude for this blessed environment I found myself in—this particular year. During an unlikely detour one afternoon, I passed a home surrounded not by welcome, but by mystery. Its high fence was covered with overgrown roses and bushes meant to keep curiousity like mine at bay. I peeked where tiny openings allowed, catching a view that was followed by a flash, this was a ‘Secret Garden’!
Once again, my mind wandered back to explore the past. There was an answer for me somewhere in this story, The Secret Garden. It had deeply effected my view and appreciation of nature as a child, an appreciation and a hunger that have stuck with me throughout my life; a hunger that hits me every Spring and everywhere there are reminders.
I had to understand how this came about. I would re-read the book, hopefully solving the mystery of my serious need for nature.
Reflecting to a few years back, I remembered buying my eleven year-old niece a set of classic books, books which she gobbled up in a few weeks—much like I did at her age. I remembered the envy and pleasure I felt when she told me she had finished, The Secret Garden. I knew she now had something magical that would stay with her forever. I wished I could have shared the enchantment of this story with my grandaughters too, but they were in a different world by then; I had missed my window of opportunity—before the obsessions of boys, friends, text messaging, and social networking sites.
So, giving myself permission to be a curious child again, off I steered towards Bell’s Books on Emerson Ave. in Palo Alto; one of the last holdouts in fine new and used books after 65 years! The co-owner who I usually talked to would understand my feelings about this story. When I entered and found her free, we shared thoughts of the book, her detailed memories being more vivid than my own. I could not remember when I had read it, but it must have been somewhere between nine and ten years old before my own obsession with mysteries started—about forty years ago!
As I perused the volumes of children’s classics, the familiar binding from my past was not to be found so I chose an inexpensive paperback version to get me started, one I could pass on to others. I couldn’t wait to begin; I opened the book and started reading it as I walked down the street, looking forward to my break so I could indulge myself completely.
While I began reading this classic book from my childhood I devised a theory about the difference between the downtown Palo Alto gardens and others. Since Stanford University is close and downtown Palo Alto is filled with Stanford faculty, who are of course educated in the classics, perhaps these homeowners were creating their own gardens in reminiscence of the magic they felt after reading The Secret Garden.
The Secret Garden DID answer the questions to my passion for nature. But I had not predicted that it would answer so many questions about who I am today.
How fortunate I was to have read this as a child, to understand how nature works, how receptive she is to us as humans, and how vital she is to our well-being, no matter our age. I bought a hardback copy for my six year-old grandson so he and my daughter could enjoy it as well. I didn’t want to miss another opportunity to share this vital message with my offspring.
Although it never dwindled, I am filled with renewed reverence for the wonderous feelings and hunger for all of nature, even as they come with a bittersweet accent this late Spring. Upon my return to Sacramento last week, I found out we are losing our home to the bank and once again, I will uproot myself to God knows where, still longing for my own romantic secret garden someday. Until then, I will be enjoying the gorgeous gardens of others, always hungry, always searching, yet always grateful every time I hear the song of a bird or see the blossom of a flower. Nothing can take away the magic that nature has given me in my life, not even the bank!