The Secret Garden: The Book and its Spiritual Meaning

The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett written in 1911 provides a good source for anyone wanting to learn how a garden can transform one’s life. It is overflowing with metaphors and symbolism that teach lessons of spiritual growth and healing by paralleling the lives of its characters with the ‘life’ of The Secret Garden.

The characters are wrought with childhood wounds, suffering neglect, abandonment and otherwise emotionally discarded. Feeling unloved by their parents and no friends with whom to find comfort, they become bitter, ungrateful and very selfish. Thus the emotional state of many a human throughout the world. These emotional wounds eventually become the deep-seated fears believed true and which shape our thoughts of ourselves and factor into our behaviors. They are secret thoughts, hidden in our subconscious.

Gardens are neglected just like people. They are often reflections of the condition of one’s life. Because gardens need the care of humans, they can be nurtured back from a state of dismissal. The act of caring for a garden is a responsible position in which one feels empowered to help another living thing that is in a way, helping them.

We all have a secret garden inside of us. Hurts, painful memories and traumas can be brought to the surface and then composted back into the soil through our mental and emotional processing. But first we must enter the garden and many people never make that first step because of denial, repression or fear. No wonder we call them “secrets”. On one hand, we know what they are, on the other; we hide them from ourselves and others.

Nature can help you unlock the door to your secret memories. We can recognize the power of plants and nature as the embodiment of characteristics we value in ourselves. The ability of many plants and animals to endure difficult conditions shows us how we deal with difficult times in our own lives. Do we fly south for the winter when things get too stressful? An optimistic demeanor sees a patch of weeds as an opportunity for growth and to plant new intentions, hopes and desires.

The Secret Garden in the story appears from the outside as a walled off area enmeshed with vines. There is no entrance. The gate has long been covered up. But one day, the main character Sara, overhears someone talking about the old garden and when she brings it up, they deny it and say it doesn’t exist anymore. But she knows better and senses they were hiding something. She is determined to find the garden so she can plant flowers for spring.

She searches all around the area where it is thought to be and one day, a bird sitting on a nearby branch, starts to sing in an enchanting way. She feels like the bird is guiding her towards the hidden entrance to the garden. Following the bird’s song, she pushes open a thatch of vines revealing an old gate.

Inside the garden are the remnants of old hopes, desires and memories. Plants and trees are barely alive but she could tell it was once a magnificent garden and cared for by someone who made it their special place. She felt the soul of the garden and it called to her heart. She discovered that it once belonged to the estate owner’s wife and that upon her death, he never wanted to visit her garden again because of all the painful memories it brought. So he threw away the key to the garden, repressing painful memories.

Sara had her own emotional scars of bitterness and resentment. She found the garden to be a place where she could escape the world of adults. The garden was a place where she could plant her flowers and rebuild her feelings of self esteem. She did not tell anyone about the garden. It was her secret. Sara worked on the garden every day, rebuilding the soil, clearing weeds and pruning overgrown shrubbery.

Soon the garden became a reflection of her healing. She was rebuilding her own life. It was her own inner secret garden that was being nurtured by herself. She planted seeds of hope and aspiration knowing spring was near. As the buds began to appear, she recognized that her negative feelings and attitude began to dissolve. She began to see the beauty in things and her ability to control her own thoughts.

One day, her heart was in full bloom and so she decided to share her secret with others. She brought them to the secret garden to tell them the story of her transformation and to show them the beauty of the garden – reflecting her spirit.

A real secret garden in today’s culture is seen as a wondrous, special sacred space. A personal sanctuary where one can be safe, heal and regenerate. It is secret because it is sacred. It is meaningful on such a personal level, that one cherishes its hidden qualities. I think it would be fun to create a secret garden where people would walk the paths of the overall garden never finding the entrance, only known to me or with whom I choose to share.

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John Stuart Leslie holds a master's degree in Landscape Architecture and has been a landscape designer and contractor since 1982. He created to show how gardens and nature can develop our connection to spirit through meaning, symbol and wisdom. Sign up for the Growing Your Soul Newsletter and receive two free Ebooks, Feng Shui in the Garden and The Secret Garden. Go to to sign up.
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2 Responses to The Secret Garden: The Book and its Spiritual Meaning

  1. Gillian Townsley says:

    I love this analogy!! So insightful. Thank you!! Just out of interest, the main character in The Secret Garden is actually Mary Lennox … Sara (Crewe) was a character in another book by Francis Hodgson Burnett (The Little Princess) … :)

  2. Clare says:

    This is a lovely analysis of the story. Thank you. I will continue to cultivate my garden, now that summer has arrived.

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