We’re deep in the heart of spring this month, that time of year when Bas Bleu‘s editors enjoy digging in the dirt, potting colorful flowers, and generally gussying up our green space. But when you’re a reader, there’s no need to pull on gardening gloves or relocate errant earthworms to spend time in a beautiful garden. Simply open a book! In honor of the blooming season, we’re tipping our sunhats to six memorable gardens in literature.
The Secret Garden in The Secret Garden: We’re kicking off our list with what may be the most famous garden in English literature: the secret garden at Misselthwaite Manor. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 novel revolves around young Mary Lennox, orphaned during a cholera outbreak in India and subsequently deposited into the care of her uncle Archibald Craven in rural Yorkshire. Tipped off by a kindly servant, Mary discovers a walled garden, locked away from view by Craven after the death of his beloved wife. Neglected and forgotten by almost everyone—much like Mary herself—the garden becomes her saving grace, and Mary blooms along with it.
“That afternoon the whole world seemed to devote itself to being perfect and radiantly beautiful and kind….Perhaps out of pure heavenly goodness the spring came and crowned everything it possibly could into that one place.”
The Capulets’ Garden in Romeo and Juliet: Our jaded hearts may scoff at the long-term potential of Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet’s teen love story (you know, if they hadn’t died in the end). But there’s no denying the lovers’ covert garden meeting in Act II, Scene II delivers some of literature’s most famous declarations of love. After spying fair Juliet at a party, the infatuated Romeo sneaks onto the Capulet estate hoping for another glimpse of his new love. His friends know he’s risking death by climbing the orchard wall, but “night’s cloak” and the cover of the trees protect the ardent lover as he and Juliet exchange nature-inspired sweet nothings.
“This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath,
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.”
The Garden of Live Flowers in Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There: When Alice climbs through the mirror into yet another fantastical world, she spies a garden in the distance. Yet every time she walks toward it, she winds up right back where she started! “O Tiger-lily,” Alice says to a nearby flower “I wish you could talk!” “We can talk,” said the Tiger-lily: “when there’s anybody worth talking to.” Soon Alice finds herself in a most remarkable conversation with the Tiger-lily, the Rose, the Larkspur, and the Daisies, who make very clear that Alice is the strange one in their world. But the Talking Flowers do offer the young explorer her first lesson in Looking-Glass World: To get anything done, she must do it backwards.
The Gardens at Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre: Charlotte Brontë makes no bones about it: Jane Eyre’s early life was pretty miserable. When she’s hired as a governess at windswept Thornfield Hall, things begin looking up. Sure, her boss Mr. Rochester is brooding and mercurial, and the house makes strange noises at night. But Rochester seems to respect her intellect and value her opinions, and Jane falls in love, even though she assumes he’ll marry beautiful Blanche Ingram. During a stroll through the gardens (technically an orchard), Jane and Rochester come face to face. She finally admits her feelings, and there, beneath a grand chestnut tree, he proposes marriage. When a storm begins, the new couple race for the cover of the house and their first kiss…moments before lightning splits the chestnut tree. As Gothic omens go, it does not bode well.
“No nook in the grounds more sheltered and more Eden-like; it was full of trees, it bloomed with flowers: a very high wall shut it out from the court, on one side; on the other, a beech avenue screened it from the lawn. At the bottom was a sunk fence; its sole separation from lonely fields: a winding walk, bordered with laurels and terminating in a giant horse-chestnut, circled at the base by a seat…. Here one could wander unseen.”
The Marches’ Garden in Little Women: Louisa May Alcott doesn’t spend much paper and ink on the March family’s garden, but she puts it to excellent use to celebrate the four sisters’ different personalities. As spring dawns in Massachusetts and the garden needs tending, each sister is assigned her own plot, to plant as she pleases:
“Meg’s had roses and heliotrope, myrtle, and a little orange tree in it. Jo’s bed was never alike two seasons, for she was always trying experiments….Beth had old-fashioned fragrant flowers in her garden…. Amy had a bower in hers, rather small and earwiggy, but very pretty to look at.”
Mr. McGregor’s Garden, The Tale of Peter Rabbit: More than a few years have passed since we read this little book as children but…was Mr. McGregor’s garden always so terrifying? Peter really should have heeded his mother, who warns him and his sisters to stay out of the garden because Mrs. McGregor baked their father into a pie! Does Peter listen? Nope. He beelines for the scrumptious garden, is chased around by the angry farmer, loses his shoes, is caught in a net, is nearly stomped on by McGregor, and narrowly escapes with his life. Always listen to your mother, Peter! Maybe that’s why our parents read this one to us over and over…
“Now, my dears,” said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, “you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden…”
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