A Not So Secret Garden
Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Secret Garden fills its readers with wisdom, much of it, more so about life than gardening. The final chapter of the book states, “Much more surprising things can happen to anyone who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place…Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.” The final part of this quote easily sums up the story’s central theme.
The story focuses on the characters Mary Lennox and Colin Craven. Mary moves to her Uncle Archibald Craven’s home in Yorkshire, England, where she eventually meets Colin, Archibald’s son. Colin was locked away due to his perceived poor health and was perpetually served by the servants. He had no relationship with his father. As result, Colin had an imperious and haughty personality perpetuated by negativity. Mary learns about a neglected garden and after meeting Colin, they begin to tend to the garden. While tending the garden they are tending themselves, building stronger relationships and healing. Together they tended the garden, where thistles once grew – both literally and figuratively.
A Community of Gardeners
Burnett’s secret garden illustrates the true power of gardening- especially community gardening. In traditional gardening, our plants are our priority, but in community gardens, we tend to our community first and plants second. Research shows community gardening improved access to food, improved nutrition, improved physical activity, and improved physical health. It also shows an increase in social health and community cohesion. The county extension office helps work with community members to plan and start their own community garden – no matter the size. A consistent priority to make a community garden successful is to build a community around the garden. Community first, gardening second.
A New Community Garden
We have community gardens in Nassau County – all of which have community at the forefront of their success. Without community, community gardens fail. Recently the Master Gardener Volunteers, local veterans, Gracie’s Kitchen (a local non-profit), Nassau County School Board, and local businesses worked towards building a small community garden at Gracie’s Kitchen in Yulee. The community garden’s goal is to help supplement food for Gracie’s Kitchen, but more importantly, become a place for the community to serve and learn. Specifically, this community garden came from the community for the community.
Healing through Gardening
Beyond the traditional community gardening model, nationwide, gardening has grown significantly as a tool for healing. Horticultural therapy and therapeutic gardening are the intentional gardening experiences utilized to improve overall physical and mental health. Research from the past century highlighted a strong connection between healing and nature interaction. In many cases, horticulture therapy programs significantly improved the health of hospital patients. Although much research is still being done on this relatively new field, it has already produced “magical” effects.
Where You Tend a Rose…
Colin Craven stated towards the end of Secret Garden, “I am sure there is Magic in everything, only we have not sense enough to get hold of it and make it do things for us.” Gardening is a very powerful, magical tool for our communities to build, thrive, and heal, but only if we take it and make it do things for us. A community garden is not a unique, novel idea – they have been around for a while. Although, once we introduce them into our communities, we may begin to wonder, “why it was not done centuries ago.” After all, where you tend a rose, a thistle cannot grow.