1911 edition, illustrated by Troy Howell
Frances Hodgson Burnett has a lot to answer for.
Her children's book, The Secret Garden, may be the best gardening story since Genesis, and it hypnotized me into a lifelong penchant for climbing ivy and a general yen for the overgrown look. Little did I know the price I would have to pay....
We have a tall, wooden gate in a little-visited corner of our garden. We built it ourselves 12 years ago, and you can imagine how my heart rejoiced when I saw ivy from the next-door neighbors staking a claim to our disconcertingly bare gate.
The years passed, and the ivy did what ivy does, and soon the gate was a solid mass of green leaves. It really did present the most charming appearance, provoking our plumber, on a recent circumnavigation of the house, to exclaim as he wrenched the gate open, "It's just like The Secret Garden!" Music to the ears of this Burnett-obsessed gardener.
Yesterday, though, verdant impressions notwithstanding, a visiting contractor pointed out the shakiness of the gate posts and offered to repair them.
The ivy had both hidden and exacerbated the weakness of the gate and the adjacent, wooden fence.
Bitterness coursed through me as I wrested the tangled mat of ivy from the gate and fence.
What a fool I was, I thought, as my Felco pruners flashed through the vines, to be taken in by such a book. It's one thing to fall for that stuff when you live in a land of 19th-century, brick-walled gardens, and quite another when you live in California. Look where my repeated readings of Burnett have got me. Now I'll have to pay good, garden-writing-earned money to repair the damage wrought by English ivy.
Ironic? Certainly. But do I really have to abandon the gardening tastes of a lifetime, go all Modernist and start planting phormiums?
It remains to be seen. In the meantime, there is one vow I can make.
I renounce Frances Hodgson Burnett and all her works.
For at least a month.
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