Thursday, December 3, 2009

The dangers of garden literature




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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21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Every year I have to prune the ivy back from its insidious, unerring march towards our house. How does it know the house is there? Why doesn't it grow in the other direction?
Sharon

Janet said...

Ah, to be lured by a childhood fantasy.

Grace Peterson said...

Hi DP~~ A very well written post, as usual. As my eyes hopped from word to word, they kept wanting to rise above my laptop screen, out the glass door, onto the fence and the mass of IVY that, like yours, is in serious need of a haircut. Rather than yank the plants altogether I will cut them back hard this spring and let them climb again. I've found that a severe spring pruning seems to keep the whole bunch in check. You've heard the ivy proverb that goes: "The first year, it sleeps, the second year, it creeps, the third year, it leaps"?

Anonymous said...

Delightful, Char. The Secret Garden is for life! Connie Pratt

Daffodil Planter said...

Sharon, LOL! Could it be attracted to your magnetic personality?

Janet, Next thing you know I'll be speaking with a Yorkshire accent.

Grace, That's the first garden proverb I've ever read. Thank you for that and for your solidarity. It's us or them.

Welcome Connie! Well, if you insist, I guess I could read it again in a few months. Thank you for visiting!

susie said...

Oh, what memories. I have not read the Secret Garden in $) years! Hopefully you can't figure out what that means.....Ah well, maybe I need to find a copy & read it again.

Maranta said...

Maybe we should just re-classify 'The Secret Garden' as a captivating, but terrifying horror story. Anything shrouded in ivy gives me more chills than whatever Stephen King's got up his sleeves.

Deborah at Kilbourne Grove said...

The Secret Garden also had a huge pace in my heart when I was a chid (and now). I am trying to divide my garden into rooms with hedges (would love to have walls, but they cost a bomb). I am hoping that eventually you will be abe to get lost in it.(and that is a lot of hope)

joyce in sf said...

I have The Secret Garden on my iPhone and I keep encouraging Kelly to read it. No luck yet! Ivy will have its way so my mantra is see a leaf, cut it off. I have no idea in whose garden the ivy that pokes through the fence spaces in our little space orginates.

susan morrison said...

OK, the gloves are coming off for this one. I loved The Secret Garden, too, but prefer its existence to remain safely in the pages of a book, thank you very much. The description of ivy creeping over a garden fence is lovely, but in California the reality is more like invasive nightmare and rat habitat, not to mention boring front yard landscaping.

On the other hand, I do love phormiums!

Daffodil Planter said...

Susie, Try the book again on a blustery night this winter. You want that whole Yorkshire moors atmosphere. Someday you'll tell us what $) means? Dolorous?

Maranta, On the horrors of ivy, you reign supreme. I meant to link to your terror tale of horticulture--
http://callusandchlorophyll.blogspot.com/2009/03/curse-of-hederahelix.html

Daffodil Planter said...

Welcome Deborah! I added your lovely blog, Green Theatre, to the Other Countries section of the blogroll. Saw on your blog that you have a Lime Walk! I'm so jealous! In addition to hedges, garden rooms to get lost in--sounds like perfection.

Joyce, Yet another example of what a good Grandma you are! A challenge to get a 21st century little girl to read an Edwardian book, but what a heroine Mary is. I see that first ivy leaf and think "how pretty". Clearly, I need to adopt your policy.

Daffodil Planter said...

Susan, Gloves off? Actually I had my new Ethel M gloves on for the procedure and they performed very well. I agree, ivy underfoot manages to be both scary and dull. I was cringing when I was pulling it off the ground, hoping that I would not reveal some furry trespassers. All clear, luckily. Phormiums? See, you have excellent, modernist taste. I am still in fluffy-wuffy garden borderdom.

Helen said...

DP, Were I to conjure up a vision for my garden inspired by The Secret Garden, it would not be ivy. It would be: hired help. That would not be a horror story, but a charming fairytale. Sigh. (I should add, that the help would do the heavy lifting and digging, whilst (a dream like this deserves a "whilst") I would waft with my trug and say: move this.

Daffodil Planter said...

Helen, Can you really resist that ivy-clad door on the cover of the book? It takes a Canadian like yourself to nail the requisite vocabulary--whilst, waft and trug. Here's another one--under-gardener.

Kathryn/plantwhateverbringsyoujoy.com said...

Aw, yes, I have a love hate relationship with ivy myself! Actually it now leans toward the latter for very similar reasons. It's invasive stuff! I had a woman tell me once, "You will spend half your life trying to establish ivy and the other half trying to control it." Love the post.

Weeder said...

Ah, tis not just ivy! Trumpet vine and pink jasmine can be just as lovely and terrifying!
Having recently reclaimed an overgrown (30'!)olive tree from their grips I no longer hear furry creatures hustling and bustling about in the tree at night. To be safe I've whacked off the vines at the base..but left the bigger ones, now dead, for the birds to twitter in.Surely there will be upstarts at the base come spring.
It seemed like such a lovely idea at the time.. 11 years ago.. not! Love "The Secret Garden" here at the Not-so-Secret-Garden.

Kat White said...

That's hilarious! They also make the rats that live in the ivy a whole lot cuter. Imagine the "Secret Garden" as "The Secret Modernist Phormium Filled Garden." Somehow it just isn't the same.

Genevieve said...

I WISH I could renounce her work! I love Sara Crewe/ A Little Princess. Funnily enough, I never read Secret Garden till I was grown...

Daffodil Planter said...

Welcome Kathryn! How you escaped my Northern CA blogroll I just don't know, but you're there now. Love the ivy quote from your wise friend.

kate smudges said...

And here I just look at Ivy and sigh ~ it won't survive the winters here. So, I can blissfully dream about ivy-covered gates and buildings, knowing that I won't have to encounter ivy's invasive tendencies. A lovely-written post, DP!