The Secret Garden is a novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, first published in 1909. Its working title was Mistress Mary, in reference to the English nursery rhyme Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary. It is one of Burnett's most popular novels, and is now considered a classic of children's literature.
Mary finds the key and a robin shows her the door to the garden behind some ivy. Once inside, she discovers that although the roses seem lifeless, some of the other flowers have survived. She resolves to tend the garden herself. Although she wants to keep it a secret, she recruits Martha's brother Dickon Sowerby, who has a way with plants and wild animals. Mary gives him money to buy gardening implements and he shows her that the roses, though neglected, are not dead. When Mary's uncle visits the house briefly for the first time since she arrived, Mary asks him for a bit of earth to make a flower garden, and he agrees. Thanks to the invigorating Yorkshire air and her new-found fascination with the garden, Mary herself begins to blossom, and loses her sickly look and unpleasant manner.
One night Mary hears someone weeping in another part of the house. When she asks questions, the servants become evasive and say they cannot hear anything or say that it was the wind. Shortly after her uncle's visit, she goes exploring and discovers her uncle's son, Colin, a lonely, bedridden boy as petulant and disagreeable as Mary used to be. His father shuns him because the child closely resembles his mother. Mr. Craven is a mild hunch back, and is morbidly convinced that Colin will develop the same condition. This fear is shared by Colin who for psychological reasons has never learned to walk. The servants have been keeping Mary and Colin a secret from one another because Colin doesn't like strangers staring at him and is prone to terrible tantrums. Colin, however, accepts Mary and insists on her visiting him often.
As spring approaches, Colin becomes jealous because Mary is spending more time out in the garden with Dickon than indoors with him. One day he voices his resentment and, when Mary resists, he throws a tantrum. To the surprise and amusement of the servants, Mary continues to stand her ground. That evening, Colin has a hysterical fit, brought on by his fear of dying young. Mary goes to him and, again taking a firm, no-nonsense stance with him and to calm him down slaps him in the face and to the servants' surprise, when Mary starts screaming at him, he doesn't object. When he asks if he can visit the garden with her, she agrees, as she and Dickon had been planning to suggest it themselves, feeling that it would do Colin good. Colin's doctor, who is Mr. Craven's brother and Colin's uncle, agrees to have Dickon and Mary take Colin outside in a wheelchair. Colin is delighted with the garden, and visits it with Mary and Dickon whenever the weather allows. As the garden revives and flourishes, so does he. To keep the garden a secret Colin orders everyone to stay away from the path to the Secret Garden.
The first person to discover what the children are doing is the old gardener, Ben Weatherstaff, who was a favourite of Colin's mother. Since her death, he has been visiting the locked garden once or twice a year by secretly scaling the wall with a ladder. When he visits the garden for the first time since Mary's arrival (having had to miss several visits because of rheumatism), he is angry with the children until he sees how improved both the garden and Colin are. Colin orders him not to tell anybody, and he agrees. Colin resolves that the next time his father returns from abroad he will be able to walk and run like a normal boy. He accomplishes this through a combination of simple physical exercise taught by Dickon and positive thinking. He refuses to think of himself as crippled, and he invents a kind of mantra to keep himself in the right, or "magic," frame of mind. He makes great progress, but keeps it hidden from everyone but Mary, Dickon, and Ben, wanting it to be a surprise.
Mr. Craven has been travelling throughout Europe but hurries home after seeing a vision of his dead wife in a dream, imploring him to come to her "in the garden!" When he receives a letter from Martha and Dickon's mother (who also knows the secret) saying "I think your lady would ask you to come if she was here", he decides to return home. He arrives while the children are outdoors. He goes out to see Colin for himself, and finds himself drawn to the secret garden, where he is astonished first to hear children's voices and then to find Colin not only racing Mary and Dickon around the garden, but winning. They take Mr. Craven into the secret garden to tell him everything. Afterwards they walk back to the house, where the servants are astonished to see two miracles: Colin walking and his father looking happy again.
Tracing the book's revival from almost complete eclipse at the time of Frances Hodgson Burnett's death in 1924, Anne H. Lundin noted the obituary notices all remarked on Little Lord Fauntleroy and passed over The Secret Garden in silence.
At the time of her death, a friend wrote in a letter to The New York Times that the origin of the Secret Garden was Mrs. Burnett's rose garden at Great Maytham Hall, Kent.
One notable stage adaptation is a musical with music by Lucy Simon and book and lyrics by Marsha Norman, which opened on Broadway in 1991. The production was nominated for seven Tony Awards, winning Best Book of a Musical and Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Daisy Eagan as Mary, at eleven years old is the youngest person ever to win a Tony). The most acclaimed film adaptation was American Zoetrope's 1993 production. It was directed by Agnieszka Holland and starred Kate Maberly as Mary, Heydon Prowse as Colin, Andrew Knott as Dickon and Dame Maggie Smith as Mrs. Medlock. A 2000 sequel entitled Return to the Secret Garden was directed by Scott Featherstone and won the Director's Gold Award at the 2001 Santa Clarita International Film Festival.
In 2001, the TV movie Back to the Secret Garden, directed by Michael Tuchner, was set in a time when Mary and Colin have married and turned Craven Manor into a shelter for orphans. It starred Joan Plowright, George Baker and Camilla Belle as an American orphan, Lizzie.
In 1991, a Japanese animated version of The Secret Garden was made, entitled Himitsu no Hanazono. Another anime movie, Sōkō no Strain (2006), based on another Frances Hodgson Burnett novel, A Little Princess, draws some elements from The Secret Garden, mostly the names of Colin, Mary, Martha and Dickon.
Noel Streatfield's novel The Painted Garden (U.S. title Movie Shoes) has as its central story the filming of The Secret Garden in Hollywood.
An unofficial novel about the adult lives of Mary, Colin, and Dickon was written by Susan Moody in 1995 and published under two different titles: Misselthwaite: The Sequel to the Secret Garden and Return to the Secret Garden. The New York Times also published a brief parodic sequel in the same year.
In 2007 The Orlando Shakespeare Theater commissioned April-Dawn Gladu to create an adaptation for their Theater For Young Audiences series. This version’s unique qualities include an actress silently playing The Garden Tree, which was the tree that Lilly fell from years ago. As the children work secretly in the garden to bring it to life, the living tree wakes up, flourishes and blooms.