Great Maytham Hall, Kent: the most famous garden in literature
“And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles.” ―
In the early 1900s, American authoress, Frances Hodgson Burnett discovered an iron gate covered in ivy, and beyond it she saw glimpses of an overgrown walled garden. Peeking through the bars at the neglected blooms and tangled vines, a story began to form – of a secret garden waiting to be discovered…
The story which followed, The Secret Garden (1911), has become a much-loved children’s classic. For over 100 years the garden, hidden inside the grounds of the fictional Misselthwaite Manor, has inspired children and adults alike with its young orphan girl finding a home, and a passion for gardening, within its walls.
Follow in the footsteps of Frances Hodgson Burnett and her much-loved cast of characters with a walk through the original secret garden at Great Maytham Hall:
Sitting on the edge of a woodland, the garden at Great Maytham Hall is split into three rooms.
Wandering up the path, the first of these rooms is a long, formal lawn with a pond in its centre. Speckled around its edges, purple iris add pops of colour and yew clipped into pillars add height and structure to the scene.
Arriving at the pond a crossroads appears. To the right, steps lead towards the grand house, to the left a wall of woodland invites the curious. But straight ahead, is the garden’s centre piece. A black iron gate partially concealed by a mass of wisteria.
Sadly Frances’ original secret gate was bricked up during a renovation of the garden in the 1910s by Lutyens, in partnership with Gertrude Jekyll. However, this new gate seemingly inspires the same charm and wonder. Stepping towards it, you’ll catch glimpses of the formal garden concealed inside. Across the walls white and pink roses vine the old brick, and foxgloves, euphorbias and Solanum crispum Glasnevin create a colourful planting scheme below.
A few steps closer and you’ll be concealed within the wisteria, which tumbles from atop of the garden wall. With the purple blooms billowing in the wind, it is easy to imagine oneself as Mary Lennox – discovering the joys of a garden in springtime for the first time…
“However many years she lived, Mary always felt that ‘she should never forget that first morning when her garden began to grow’.” ― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
Beyond the walls of the secret garden, by the old stables, a kitchen garden produces an abundance of seasonal produce. In May, it is overflowing with potatoes, leeks, carrots and other springtime veg. Wandering deeper, the garden opens into a luscious Kentish woodland. Earlier in the year, bluebells blanket the woodland floor but now in late spring, it is the trees themselves that take centre stage.
Peeking through the gate at the secret garden and wandering through the woodland, there is a great sense of adventure within the gardens at Great Maytham Hall. When the garden reopens, you’ll be sure to rediscover the childlike wonder of gardens and gardening.
If you’re finding a little extra time for reading during lockdown, why not make your next read a return to the Secret Garden? Earlier this year, we asked our supporters what their favourite literary garden was. Take a look below for some more lockdown reading inspiration…
- The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
- The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
- Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
- Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
- Alice Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
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