Sometimes since I’ve been in the garden I’ve looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast.

                                       – Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden.


There are two little girls with blonde bowl haircuts running through the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. They are wearing corduroy — it is sometime in the eighties. They know exactly where they are going.

At the back of the gardens, past the creek, the pavilion and the lake with all the ducks, beyond the Victorian glass Palm House, lies their garden. The garden is secret. Its boundary is an old red brick wall and can only be entered by a gate with a heavy metal latch. They are racing to be the first to step inside.

Unlike the rest of the manicured gardens, this secret one is wilder. Plants ramble and curl around each other. Herbs battle roses that, in turn, fight with succulents each clamouring for room and space. It’s quiet there; isolated — this isn’t where tourists come. Once they are inside no one knows where they are.

In hindsight, the secret garden was probably an afterthought. A fenced bit of park that no one knew what to do with. Inside magic grew.

Inside they watched bulbs thrust through earth. Birds nested; leaves unfurled and reached upwards. The air whispered secrets of animals that played there in the moonlight after they had gone. They imagined tea parties and twinkling lights shining on flowers that sang lullabies to baby worms. They were certain they saw fairies more than once.

One day, they can’t remember when, but sometime after the bowl haircut had been replaced by henna dyed hair and adulthood, they went back to the garden only to find it gone. The brown earth, bed of their bulbs, lay tumbled and destroyed.

The Botanic Gardens had big plans. Over time the diggers came and went, the brown soil was compacted and walkways put in. Seedlings were selected to “demonstrate the use of plants to heal and promote health and wellbeing in western and non-western cultures and how they have developed over time, from the Neolithic period to present medical science and pharmacology”. Their secret garden had been replaced with a garden that had a proper purpose.

The new Garden of Health promotes a different kind of magic — the magic of science and healing. It’s order and structure reflects the doctrines that selected the plants that now grow in it. It’s pathways now follow didactic lines; teaching this, explaining that. Within the Garden of Health you can find a Garden of Healing. There is also a Contemplation Garden.

The structured roots of the Garden of Contemplation hold in place the soil that was once full of rambling, unexpected magic and mystery (where they used to think and wonder). Now when they go to the Garden of Health and sit in the Contemplation Garden they also take up the offer to think about things. But in the harsh sunlight, on the wall that curves mathematically and without the leaves that furl and the smell of dirt they mainly sit and contemplate the hidden place they found when they were kids and how happy it made them.

Read more about Adelaide Stories here.

Adelaide Stories #1

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