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A Bit Of Earth

Several weeks into lockdown, and everyone’s getting a little stir-crazy. Spaces to escape into seem even more precious, especially for those with children. I feel very privileged to have my small patch of a garden where we can potter about, sit, get some air or just get away from one another. 

And no wonder. The effects of the lockdown and the terrible human costs of this pandemic are taking their toll on our mental health, old and young alike. Which brings me to these three books that are well-loved in our house:

The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

Moondial, Helen Cresswell

Tom's Midnight Garden, Philippa Pearce


Unlike most of us, who are spending more time at home with our families than we ever thought possible, the main character in each of these books has been sent away from the home they know and separated from their family in some way, whether it’s due to the deaths of parents from cholera (The Secret Garden), a mother in a coma (Moondial), or – aptly - a brother in quarantine (Tom’s Midnight Garden).

Although our situations are different on the surface, when we look deeper there are similarities. We all live in the fear of losing our loved ones, and we also feel a sense of a lack of control over what is happening.

So how do our characters cope?

Well. Each of these books is about a garden. And each of these gardens is a place where magical things happen; the children feel less alone here and they can tap into their own inner power or strength, at a time when they have no external control over the events in their lives. Similarly, for many of us without a garden, the space and natural environment in the local park is where we might go to escape the awful reality of the death tolls, of economic uncertainty, of the tyranny of waiting; for many families with children it is the thing holding their sanity together right now.

While for readers, books are the ultimate escape to other times and places, people also need physical spaces. I wonder why some would call for the closure of public green spaces, when we know that not everyone has access to a private garden of their own. After all, not everyone can ask, like Mary Lennox is able to ask her uncle, “Might I have a bit of earth?”

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