From the time she could hold a watering can, my four-year-old granddaughter Eleanor has been a dedicated gardener. When I bought her a yellow wheelbarrow last summer, her mother told me Eleanor sometimes would wake up in the early morning and head outside in her pajamas to rake leaves.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic and the preschool shutdown, we’ve spent lots of weekends cultivating the flowerbeds in her backyard. Eleanor works at a distance with her green elephant-shaped watering can, as she learns to nurture a garden. We’ve planted daisies, zinnias, sage and lavender, and discovered some hidden forget-me-nots and lilies of the valley.
Lately, Eleanor has been making the connection between her favorite books, ones we often read together on FaceTime on Sunday afternoons, and what’s growing in the garden.
When we planted brightly colored blue fescue against the garden wall, Eleanor said the ornamental grass looks like the wild hair of Thing One and Thing Two in The Cat and the Hat. Lilies of the valley remind her of the ones in Tasha Tudor’s A Is for Annabelle, while the crocus looks just like the one the Runaway Bunny jumped into to hide from his mother.
When we planted purple heliotrope, sometimes called the “cherry pie flower” for its fragrance, Eleanor seemed delighted. The garden was better than any scratch-and-sniff book.
She’s discovering the wonderful link between gardening and literature, and what one reviewer of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden called the “fresh-air gospel.” Eleanor is too young to read The Secret Garden, a story that begins with a cholera epidemic that kills the parents and servants of Mary Lennox, the main character. But I know the story will resonate with her someday, when she realizes that she’s lived through a similar time – and planted a garden, too.