The derelict house and wild garden which are a location for much of the action in Lady in Red, were inspired by the empty house and overgrown garden that I lived next door to as a child. But Lady in Red is just another book in a long line of stories about secret places that children discover and explore on their own, away from adult eyes. Here are my two favourites.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
After Mary Lennox’s parents die, she has to return from India to live with her reclusive uncle in a rambling old house on the Yorkshire moors. Lonely and unloved, Mary’s life seems miserable, until she discovers a mysterious walled garden in the grounds which has been locked up for years. When she finds the key to the garden, she also makes two new friends, Together, the three of them make the garden bloom again, enriching all their lives, and giving Mary hope for a better future.
As a child, I spent a lot of time playing on my own in our back garden, building dens, watching the birds fly to and fro, and searching for caterpillars on leaves and woodlice under stones. The garden was my playground, and I loved plants and animals, so I really understood why the secret garden meant so much to Mary Lennox.
Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
When Tom is sent to stay with his uncle and aunt in their small flat miles from home, he has no companions his own age, and is thoroughly bored. Then one night, as he lies sleepless in bed, he hears the grandfather clock downstairs strike thirteen…What is going on? When Tom creeps down the stairs to explore, he discovers the house has a huge garden which is not there during the day. As he explores the garden each night, he meets other children – but are they real, or ghosts?
I recently reread this novel as part of a university course, and enjoyed it all over again. It asks all sorts of interesting questions about time. Is it possible to travel back in time? And if you do, will you age at a different rate to the people you meet in a different time? It’s a magical story with an unexpected but satisfying ending.