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GCA Medalist In The News: Marta McDowell Authors New Book


December 16, 2021

Unearthing The Secret Garden, The Plants and Places That Inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett

Marta McDowell, the 2019 recipient of The  Garden Club of America’s Sarah Chapman Francis Medal, has added a new book to her library of literary accomplishments. Unearthing The Secret Garden, The Plants and Places That Inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett, published by Timber Press, is a well-researched story of  Frances Hodgson Burnett’s own life journey as a professional writer and gardener and how she was inspired to create a beautifully illustrated tale of nature and nurture delighting children and adults for over 100 years.

The book includes stunning images, many from the original publication (1911) of The Secret Garden as well as its reissues. Also included are archival portraits of Burnett’s friends and family, along with photographs of her various residences and garden beds. Marta describes in detail Burnett’s expansive gardens that she cultivated in England, America, and later in Bermuda. Among Burnett’s favorites were primroses, azaleas, bluebells, and roses. A comprehensive list of her vibrant and colorful plantings is generously included in the book. 

As an author and avid gardener herself, Marta provides unique insights into Burnett’s professional success, personal challenges, and tragedies as they make their way into The Secret Garden. For those who read the book in their childhood, Marta revives memories of the fictitious faraway Misselthwaite, the orphan Mary, sickly Colin, and Dickon as they take their places again in the mysterious walled garden. This time the story of the secret garden is told with a deeper understanding of their creator as she wrote to heal life’s wounds.  

​Marta, a member of the Garden Club of Madison, received the GCA’s Sarah Chapman Francis Medal for inspiring new generations of readers and gardeners with her meticulous research and captivating portrayals of literary figures and their gardens. Her garden was admitted to the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Gardens (AAG) in 2012. 

Other books by Marta include: Emily Dickinson's Gardening LifeThe World of Laura Ingalls WilderAll the Presidents' Gardens, and Beatrix Potter's Gardening LifeAll the Presidents' Gardens made The New York Times bestseller list and won an American Horticultural Society book award in 2017. Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life won the Gold Award from the Garden Writers Association and is now in its eighth printing. Her books have been translated into Chinese, Japanese and Korean. 


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