Secret Garden Camp*******


Mary and Dickon finding the door to the Secret Garden. Actually my grand kids at Thanksgiving Point  Secret Garden.

One of my favorite Grandma’s Camps was Secret Garden Camp, which of course, was centered around  the book by Francis Hodgson Burnett. I love the book and the movies as well. Not many of my grandchildren had read it, but we watched the movie and talked about the parts we loved. (Actually my pre-teen boys hated the movie, but they had a lot of fun with the camp.)

There are three parts to the book A Secret Garden that I wanted to use:

  1.  1-Gardening:  Mary discovers the Secret Garden and needs permission to go into this garden that has been shut up for 10 years. She simply asks her uncle for a “bit of earth.” He tells her to take it anywhere, so she takes that as permission to care for the secret garden.  At this camp I wanted the children to learn about gardening, participate in it, and enjoy nature.

    Mary and Dickon discovering the Secret Gardenparticipate, and enjoy nature.

2-Character Traits:  There is “magic in all of us” is a lesson the children in the book learn that comes through positive thinking, believing in ourselves, and being likeable.  Mary and Collin are often described as being unpleasant and rude. The servant Martha, in fact, says Mary is “as tyrannical as a pig” and that Collin is the “worst young newt as ever was.” At camp we talked about why  both of these children were so ill tempered. No one liked to be around them. Would we like to be like them? How did they turn their attitudes around? The gardener Ben Weathstaff told the children, “Two things cannot be in the same place. Where you tend a rose, a thistle cannot grow.”  Perfect teaching point.

3-Mystery: There are a couple of mysteries in the book. Mary found a key and hunted for a secret door to a walled garden. There are a couple of other mysteries in the book, so  I wanted to include a mystery in our camp. We had a treasure hunt with clues. I always have a treasure hunt, but this one started with a key and finally found the box that it fit.

Planning and Planting their “bit of earth.” There is a waterfall with a little ditch running to a pond in this garden. See the two little ones (4 & 5 years old)  playing in the ditch? They are supposed to be helping.

  • Buckets with garden gloves, a spade, a garden fork, and a package of seeds were given to each child.
  • The children were paired–one older child and one younger one–into gardening teams to prepare, plan and plant their portion of the garden.
  • Turn the soil and mix some mulch into it, and find artifacts that their spades turned up.  I had previously buried some items into the areas they would be digging. One of the teams dug up anold fork; another team, a tube of lipstick.(Remember the lipstick in the movie/book Holes?); But one of them dug up an old envelope that had an
    Secret Garden Envelop


    other envelope inside with a key and a cryptic clue.


    Finding an old envelope buried in the garden.

  • Each team was given some money, and we went shopping for plants and garden “things.”  I had separated some flowers in my yard that they could choose to plant in their garden and they had seeds, or they could buy all new plants and flowers. Two of my grandsons decided they wanted to buy things instead of flowers. They would use the plants at home, and that way they could spend their money on more manly things like an ornamental garden squirrel and a cactus. The other teams picked their favorite flowers, or flowers in their favorite colors, etc. At home again, each plot was planted and signs placed in each garden telling whose garden it was. They were adorable!
  • As the gardening proceeded, more clues were discovered and eventually they unburied a  treasure box that held tickets to the play/musical “A Secret Garden,” which meant a field trip to the city with other activities, including visiting the Thanksgiving Point Gardens, where there is a Secret Garden. (The boys Did like the play-whew!)

    Treasure finally found


Fitting the key to open the treasure.

MAGIC! Activities with a Life Lesson

  • Collin said to Mary, “’Of course there must be lots of Magic in the world,…but people don’t know what it is like or how to make it. Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen until you make them happen. I am going to try and experiment.’ It made her think that it was curious how much nicer a person looked when he smiled. She had not thought of it before.
  • Being kind and nice to others and believing in yourself was another project for this Grandma’s Camp. Smiling was a good place to start.
  • The Smile Song: For the smaller children we sang The Smile Song   (Children’s Songbook, 267) and do the actions below. Invite the children to join you. (from
  • The Good In You:  Pass slips of paper to the children. Have them write something good about each of the other children–put it in a basket and draw them out and read them to the children. Then have each child write something good about themselves. Attach these to their journals.
  • Are you a Dipper or a Filler? The kids each had a small bucket with a few pieces of candy in it and a scoop. They stood in a circle, with two or three judges on the outside. They were to talk to each other and tell each other something they liked about them. When a positive thing was said (“you are a good friend to people”), the judge put a few more candies in that person’s bucket. When a snide comment was heard like (“yeah, sometimes”). The judge scoops out some candy from that bucket. As it keeps going, the kids begin talking over each other, but unkind comments disappear. Then is a perfect time for a discussion about two kinds of people–some fill others buckets and some dip out of people’s buckets. Mary and Collin were dippers until their attitudes and actions changed. Which are we?  The Internet has a lot of ideas about using this book. See BUCKET FILLERS, INC.

Journal Grandma’s Camp–This can be purchased or made by your or the children.

  • Give each child a journal; Take time around a table or somewhere to let them write their favorite things that day in their journal
  •  Put all the notes from the activity about, in their journal on a page  “I Believe In Me.” There are many scrapbook items to clip things to the journal.
  • Give the children bags to put souvenirs in such as seeds they planted, rocks, artifacts they found while digging their garden. Attach these little bags to their journals.

Resources for Secret Garden Camp:

  • IMG_2592-001The Secret Garden,Classic Starts, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Retold by Martha Hailey,  2005, NY, NY.
  • TIMG_2593-001he Secret Garden Activity Book–15 Gardening and Nature Project Based on the Classic Story, illustrated by Graham Rust, 1997, Silver Dolphin Books, San Diego, CA
  • IMG_2591-002Great Gardens For Kids, by  Clare Matthews, photographs by Clive NichIMG_2619-001ols, 2005, Octopus Publishing Group Limited 2002, London.
  • This book is full of backyard ideas for kids. We also did the spider web in our yard during this camp.
  • Have you filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids, by Carol McCloud, illustrated by David Messing, Ferne Press; 1 edition May 15, 2006, Northville, MI.
  • IMG_2590-001The Secret Garden, Garden Magic, A pop-up book, for younger kids, retold by Andrea Stacy Leach, Illustrated by Joel Iskowitz, 1983, Ottenheimer Publishers, Inc. Hong Kong.
  • IMG_2589-001
  • One Small Square Backyard, by Donald M. Silver, illustrated by Patricia J. Wynne, 1993, Scientific American Books for Young Readers, NY, NY.

Breslich and Foss makes a pop open book where you can create the whole Secret Garden by opening001opening the book and tying the front and back covers together. It is an amazing book. I don’t even know if you can still buySecretGardenPop-up it.

There are many online sources that offer ways to teach A Secret Garden to children. One I used is for a  teaching source that has good ideas on how to teach various aspects of this book:


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