Derived from The Secret Garden (1911) by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the term refers to a private world which becomes something of a personal Paradise surrounded by oppressive reality. In Burnett's novel the place is a walled garden amid the bleak Yorkshire moors; the garden, imbued with the youthful zeal of the children, becomes a place of recovery and regeneration. An SG is thus any place of escape or retreat that provides a personal haven for the protagonist. The SG may be a Wainscot or Polder in our own world, or in an Otherworld or even elsewhere in Time. It became a standard Motif in Children's Fantasy, where most SGs are literally gardens – Tom's Midnight Garden (1958) by Philippa Pearce, The Time Garden (1958) by Edward Eager, The Castle of Yew (1965 chap) by Lucy M Boston and the garden at Chrestomanci Castle in Charmed Life (1977) by Diana Wynne Jones. It was in recognition of the SG as a key motif in children's fiction that Humphrey Carpenter (1946- ) titled his study of the golden age of children's literature Secret Gardens (1985).
In Adult Fantasy SGs are a similar retreat from everyday life, though may not necessarily prove to be such a haven. Lionel Wallace's recollection of his enchanted garden has fatal results in "The Door in the Wall" (1906 Daily Chronicle) by H G Wells. Landover in Terry Brooks's Magic Kingdom for Sale – Sold! is almost an SG; the rooftops of Gormenghast become an SG for Steerpike in Titus Groan (1946) by Mervyn Peake, and one could argue that Shangri-La is a remote and virtually inaccessible SG in Lost Horizon (1933) by James Hilton. [MA]