As the fifth graders at Stratford Mission Viejo’s campus followed a precocious young girl named Mary Lennox into a locked-away plot of land, while reading Frances Burnett’s “The Secret Garden,” their teacher suddenly recalled a similar plot of overgrown earth, located near the back of their school grounds. Mentioning the possibility of restoring it to her students, Mrs. Hobson received a response similar to the request Mary asked of her uncle, Mr. Craven: “Might we have a plot of land?”

Clearing the Weeds and Planting the Seeds

 Thus, the Hobson Hideaway was launched; students greeted the patch of four foot weeds with hope, determination, excitement and a set of 20 child sized rakes, as they got to work clearing the barely visible soil.  Within 45 minutes of their first trip to the garden, much of the space was ready for planting.  The generous families of Stratford donated seeds, plants, soil, and other resources for the children, which they promptly put to use.  Dirt was tilled and overturned, seeds buried, potatoes and strawberries planted, and a solid harvest of smiles and laughter was already upon them within that first week.  As their units of study in science happened to focus on various ecosystems and properties of living things in nature, this project also provided  for a place of study and observation; they searched for members of the food web, decomposers hidden under bark, and  took note of interactions between the spheres of the earth.

Watching it Grow

Over the next few weeks, Mrs. Hobson’s class watched as their garden sprang to life.  Herbs and flowers sprouted, fresh clovers filled the gaps between their custom painted garden stones, and the inspiration continued.  Noticing a surplus pile of building materials near the garden, students used pavers to create pathways, wooden beams to map out an “amphitheater,” and logs to provide comfortable seating.  Students can sometimes be found utilizing this spot for their daily literature lessons; soaking up the sun and listening to the sounds of nature as they pore through a good book.  Science, technology, engineering, art, and math have all been put into good use in Hobson Hideaway, making it a living example of the enthusiasm for STEAM based learning.

“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

The Bounty of Earth’s Lessons

Hobson Hideaway has not only provided the students with an outlet for activity, an impromptu science laboratory, and a quiet place for reading; it has also been instrumental in bringing them even closer together as a class family.  Mrs. Hobson’s favorite part has been seeing the children grouped over a sprouted seedling and hearing their squeals of delight as they notice a fresh bloom, or commending each other on the work they put forth in the garden.  She has been  amazed and delighted at the effort and teamwork her students have put into making this space something special, not only for them, but for the school as a whole, and is thrilled when every completed task is met with a, “What if, next, we ….?”  

The seeds we sowed brought forth a renewed sense of awe and appreciation for the earth. The earth in turn repaid the students for their hard work by providing them with a peaceful haven where they could reflect upon their studies, along with the important lessons of the seasons, and the cycle of life. Like the characters of Mary and Colin in “The Secret Garden”, we learned that a forgotten piece of land, even after the longest winter, can return to bountiful bloom in the spring. All it takes is a little care and tending to make a garden grow. 

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden