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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

The Garden’s Secrets by Sarah Johnson and illustrated by Deborah Hinde

A small boy stands before a door in a garden. He looks puzzled. Why have a door in a garden?

“Open it,” breathes the wind. "Every path, every door leads somewhere."

When Cooper goes through, he discovers more doors, winding paths, and tunnels each leading to a different themed garden. A curious child, he keeps wondering out loud what they are about. Rustling bamboo, swaying trees, chirping birds, and laughing flowers take turns to be his guides and talk back to him uncovering secrets. It becomes a delightful sensory journey full of sounds, smells, and colours.

A bubbling fountain stirs his imagination so that a patchwork of colourful flowers turns into a magic carpet ready to whisk him away. He discovers a garden party where a luscious afternoon tea has been set out on a white tablecloth, but where are the guests? It is us the flowers tell him who provide music, nectar, dancing, and song.

This story is based on a real garden, the iconic Hamilton Gardens on the banks of the Waikato river in which themed gardens from many different cultures and through different ages have been created to delight visitors.

They include an Egyptian garden based on an Italian Renaissance garden, an Indian Char Bagh garden, Chinese scholar’s garden, Surrealist garden, Katherine Mansfield garden and the Te Parapara Garden. And apparently there really are many mysterious doors within the gardens, even even the staff do not know where some of them lead! It is a very popular destination with people of all ages.

The Garden’s Secrets was commissioned by The Hamilton Gardens and is aimed at 2-6 year olds. I really like the way Sarah Johnson has told the story of the garden through the eyes of a small child and the fairy tale quality she has brought to it. Her language is lyrical, flowing from one garden to the next, Deborah Hinde’s illustrations are a perfect match. The soft bright colours, and the look of wonder on the face of this gentle little boy encapsulate the dreamlike quality of Cooper’s journey.

They have taken a really unique approach and made it so much more exciting for young children than a factual guide would have been. It would be a lovely story to read to them before taking them to visit the Hamilton Gardens to give them a taste of what they might experience on their walk. Will they also be able to spot secret doors, hear tinkling fountains, bees humming and feathered and furry creatures?

It would make a great keepsake after a visit as well and might well inspire them to create a picture of their own journey through the garden. The map at the end of the book of Cooper’s journey would help them to retrace where they went.

Reviewer: Lyn Potter

The Garden’s Secrets was written by Sarah Johnson and illustrated by Deborah Hinde. Published by Hamilton Gardens (Hamilton City Council) RRP $24.99


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