From the blog

The Secret Garden: Government House

“She put her hands under the leaves and began to pull and push them aside. Thick as the ivy hung, it nearly all was a loose and swinging curtain, though some had crept over wood and iron. Mary’s heart began to thump and her hands to shake a little in her delight and excitement.” (Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden)


Classic children’s literature is one of my passions and when I can combine that love with photography, it’s a magical thing. Gracie and I read The Secret Garden last year and decided that we’d do a special photoshoot based on the book this spring. We love planning character shoots as a creative activity together. Gracie, despite being a quiet and reserved child, is a natural actress and she enjoys getting into character. She was the perfect Mary Lennox.


“Might I,” quavered Mary, “might I have a bit of earth?”


“She looked at the key quite a long time. She turned it over and over, and thought about it.”


One of the most crucial elements of our character shoots is location. We had a few choices for garden locations in Victoria. Government House seemed the closest to an English Manor as one can find. I knew that in Fairfield we’d find ivy-covered walls and shaded garden spaces. We were expecting a grey spring day but the sun came out and surprised us instead. Having shot in overcast weather for months, it took me a bit of playing around to reacquaint myself with shooting in full afternoon sun. Luckily Goverment House is one of those excellent locations where it’s possible to work with any weather conditions by finding open shade or trees and hedges to filter the sun.


“It was the sweetest, most mysterious-looking place any one could imagine. The high walls which shut it in were covered with the leafless stems of climbing roses which were so thick that they were matted together.” 


“However many years she lived, Mary always felt that ‘she should never forget that first morning when her garden began to grow’.”


“Much more surprising things can happen to any one who, when a disagreeable or discouraged thought comes into his mind, just has the sense to remember in time and push it out by putting in an agreeable determinedly courageous one. Two things cannot be in one place. “


“Where you tend a rose my lad, a thistle cannot grow.” 


“One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts–just mere thoughts–are as powerful as electric batteries–as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison”


Another important consideration for character shoots is wardrobe. I could focus a lot more on authentic costumes for these shoots. It would have been possible to find vintage clothing that represented the era of the novel more closely. Instead, I try to find clothing that reflects the essence of the story without drawing too much attention to itself. I want my photos to speak to the meaning of the story, more than the details. I try to choose simple, classic clothing for these shoots. In the beginning of The Secret Garden, Mary Lennox is in mourning for her parents and is dressed in black. As she explores Misselthwaite Manor, discovers the garden and watches it bloom, she changes both in physical appearance and spirit. To reflect this transformation, we started with the black dress coat and then shot in the white dress for the brighter, more flowery scenes.


“At that moment a very good thing was happening to her. Four good things had happened to her, in fact, since she came to Misselthwaite Manor. She had felt as if she had understood a robin and that he had understood her; she had run in the wind until her blood had grown warm; she had been healthily hungry for the first time in her life; and she had found out what it was to be sorry for someone.”


“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.”


“Mistress Mary, quite contrary, How does your garden grow? With Silver Bells, and Cockle Shells, And marigolds all in a row.”


“Sometimes since I’ve been in the garden I’ve looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden – in all the places.” 


“One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever.”


“There’s naught as nice as th’ smell o’ good clean earth, except th’ smell o’ fresh growin’ things when th’ rain falls on ’em.” 


We started in early afternoon wandering the grounds looking for ideal places to shoot for this story. We took a break for a picnic and also spent a lot of time climbing the rocky bluffs and playing in the garry oak meadows. It was nearly 7pm before we left for home, wind-swept and foot-sore. Despite shooting for about six hours, I didn’t get all the shots I hoped for this series and I still have a few ideas I’d like to explore another time. I wanted this to be a fun experience and I tried not to dictate the action too much. Thomas wasn’t keen on being part of the photo series so I left him to his own devices (which were mostly climbing on things and asking for snacks). Although Gracie was engaged with this character shoot, she didn’t spend very much time posing; most of these shots were captured naturally as we explored the gardens together. Gracie also brought her own camera along and we both spent a good portion of our time taking pictures of flowers. Spring is a beautiful time to walk through the grounds of Government House.


“Of course there must be lots of Magic in the world,” he said wisely one day, “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.” 


“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”… “It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”


“She made herself stronger by fighting with the wind.” 


One of my favourite things about this project was choosing quotes to go with the photos. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden is a beautiful story full of flowery descriptions and inspiring ideas. Often I’ll create a list of favourite passages from books or verses from poems and then memorize the quotes before I go out and shoot. Having these beautiful words in mind inspires me when I’m shooting. I love this process of art begetting art.


“And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles.”


“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”