A Secret Garden Tea &
Fairy House Exhibit
SHED Children’s Campus-Andover, MA
Hidden within a dense grove of rhododendrons on the grounds of SHED Children’s Campus, lies an outdoor classroom known, officially, as The Secret Garden. A brass plaque mounted on a boulder at the edge of the clearing dedicates The Secret Garden to ‘The Women of Abbot Academy 1829-1973’. Abbot Academy, one of the first incorporated secondary schools for women in New England, merged with Phillips Academy in 1973. In the early 1950’s, T.S. Elliot visited the Academy and read his poems. One of these, which is also inscribed on the plaque, inspired the original garden design, as a place for the women to come ‘to reflect and bury keepsakes’. In the center of the circular clearing is a small round reflecting pool, capturing the ever-changing images of leaves quivering on the branches of towering trees and clouds passing in the sky above. And, of course, the images of those who come to visit.
Last Spring, a small group of children at Kid’s Club decided to ‘reclaim’ this magical little space and use it as a peaceful refuge from the hub-bub of the campus play-yard. They spent several weeks raking out the area, pulling up extensive underground vine roots and cleaning the reflecting pool. As they then began using the space as a quiet place to play, the original group became a sort of collective Pied Piper. More children followed them down the stone-lined path, past the bustling sports court, through a stretch of woods and into the rhododendron thicket to The Secret Garden. They held meetings to decide how they wanted to use the space, and decided to mark its ‘re-opening’ with a tea party for their parents. They baked cookies and biscotti, squeezed lemons and poured tea into real china tea cups. The parents loved it! The Secret Garden has since been an imaginary medieval kingdom, a stage for countless improv skits and debates, a fairy garden and a place to meditate and imagine.
In the Fall, the reflecting pool dried up and was temporarily filled with potting soil and chrysanthemums. In October, a group of older children created a storytelling club for the younger ones and taught them Halloween themed games and stories. They hung white gauze on the rhododendrons and refilled the pool, to be stirred with sticks as a witches cauldron! This Spring the clean-up operation involved raking up loads of sticks and leaves in the surrounding wooded areas and rebuilding the stone-lined path. The children then planted hostas, a strawberry patch and a baby rhodie to compare its growth to the decades old plants that enclose their garden. They rolled in fresh-cut tree stumps and arranged them around the pool for stools to sit upon. In early June, The Secret Garden had a very special visitor- an Abbot Academy alumna from the class of 1960! She was thrilled to see the space being maintained and enjoyed as an outdoor classroom all these years later.
The children marked the end of this school year with another tea party, this time with over 30 families involved. Again, they hand made invitations for their parents, baked sweets and made lemonade and tea. This time they also made fabulous little fairy houses and put them on display around the garden for all to enjoy! The original group of children have dubbed themselves ‘The Keepers of The Secret Garden’, a role they will happily pass along to others when they outgrow the Kid’s Club program. They have decided that when that time comes they, too, will bury a keepsake for the garden and its fairies to remember them by!
by Christine Rogers
SHED Inc. 65 Phillips Street, Andover, MA 01810