The Secret Garden was what Mary called it when she was thinking of it. She liked the name, and she liked still more the feeling that when its beautiful old walls shut her in no one knew where she was. It seemed almost like being shut out of the world in some fairy place. The few books she had read and liked had been fairy-story books, and she had read of secret gardens in some of the stories. Sometimes people went to sleep in them for a hundred years, which she had thought must be rather stupid. She had no intention of going to sleep, and, in fact, she was becoming wider awake every day which passed at Misselthwaite.

This passage brings up two of the major motifs of the novel: the fairy-tale quality of the secret garden, and the opposition between sleep and wakefulness. They are necessarily interrelated. If the garden is a "kind of fairy place," it is not one that causes magical sleep, but magical wakefulness. The secret garden is strongly aligned with Mistress Mary. Mary is ten years old, and the garden has been closed for ten years. Up to the moment that she steps foot into the garden, Mary too is closed off—she has loved no one, and has been utterly unloved. Because it has been so long since anyone has tended the garden, it is impossible to determine whether its flowers are dead or alive. Similarly, Mary has had no one to care for her since her birth, and has become waxen (of a lifeless color) and standoffish as a result. Since Mary and the garden are so closely symbolically related, the reader realizes that the reawakening of the garden may foreshadow and effect Mary's own reawakening.