Inside the secret garden, Mary finds a great many rosebushes, and standard roses that have been allowed to grow as large as trees; the flowerless vines of climbing roses have overgrown all else, and make lovely curtains in the air. It is a strange and silent place, for no one has entered it for ten years; Mary thinks it must be very different from gardens that have not been so abandoned. Since it is winter, everything in the garden has gone brown or gray, and Mary cannot be certain whether the flora are dead or alive. She fiercely hopes that everything in the garden has not died.
Mary feels that the garden is "a world all her own," and that there might be no one at all alive for hundred of miles—and yet she is not lonely while she is there. She finds a few green shoots pushing up through the earth, eager for spring. Mary is quite thrilled at the thought that something is still living in the garden, and sets about weeding the space around these early flowers, so that they might grow more quickly. She occupies herself with this weeding all day.
That night, at the manor, Mary asks Martha for tools to help her in gardening. Martha tells Mary to write a letter to Dickon: he would certainly agree to buy tools and flower seeds on one of his trips to Thwaite, the village nearby. Mary writes the letter, and is very excited by the idea that Dickon will bring the supplies to her himself—she had never expected to see the boy whom even the animals adore. Martha also mentions that her mother has agreed to have Mary visit the cottage, and Mary realizes that she is eager to meet her as well, for "She doesn't seem to be like the mothers in India." When Martha briefly steps out of the room, Mary hears the same far-off crying as she did during the storm. Martha again refuses to admit that she too hears the sound, and flees the room to avoid answering Mary's questions.
The secret garden has the same fairy-tale quality that permeates the rest of the novel. The flowers within it have grown into "curtains," as if guided by an innate intelligence; the word "curtains" suggests both the veiling of a mystery (the keeping of a secret) and, contradictorily, the placement of the garden on a stage of its own making. This symbolizes the garden's new status as an "open secret," one that Mary now knows.
The secret garden, at this point in the novel, is strongly aligned with both Mary and the late Mistress Craven. 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. No one is sure whether she is really a little girl at all; Ben Weatherstaff, Martha, and Mrs. Medlock all refer to her as an "old woman."
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. This implication is strengthened by Mary's tending of the living green shoots in the garden. Though she knows nothing about gardening, she clears space around them because it seems that "they do not have enough room to [breathe and] grow"; this description can be likened to Mary's own experience of being moved from India to the wide-open spaces of the moor. She, too, has been given room to breathe. Her tending of the green shoots also recalls the play- gardening she did in India; now, instead of sand and cut flowers that have no hope of thriving, Mary has been given living plants in a real garden. Once again, England is aligned with life and wakefulness, and India with death and sleep.