As a child, one of my favourite books I loved to read was the great children’s classic, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The novel was published in 1911 and the story was based on her own beautiful and extensive garden at Maytham Hall in Rolvenden, Kent. The knowledgeable gardener in the novel was based on her Head Gardener, George Owen Millum, and he and his son, George Charles Millum, worked in various gardens in south England. Years later, Trevor Millum, grandson of George Owen and son of George Charles, discovered the gardening diaries from 1935 and 1949 of his father, detailing their day to day jobs and lives as gardeners in some of the grandest gardens in England. After doing some research, Trevor has now published a book based on the diaries with original snippets from the diaries, photographs, and charming illustrations by Twink Addison. ”Son Of The Secret Gardener” is just a fascinating account of life as a gardener in the 1900s and I caught up with Trevor to find out more – Hi Trevor!
Hello 😊 Trevor Millum here – writer and gardener, currently reading and weeding in North Lincolnshire.
What inspired you to tell the story of your father and grandfather?
I’d always been interested in the family tales of Maytham Hall (Frances Burnett Hodgson’s home) and the gardens of the ‘big houses’ but I never had time – or perhaps the nudge I needed – to take my interest any further until I retired. I started sorting through my father’s papers from the loft and discovered so many intriguing things not just about my dad but also about his father that I had to something more than just put them back in store. There was a story that had to be told!
I found your father’s gardening diaries absolutely fascinating, even though I am not much of a gardener! I was amazed at just how much work went into keeping the estate gardens immaculate and how they kept going even in inclement weather. Were there any aspects of the stories/work mentioned in the diaries that surprised you, pleasantly or otherwise?
Yes, the amount of hard work was astonishing – and the repetition too. Days of pricking out plants, planting bulbs, sowing seeds… I was also struck by the amount of time and effort given to cut flowers for the house. Another thing was the deadly pesticides and fungicides that were used; some of the things we still use today are bad but many of these were deadly!
Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel “The Secret Garden” was my favourite book as a child growing up, so I was thrilled to discover that your grandfather was Head Gardener of Burnett’s estate at Maytham Hall in Rolvenden, Kent and that her book was based around her beautiful garden and your grandfather was the inspiration behind the gardener in the novel. So, I am assuming you read the novel as a child, what characteristics did Frances give to the gardener that immediately made you think of your grandfather? What other aspects of The Secret Garden novel resonated with you?
I didn’t make any connections when I first read the novel! It only struck me later that my grandfather must have been the gardener at Maytham Hall while Frances was there. I then thought, well, he was a bit of a gruff fellow and so is Ben Weatherstaff (the gardener in Burnett’s book) … But he must have been well liked by the staff because when he left they all signed a card with a fulsome dedication and ‘a purse’. A walled garden has always had a fascination for me and here was the most famous one in literature!
Growing up, have you always wanted to be an author or a gardener like your father & grandfather or did you have other career aspirations in mind?
There’s a poem I wrote about this which is in the preface of the book. My dad always said to me ‘Don’t be a gardener’ and that was because in his line of work the pay was so poor and he thought I could do better. So I never considered it as a career. I did, however, write stories and poems from an early age – but I always kept the day job!
In your father’s diaries, he seems to have done a lot of weeding, mowing , pruning and potting, near enough on a daily basis? Are you a keen gardener?Which gardening jobs do you find therapeutic and which do you find a chore?
I don’t mind a bit of weeding and I enjoy pruning and general pottering. I’m not keen on mowing but we’ve gradually eaten into the lawn in order to have more room for interesting things, like plants so now it takes very little time. We’re both pretty keen gardeners, my wife and I, so we share the work. It’s worth it, especially in spring when everything starts burgeoning.
Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book?
Yes, I always have two or three books on the go – fiction and non-fiction. I don’t really have a favourite author – I tend to go for word of mouth recommendations or books my children buy me. I have a Kindle for convenience. I like books with interesting illustrations like ‘The Lost Words’ and you have to have a real book for that.
Is “Son Of The Secret Gardener” available to purchase worldwide?
It’s available on Amazon, and other internet booksellers, so yes!
If you could visit any famous gardens in the world, where would you go and why?
I have visited some lovely gardens and I think I would like to return to some of them rather than go to new ones. I loved Monet’s garden but of course it gets very crowded. There are some gardens in France that we’ve visited more than once – Maizicourt and the Agapanthuis Garden, for instance.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
If I’m in the garden, a pair of crocs, jeans, shirt and sleeveless body-warmer – is that a gilet? And a hat usually.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites ?
The Hive for books and eBay for most everything else!
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
A new hat.
Boots or Shoes?
Shoes unless I’m out for a proper walk. Boots take too long to fasten and unfasten. Espadrilles for holidays…
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc
A perfect gift for all garden lovers, Son of the Secret Gardener by Trevor Millum(illustrated by Twink Addison) was published on 4th April 2022 by Quadrant Books (paperback, RRP £11.50) and is available through books shops and internet booksellers.
Thank you very much to Trevor for the preview copy of Son Of The Secret Gardener for reviewing and for agreeing to be interviewed! I did find your book very interesting!
All photographs have been published with kind permission of Trevor Millum ; apart from the pinterest and header photo which are of my own garden 😊