Secret Garden circa 1950
November 28, 2023

The secrets of Abbot’s garden

Created shortly after WWI, the Abbot Secret Garden is a hidden gem on the Andover campus
by Sara Ingram ’71

Like the enchanted city of Brigadoon, Abbot Academy’s Secret Garden rises to the consciousness of the Andover and Abbot communities every few decades only to vanish again, forgotten in the mists of time. Over the years, myths and misconceptions have arisen about the garden’s origin and history. In fact, many people, including Abbot alumnae, do not know that the hidden garden even exists.

For many years, some misunderstood the garden as a commemoration of T.S. Eliot’s visit with Abbot teacher Emily Hale and of his poetry reading to Abbot students in the 1950s. This confusion is further bolstered by the inclusion of a section of Eliot’s poem “Burnt Norton” on a plaque in the garden. The plaque refers to an English garden that sounds uncannily like the Secret Garden.

However, the real credit for creating the garden goes to Bertha Bailey, Abbot principal from 1912 to 1935. An inveterate gardener, she often received plantings from friends, family, and alumnae for her personal garden. When former Amherst College professor John Mason Tyler sent some rhododendrons in memory of his daughter, Emily Stearns Tyler, Miss Bailey knew something special was required.

Emily Tyler had been an Abbot French instructor from 1913 to 1914. She went to France in 1918 to serve under the aegis of the American Red Cross as a secretary and interpreter, aiding the medical staff that treated soldiers suffering from tuberculosis during World War I. Sadly, Miss Tyler died in France from bronchitis in 1919.

For many years, some misunderstood the garden as a commemoration of T.S. Eliot’s visit with Abbot teacher Emily Hale and of his poetry reading to Abbot students in the 1950s.

This bronze plaque was installed in the garden in 2004 featuring a section of T.S. Eliot’s poem “Burnt Norton.” (Photo by Henry Marte)

After the war ended, Miss Bailey memorialized Emily Tyler by creating what she called “The Garden of Memory,” tucked away in Abbot’s oak grove toward the end of the Maple Walk. The Garden of Memory (also known as The Garden of Remembrance) featured benches for repose and a small cement reflecting pond. Along with perennials and other plants, the garden was rimmed with the rhododendron plantings given by Miss Tyler’s father.

Exactly when it began to be referred to as The Secret Garden is not documented, but decades of neglect plus growth of the surrounding forest effectively hid the garden. It’s no wonder that those who stumbled upon it called it The Secret Garden.

In the late 1990s, Andover English instructor Ada Fan discovered the overgrown space, which was badly in need of a cleanup and renovation. A 2004 Abbot Academy Fund grant requested by Ms. Fan paid for its restoration. The Andover community, including Ms. Fan, got to work clearing out fallen trees and deep undergrowth as well as adding new plantings and boulders for seating.

A commemorative plaque, dedicating the site to “the Women of Abbot Academy,” was installed as a special feature of the “new” garden.

Categories: Alumni, Magazine

Other Stories

Nicholas Thompson will ’93
Magazine welcomes guest editor Nick Thompson ’93

Spring 2024 issue will explore how Andover is shaping the future

Midyear momentum

How annual donors are driving the Andover student experience this year