The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett describes Mary Lennox who lives in India. She is a miserable and unattractive girl. Cared for by servants because her mother ignores her, Mary is a bossy, self-centered and wretched nine-year old.
Mary's life drastically changes when cholera breaks out. Her parents and many in the household die. Few people know of her existence, so she fends for herself until she is found; she stays with an English "clergyman" and his family (and she isn't nice to them). Eventually she is sent to live in England.
Mary arrives at gloomy Misselthwaite Manor. When she tries to order one of the servants, Martha Sowerby, Mary has met her match: Martha will not give in to Mary's whims. She is amazed that Mary can't even dress herself—but Martha will not do it for her. Martha believes that Mary can learn to take care of herself and become more independent. Soon Mary and Martha come to an understanding.
It is from Martha that Mary learns of the secret garden that no one enters. It was here that Mary's uncle, Archibald Craven, once spent long hours with his wife. However, it has been shut for ten years, and with this mystery, Mary begins to search. In searching for the garden, she will come to find herself. Through Martha, Mary meets Dickon (Martha's brother), a boy who loves animals. Mary begins to thrive.
Mary runs into the gardener, Ben Weatherstaff, who though initially unfriendly, finds Mary acceptable when a robin in the garden takes a liking to her. He is reticent to speak of the garden, but admits that Mrs. Craven even cared for her flowers. When a tree branch broke, she fell and soon died; and although Ben promised to care for the garden, Craven refuses. The door is locked, the key buried and no one speaks of it. Craven is destroyed by his wife's death.
Mary searches for the garden. At night she hears a voice crying, but is told it's "the wind." Spring comes and Mary is out in the gardens each day. The robin leads Mary to find a key, and when ivy moves with the wind, a door is revealed: the key opens the door and Mary enters the secret garden. The garden is a mess, but Ben, unaware of her discovery, tells her how to care for roses. She finally meets her uncle who gives her permission to garden anywhere she chooses.
That night, during a storm, she hears a crying child. Mary finds Colin, her cousin, bedridden and lonely. He acts as Mary did when she arrived. His father will not visit him because he looks so much like his mother. The doctor, Craven's cousin, will inherit if Colin dies, so he does little to help Colin, but a London doctor says Colin is fine. Mary tells Colin about a secret garden and Dickon, and Colin begins to improve. When Mary learns that Colin fears an early death, she convinces him that he can walk and be well if he will try. Mary and Dickon take Colin to the garden. Over time, Colin walks, and the children become great friends. They keep the garden a secret—when Ben finds them, Colin orders him to do the same.
One day, in a foreign place, Colin's father dreams of Lilias, his dead wife, who says she is in the garden. His heart lightens. Dickon's mom (who knows their secret) writes and urges Craven to come home. When he does, he visits the garden first, and as the door opens, a healthy boy runs into him: both Colin and his dad are amazed to see how each has changed. Colin welcomes his father into the garden as they rediscover each other—in the garden the children have resurrected.