The Secret Garden: A Place Where Hidden Love Can Bloom (2024)

There’s something dreadfully sexy about stealing kisses with a lover in the privacy of a secret garden. Tucked away from twirling debutantes and eligible bachelors looking to fill their dance cards, the walled garden has long stood as a symbol away from the stuffy protocol of polite society. It’s a tale as old as time. From Jane Austen classics to modern-day period pieces like Bridgerton, the garden is the last great bastion for wild, uninhibited love to blossom away from the prying eyes of society. As the beautiful young dolls and hungry older men continue to play their pre-approved game of social climbing matchmaking, the garden offers a chance to escape the lavender haze that fills the ballroom and our ideas about what love should look like.

In Taylor Swift’s discography, gardens often symbolize a place where secret love can flourish. The theme of gardens is commonly associated with the literary motif of nature, which represents a desire to escape from the complications of daily life in favor of something more simple and peaceful. In her work, Swift explores the contrast between a grandiose and demanding love, filled with culture and complexity (the city), versus a guileless and innocent love (garden). There’s also the idea that the walls and foliage within the garden provide coverage for two lovers who wish to remain hidden.

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“Love Story” from Fearless

Taylor Swift makes her first reference to gardens in her second studio album,Fearless, where she alludes to Shakespeare’sRomeo and Juliet. In her lyrics, “So I sneak out tothegardento see you, we keep quiet 'cause we're dead if they knew,” Swift tells us that a relationship between her and her crush is so forbidden that it would cause a stir throughout the entire town. While Swift doesn't spell out exactly why the characters in her story can't be together, we can assume her reference toRomeo and Julietimplies some disagreement between families due to a feud. In fact, these two families' shared (and unmoving hatred) dooms Romeo and Juliet from the start. So, to later end the story with Juliet meeting Romeo on the outskirts of town to discover that Romeo managed to convince her father to let them be together speaks to the hope and optimism that Swift has about getting her happy ending despite outside challenges.

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“The Lucky One” from Red

Taylor Swift’s second reference to gardens comes inRedwhen she sings, “They say you bought a bunch of land somewhere, chose theRose Gardenover Madison Square. And it took some time, but I understand it now.” In this song, Swift sings about what it’s like to fall in and out of love with the idea of fame, glory, and mainstream success and how it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. The core message behind the song is that the “lucky ones” are the people who find success and still choose to leave it behind. The garden in this song may refer to the Rose Garden arena in Portland, Oregon, now called the Moda Center. We can assume this because Rose Garden is capitalized as a proper noun, and Madison Square, which she’s comparing the Rose Garden to, is an arena in New York City. On the surface, Swift is making a statement about this person choosing a smaller arena (journey in life) for their talents outside of the constant consumption cycle and churn Hollywood puts its starlets through. She says she understands why they’d chosen that for themselves, “'Cause now my name is up in lights. But I think you got it right.” Here, we see gardens juxtaposed with concert halls and fame-making cities, reflecting Swift’s feelings about stardom and privacy.

“Blank Space” from 1989

The third reference to gardens in Taylor Swift’s music appears in “Blank Space” from1989, when she sings, “I can make all the tables turn.Rose gardenfilled with thorns, keep you second guessing.” Swift claims that this song from this smash-hit albumwas purely inspired by the media’s charcuterie of her love life; however, the theme of rose gardens and thorns gets a lot more personal in the songs following the release of “Blank Space.” In interviews, Swift talks about how this song was written as a joke to mirror and even skewer earlier depictions of love in her music. In “Blank Space,” she takes on the persona of the demanding femme fatale who swaps out boyfriends as it suits her fancy, a far cry from the storybook castles and happy endings she was singing about duringFearless. Regardless, Swift tells us in this song that even a secret love will have its challenges, and thorns are inevitable. See the following:

  • “Lovelorn and nobody knows, love thorns all over this rose, I’ll pay the price, you won't.” - “slu*t!” from 1989 (Taylor’s Version)

  • “All my flowers grew back as thorns, windows boarded up after the storm, he built a fire just to keep me warm.” - “Call It What You Want” from reputation

  • “Running through rose thorns, I saw the scoreboard and ran for my life.” – “Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince” from Lover

“Cruel Summer” from Lover

Taylor Swift’s next reference to gardens comes in “Cruel Summer” fromLoverwhen she sings, “I don't wanna keep secrets just to keep you, and I snuck in throughthe garden gateevery night that summer just to seal my fate.” These lyrics, with their intense romantic tension, are the most blatant reference to gardens as a theme for secretive romance. Many see it as the modern or grow-up musical parallel to her earlier song, 'Love Story.' Both songs reference sneaking out to a garden to meet a lover in secret and Swift talking about her lover tossing rocks at her window to get her attention. It's important to point out that this song, though a Certified f*cking Banger™, is not a happy one. It's yet another example of Swift feeling like she's caught in a situationship where she has to keep secrets from the public for one reason or another. Speaking of cruelty, remember when she told us that the rumors were terrible and cruel, but most of them were true? Maybe there's something to those rumors that explains why this love needs to be hidden in the first place.

“betty” from folklore

Infolklore,Taylor Swift brings back the garden motif in “betty” when she sings, “Would you tell me to go f*ck myself or lead me tothegarden? Inthe garden, would you trust me? If I told you it was just a summer thing?” My mind immediately jumps back to the secret garden in “Cruel Summer” and how this fling was something fleeting from the start. And knowing now that the love triangle in folklore is only partially fictional and absolutely inspired by the events of her real life (or her lingering feelings), let’s talk about the line: “You heard the rumors from Inez, you can't believe a word she says most times, but this time, it was true.” Reminds me an awful lot of those terrible and cruel rumors from her song “New Romantics” when she sings, “The rumors are terrible and cruel by honey most of them are true.” Life is just a classroom and everything keeps coming back to New York City and the 1989 era.

“cowboy like me” from evermore

The secret garden in 'evermore' is a mythical one, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one for which no proof has ever existed. This complements the extended theme of the song: a tale of two con men who are pulling off a ruse under the cover of darkness together. “Now you hang from my lips like the Gardens of Babylon.” The imagery of 'hanging lips' is employed to evoke the hanging gardens of Babylon, renowned for their beauty and splendor, yet never marked on a map. The 'hanging lips,' paired with the boots under the bed, also hint at Taylor’s lover needing to make a quick escape at a moment's notice, implying they aren't the person she shares her bed with at night. A secret affair? A hidden love? Whatever the case, Taylor implies in the lyrics that it could be love but only if someone (the rich people) is willing to pay for it. Reminds me of her lyrics about love costing a price. See:

  • “Did your research, you knew the price going in.” - “imgonnagetyouback” from The Tortured Poets Department

  • “I should not be left to my own devices / They come with prices and vices / I end up in crisis.” - “Anti-Hero” from Midnights

  • “Don't you know that cash ain't the only price? / It's coming back around.” - “Karma” from Midnights

  • “I guess it's the price I paid for seven years in Heaven” - “happiness” from evermore

  • “Can't not think of all the cost / And the things that will be lost” - “evermore” from evermore

  • “And when I was shipwrecked (Can't think of all the cost) / I thought of you (All the things that will be lost now)” - “evermore” from evermore

  • “I dreamed of you (To be certain we'll be tall again, if you think of all the costs)” - “evermore” from evermore

  • “Bad, bad boy, shiny toy with a price / You know that I bought it.” - “Cruel Summer” from Lover

  • “Love thorns all over this rose / I’ll pay the price, you won't” - “slu*t!” from 1989

  • “I cannot be your friend, so I pay the price of what I lost / And what it cost, now that we don't talk.” - “Now That We Don’t Talk” from 1989

“The Great War” from Midnights

Taylor Swift sings about death, dying, and romance again: “We can plant a memory garden, say a solemn prayer, place a poppy in my hair.” In these lyrics, Taylor Swift describes one of the greatest battles of her life, referencing the symbolic nature of the poppy flower as it relates to WWI. Poppies are tokens of remembrance for the dead. When Taylor Swift sings about poppies in “The Great War,” she’s laying to rest something from the past and honoring the memory of what it meant to her. This song can be linked to Sylvia Plath’s series of poems on poppies and the seasons (See also: "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae). In the context of this post, the memory garden represents what can still be grown and born anew in the same land where all the blood, sweat, and crimson clover were shed. This reminds me of the lyrics "I gave my blood, sweat, and tears for this” from “You’re On Your Own Kid” from Midnights. Swift often links images of war to the fight for her career or her life’s work – and it’s often entangled with the story of a mystery muse. Knowing this, we can imagine the memory garden in “The Great War” serving as a reminder of what can be lost even if you survive. And that sometimes the price you pay is more than can be measured.

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“The Albatross” from The Tortured Poets Department

The garden takes another turn for the worse in The Tortured Poets Department when she sings about how “one bad seed kills the garden” – implying that a negative thought was planted deep into Taylor Swift’s fantasy land – the secret garden in her mind – and it spoiled her vision of love. This makes sense; “The Albatross” is a song that evokes the story of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a tale of a seaman who shoots down an albatross and is cursed to suffer a life of loneliness and bad luck. He somehow manages to outrun the prophecy and spends the rest of his life wandering the earth and telling his tale as a warning to others. What is she trying to say?

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“I Hate It Here” from The Tortured Poets Department

In her latest album, The Tortured Poets Department, Taylor Swift paints a picture of modern-day dating when she implores her contemporary to reveal something dreadful, like secretly harboring the heart of a tortured poet trapped in the body of a finance guy. This line suggests that Taylor is seeking a wild, romantic love akin to the tumultuous past she experienced with another lover, yet she finds herself settling for something more practical and stable—finance. She hopes that by urging her partner to divulge their secrets, they can find a sense of kinship. Instead, she reveals that she escapes to gardens in her mind to live out her fantasy life. This time, however, the garden has a key, and only she knows which door it unlocks. She reminds us that dwelling in the past, though comforting, is a foolish way to live life. For the first time, we sense that the secret garden serves as both an oasis and a prison for Swift.

Required Texts:

Through her extended use of the secret garden metaphor, Taylor Swift is conveying her own experience: the secret garden, while a place where love can bloom, is also vulnerable to the elements and can become a place where love withers and dies if exposed. For those fortunate enough to possess the key and gently turn the lock, there is a responsibility to be mindful: to shut the door behind us and leave no trace behind.

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The Secret Garden: A Place Where Hidden Love Can Bloom (2024)


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