Mary decides to call her garden the secret garden. She loves it, especially since she's read about secret gardens in some of her books. She now enjoys the wind and being outside, and she can skip to 100 with her jump rope. Day after day, Mary works in the garden, clearing grass from around the bulbs. She also takes to sneaking up on Ben Weatherstaff. Ben doesn't object to Mary as much anymore, though he does grumble that she's like the robin in that she approaches silently and without warning. One morning, when Mary has been at Misselthwaite about a month, Ben remarks that Mary is getting fatter and less yellow.
Deciding to refer to the garden as a secret reinforces the role of secrets in Mary's development. Keeping her work in the garden a secret is partially borne of necessity, since no one is allowed to go in the garden or even speak of it. However, Mary’s secret connection to the garden also gives her a sense of ownership and privacy over her development, as she can learn to be interested in others and care for things without other people watching her and being nosy. Her progress is evident in the fact that Ben no longer hates seeing her; this suggests that aside from looking better, she's also more pleasant to be around.
Ben Weatherstaff and Mary greet the robin, who preens and sings for Ben. Ben teases the robin for acting so flirtatious, but the robin hops closer and closer until finally, it lands on the handle of Ben's spade. Ben looks shocked and then extremely touched. After the robin flies off, Ben looks at his spade as though it's full of Magic. He starts to smile, and Mary feels less afraid of talking to him. She asks him what he'd plant in a flower garden, and he answers that he'd plant roses like a young woman he used to garden for did. That woman would kiss the roses like they were children. Gruffly, he says that she's in heaven now, and her roses were left alone.
The woman that Ben is referring to is clearly the late Mrs. Craven, and her roses are presumably the ones lying dormant in the secret garden. The fact that she kissed the roses like children reinforces that the roses are symbols for children. Ben's tender connection to Mrs. Craven's roses suggests that he's a trustworthy person for Mary and will be willing to help her grow, just as he helped the roses long ago.
Excitedly, Mary asks if roses die when they're left alone. Ben Weatherstaff says that some died and tells Mary what to look for to gauge whether roses are dead or alive. Suddenly, he asks her why she's so interested. She stammers that she wants to have a garden of her own as she has nothing else to do and nobody to play with. Ben agrees with her and seems to feel sorry for her. Mary stays with him for another ten minutes asking questions about roses and if he visits the roses the young woman left. He says he does, but his rheumatics make it difficult for him. He suddenly gets angry, tells her to stop asking questions, and sends her away.
The revelation that Ben has seen the roses in the secret garden at some point over the last ten years—even though the garden is off limits—offers an indication that just as the roses haven't been left entirely to their own devices, Mary hasn’t either. This encourages the reader to look to figures like Martha, who is essentially performing a similar kind of care for Mary as Ben seems to have done for the roses, as someone who can bridge the gap between neglect and care.
Mary skips away and thinks that she likes Ben Weatherstaff. She skips around the outside of one of the gardens, and when she gets to a gate that opens into a park, she goes through to investigate a strange whistling sound. She comes upon a boy, sitting under a tree and playing a pipe, surrounded by squirrels, a pheasant, and two rabbits. When he sees Mary, he quietly tells her to hold still. He slowly stands and when he's upright, the animals calmly disperse. He introduces himself as Dickon and says that one has to move slowly and gently around wild animals. Mary shyly asks if he brought the gardening tools and the seeds, and he suggests they sit down and look at them.
Note that it never seems to occur to Mary to be rude or demanding of Dickon. She seems to understand that if she wants to have a relationship with him, she needs to play by his rules. This reinforces more broadly how Mary is learning to interact with the natural world as a whole. It's not something that she can shape to her will entirely; she has to let things progress at their own pace and help them along wherever she can.
Mary wishes she could talk like Dickon, as he sounds like he likes her. She notices that he smells fresh too and in a moment, she forgets to feel shy. They look at the seed packets until Dickon hears the robin singing. He happily says that the robin is saying he's friends with Mary and will tell him all about her. He slowly rises and whistles at the robin, who returns the whistle. Dickon explains to Mary with a smile that he understands animals and they all understand him.
Dickon's ability to speak to the robin situates him as a mediator between Mary and the natural world. This suggests that he'll be able to show her more concretely how to properly care for natural things and how to be a part of the natural world, not a stranger to it.
Dickon offers to plant the seeds for Mary. Mary is silent for a moment, turns red and then pale, and feels miserable. She slowly asks Dickon if he can keep a secret. Though he's puzzled, he says that he keeps secrets all the time. With a great deal of emotion, Mary says that she's stolen a garden that nobody wants and bursts into tears. Dickon asks her where the garden is and she leads him there at once. He feels as though he's being led to a bird's nest and needs to move quietly. Mary leads him through the door.
Mary's rush of emotion here speaks to the gravity of her secret in her mind—she thinks it'd be an absolute tragedy if Dickon didn't respect how important the garden is for her. This reinforces that the role of secrets for children like Mary is to help them develop independence. On the other hand, sharing the secret with Dickon helps her develop a friendship with him and learn to trust him.