The roses in the secret garden function as symbols for Mary, Colin, and specifically, the understanding that the children, like the roses, need nurturing to grow. Just like Mary and Colin, the roses have been neglected (save for Ben Weatherstaff's intermittent secret pruning) for ten years and yet, they still have the capacity to flourish. Initially, Mary wonders whether the roses are dead or are secretly alive, just as adults wonder whether she'll ever look pleasant or healthy. As Mary and Dickon begin to prune the roses and discover all the live parts of the plants, Mary simultaneously discovers life and health within herself. Specifically, the rose that Colin plants mirrors his decision to effectively plant himself in the garden, accept Mary and Dickon's friendship, and allow himself to grow and bloom as a result, just like the roses do under the children's care.
Roses Quotes in The Secret Garden
All that troubled her was her wish that she knew whether all the roses were dead, or if perhaps some of them had lived and might put out leaves and buds as the weather got warmer. She did not want it to be a quite dead garden. If it were a quite alive garden, how wonderful it would be, and what thousands of roses would grow on every side!
"Do you like roses?" she said.
Ben Weatherstaff rooted up a weed and threw it aside before he answered.
"Well, yes, I do. I was learned that by a young lady I was gardener to. She had a lot in a place she was fond of, an' she loved 'em like they was children—or robins. I've seen her bend over an' kiss 'em." He dragged out another weed and scowled at it. "That were as much as ten year' ago."
"You are just what I—what I wanted," he said. "I wish you were my mother—as well as Dickon's!"
All at once Susan Sowerby bent down and drew him with her warm arms close against the bosom under the blue cloak—as if he had been Dickon's brother. The quick mist swept over her eyes.
"Eh! Dear lad!" she said. "Thy own mother's in this 'ere very garden, I do believe. She couldna' keep out of it. Thy father mun come back to thee—he mun!"