Secret Garden Landscape Design
“Nothing is more the child of art than a garden.” Sir Walter Scott
In the classic children’s tale, The Secret Garden by Frances Burnett Hodgson, readers are treated to an intriguing story of a young girl’s discovery of a forbidden place of wonder and awe.
Since this classic book was published in 1911, the world’s fascination with creating their own therapeutic gardens of myth and magic has taken deep root.
Nothing captures the imagination quite like a Secret Garden. Filled with mystery, intrigue, awe, and magic, a Secret Garden is an invitation to our little hideaway from the fast-paced outside world. Not knowing it’s there, discovering a Secret Garden is filled with surprise, awe and wonder, and the invitation to enter within to find great discoveries.
Not only that, but a Secret Garden invites you to become a co-creator with it. Whether that is the act of gardening itself or creating something to remain in the garden. As you create in the garden you make inside discoveries and have enchanted moments that remain deep inside you as well as remain in the Secret Garden.
Elements of a Secret Garden
Have you ever dreamed of a secret place where only you can go and be alone? In a fast-paced world of noise and clutter, a sanctuary filled with flowers and fragrance, one that is sheltered from the rest of the world is a dream that is easily achieved.
Secret Garden Element 1: It’s Hidden……it’s a Secret
I know this may sound like the obvious but truly this is the most important part. The fastest way to create a secret garden is to make sure it has boundaries that can’t easily be seen through. When designing secret gardens I will either use an existing wall or solid fencing. I also have used living fences such as planting a hedge or tree line that will grow quite tall.
If you have access to very old and ancient trees, sometimes the best secret gardens are under their large and ancient boughs.
I’ve also used the wall of a house and a wall of a garage and the cliff going up to the street to create a secret oasis that no one expects to be there.
Even when gardens are created inside existing gardens, I never put it on the map. The first request from most people asking for my help in creating a secret garden is that it be kept a secret. We really don’t want everyone knowing where our secret hideaways are, do we?
Secret Garden Element 2: Outside the Wall
I start my secret garden experiences actually outside the wall. It’s the enticement and invitation to look further within. It’s the moment when one asks, “What’s this?” “What’s behind the door?”
While our garden visitors are pondering those questions, they are being captivated by smells. The first room I always plant in a secret garden is a smell experience.
Which plants I use depend on where you live and which plants are native and the big “smellers”.
The first words I’m always waiting to hear from a garden visitor is “It smells so good!”
Please know that if this is the only thing you see of the Secret Garden and not venture in, you will still have an amazing experience. An experience of beautiful, organic garden design and smell. It will captivate you completely.
Secret Garden Element 3: The Door/Gate ~ Secret Hole in the Hedge
“What’s behind that door? Can we go in? ”
For those who are brave to venture into a place they haven’t technically been invited into can cause the heart to race a bit. The thoughts of “Will we get caught.” Might surface to the forefront of the mind but for those who are truly brave, the minute they open up the door, they have entered a garden room of the imagination.
Soon they forget the outside world and the only thing they can think of is to go exploring.
Secret Garden Element 4: Places to Explore
In the second room of a Secret Garden, there are always places to explore. They might be planted swaths of interesting flowers. A unique tree to climb or sit under, such as a curly willow tree or contorted mulberry tree.
Looks a bit like a whomping willow out of the Harry Potter books.
I might build a wall or edifice to look like a ruin, behind that will be a small platform or patio to play and imagine for hours in. Tree swings are also popular in this area.
Secret Garden Element 5: Meandering Paths
Pathways are really important. I try to make them look old and ancient by using stone, not pavers, and then planting in-between the stones with wandering and spreading small plants.
If space allows I have a path leading to a hydrangea or holly tunnel with a secret exit to leave the garden. The path also leads to the next room which serves as the inner sanctum of the Secret Garden. There will also be a secret exit to the outside world out of the inner sanctum. One will have to go exploring to find all of these exits.
Secret Garden Element 5: The Inner Sanctum
The pathway leads into the inner sanctum. The meandering path does just that, it wanders. I have some sort of structure such as a nest or another stick structure the delineates the 2nd secret garden room from the inner sanctum.
Inside the inner sanctum is a place to sit and ponder. There may be large stones to sit and or lay on to ponder about things, a tiny library to house great reading materials and space enough to move about it.
I’ve seen many a person dance inside an inner sanctum, work on their cartwheels, play leapfrog. Of course, inner sanctums can be modified to size.
A Secret Garden Journey
The experience I’d like all visitors of a secret garden to have is to be invited into an unexpected space, leaving the outside world behind. As they move deeper into the Secret Garden, they themselves are moving deeper into their own being. By the time one is visiting the inner sanctum, all thoughts of the outside world are left behind and focus on the self, needs, and healing can occur.
Healing isn’t a cure. Healing is to make whole again. Oftentimes, that is as easy as a shift in perception.
May your days be filled with the wild abandon of childhood imagine filled days. Here are some places you can visit a Secret Garden:
- Fay Park, San Francisco,
- The Cloisters, New York, New
- Vizcaya Museum and Garden, Miami,
- Petersham House, Richmond, Surrey,
- Lake Shrine Temple, Pacific Palisades,
- Japanese Garden, Portland, Oregon
- Sonnenberg Garden, Canandaigua, New
- Innisfree, Millbrook, New
- Woodland Park Rose Garden, Seattle,
- Knoxville Botanical Garden, Knoxville, Tennessee
- Portland Rose Garden, Portland, Oregon
- Chinese Poet Garden, Portland, Oregon
- The Spheres, Seattle, Washington
Meet me in the Garden!
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