How to: Creating a secret garden for clients

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Updated May 28, 2019

hardscaping and wooden built secret garden gate opening“The Secret Garden was what Mary called it when she was thinking of it. She liked the name, and she liked still more the feeling that when its beautiful old walls shut her in no one knew where she was. It seemed almost like being shut out of the world in some fairy place.” ― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Have your customers ever asked you about designing a secret garden? Their own secret oasis they could sneak away to? Normal gardens around the house are beautiful and eye-catching, but for customers who want to keep their garden all to themselves, here are a few tips on creating one that’s secret.

Hidden entrance

Naturally, secret gardens are meant to be…well, secret. They are not supposed to be out in the open, therefore they require a hidden entryway. Gates and doorways are important features in any kind of garden, but they are absolutely essential for secret gardens, as they act as the defining passage from public to private.

They also provide just a bit of mystery about what lies beyond in the garden. Using overhanging trees beside the entrance will help block the view from the outside and keep the contents secret until access is permitted.

A wooden gate featuring vines can also add a Tolkienesque feel to the landscape, and can get the creative and adventurous juices flowing once your customers see it completed.

Make it inviting

Once your customers and their guests have passed the threshold of the entryway to enter into what they expect to be a magical place, make sure that their expectations are met.

If this place is going to serve as an escape for your customers, then it definitely needs to be a place they will want to visit every day. Find different seating options they will enjoy and have a designated seating area designed. This area can be as simple or as intricate as your customer would like.

Added privacy

For a little added privacy in this secret getaway, consider talking to your customers about incorporating screenings and hedges. Nothing bursts the bubble of fantasy like seeing buildings next door or accidentally catching a peep of your neighbor through their window. Fences, trees with leafy canopies and evergreen hedges work well for screening effects, and combining fences with tall, layered plantings makes it feel more like a retreat in the woods.

Choosing plant life

Secret gardens are supposed to have a slight air of wildness about them, so don’t be afraid to let the manicured look go just a bit. Plant some billowing grasses, native plants, flowering perennials and maybe a few vines here and there, and just let them do their thing.

Trailing climbers like honeysuckle, climbing rose and wisteria are good choices to add a cloak of flowers and foliage to the walls and surrounding structures.

To also welcome birds, butterflies, bees and other creatures to the garden, consider installing native plants and others that will support pollinators, such as roses allowed to go to seed and nectar-rich salvia.

Landscape lighting

Finding the perfect type of landscape lighting can really be the icing on the cake when it comes to completing a secret garden. Be sure to choose lights that are subdued and small to keep the ambience low and peaceful. Along with keeping with the mood of the garden, the lights will serve the practical purpose of providing needed light for pathways, stairs and exits. 

Choose objects with meaning

Talk to your customers about what kind of items they would like to see in their secret garden. Objects in a garden should be chosen with meaning, and it’s important to have your customer’s input before you put anything in place.

Objects such as rocks they may have collected from around the world, benches that have been in the family for years or other sentimental items will bring a personal touch to the garden, as well as make your customers more inclined to come in and stay awhile.

Enclosed spaces and disappearing pathways  

With landscapes that are open, consider suggesting adding sheltered seating areas, or maybe even a small hedged-in garden to help balance the feeling of openness and privacy. This seclusion within seclusion offers customers the chance to sneak away for some alone time or to just relax with their favorite book.

The addition of a stepping stone pathway or a winding walkway will draw visitors into the garden, but the trick is to leave them wanting more. Keep the destination hidden and use the pathways to build the anticipation. Consider a pathway that begins straight and then takes a curve, leaving the final destination out of sight.

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