Create your own secret garden

Secret gardens hold a kind of wonder – the beauty, the mystery, the tangle of scented blooms and greenery that is bursting with life. In our busy, modern lives it can feel like there’s little privacy, few places that we can retreat to for solitude and peace.

Creating a secret garden in your backyard, or even patio, is a way of creating a little escape from your day-to-day life into a world of nature. It can be a peaceful place of sanctuary for yourself, or a space to gather with others; to host birthday parties, Easter egg hunts or garden picnics.

With a little effort and imagination, you can create your own secret garden with a unique magic. You don’t have to spend too much; you can source structural items secondhand or start with what you already have.

How to create a secret garden

Choose a planting spot

Ideally, pick one that gives you a bit of a hideaway. You want to create the feeling of being in a garden ‘room’. See if you have a space where there are some existing trees, shrubs or a wall or fence that you could use as one of the ‘walls’ of your garden, or somewhere that will give you a sense of being in a special enclosed place. If you have a corner that already feels like an enclosure, then that is your best choice. You can add sections of trellis or wooden fencing to create the enclosed space if needed.

Create an entryway 

This marks the passage from one garden area to a private space and creates a sense of mystery about what lies beyond. The entryway could be an arbour or a gate (or both). The arbour creates an entrance that looks and feels special, especially if adorned with plants such as roses or wisteria, creating an arch that you walk through. 

Attract birds and pollinators 

Plant shrubs, vines and flowers for birds, to give them a place to make nests and raise their young. Adding a flowering fruit tree or shrub, e.g., cherry, dogwood, bayberry or crabapple, also offers food for birds and wildlife. Dried seed heads provide food for many birds so don’t be afraid to let your flowers go to seed in the autumn when the birds’ natural food sources decline. Bees and butterflies will be attracted by planting flowers such as salvia, foxglove, buddleia, hebe, echinacea, white alyssum, daylily, marigold and zinnia. You could also incorporate a birdbath or a shallow pond so wildlife can drink and bathe. 

Plant cottage flowers 

Plant flowers such as delphiniums, snapdragons, larkspurs and poppies in spring. Pansies can be planted in cooler seasons such as early spring or autumn. Roses can be planted during winter – heirloom varieties such as Zephirine Drouhin and Cecile Brunner look especially romantic in a secret garden. 

Add some fragrance 

Mignonettes, sweet peas, lilacs, hyacinths, dianthus, gardenias, nicotiana, lavender, lily of the valley, magnolias and heliotropes have rich perfumes. This fragrance will be heightened in your enclosed garden spot.

Create a seating area

This could be a chair, bench or a wooden or wrought-iron outdoor table and chair set, for a rustic dining area. A seating area will encourage you to spend time in your garden and provide a place to sit and read or relax. Seating also adds a different dimension and scale to the garden. Cushions from the living room and a tablecloth will dress up and add colour to the furniture. It doesn’t need to be perfect – part of the charm of a secret garden is that it’s not manicured. It will feel more like a place to be discovered and explored when it looks natural rather than curated. 

Provide shade

If you don’t have any existing trees that provide shade then you could either plant something suitable for your space or alternatively you could buy a pretty sun umbrella to use over your seating area to keep it cool in the summer.

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