|You can easily design a
Secret Garden that's small and simple, relaxing, yet full of little joys
All you need is an unused or created little spot tucked away in the back corner of the yard or garden. A secret garden provides a place where you can retreat to a quiet, tranquil setting, undisturbed by outside influences. A place just for you. She-Sheds are just not quiet, soothing, or secret enough for me. Too much real activity is done there. Hobbies and pastimes and such.... which is wonderful, but I would call that my getaway or studio. I don't want to "do" anything at all in my retreat. That's why the secret garden exists.
A secret garden should be a reflection of who you are, as well as a relaxing retreat where you can unwind in solitude. Create your very own little paradise, just the way you like it. Invite people in or keep it all to yourself. Of course, you want to invite those close to you to join you now and then for a little relaxation and a beverage.
Think of the Zen or Japanese garden designs, moonlight gardens, meditation and tea gardens you love.... then think them way smaller and cozier. In fact, any one of the designs I mentioned can be downsized to be teeny and cozy enough to be your Secret Garden design.
Find or create a special hidden or enclosed area where you can tuck in a cozy chair or bench and a table, a place that can be designed to surround you with quiet and solitude as you relax and unwind. I would place the chair and table in the perfect spot first, then I would consider what plants and ornaments I would use. The seating area would not be an afterthought of the garden design, it would be central to it. As in.... here's where i'd love to sit, and these are the plants and flowers i want to see and smell.
You can incorporate an arch or arbor, with or without a gate near the perceived or actual "entrance", and place the secret garden in an unused, rarely visited, hidden corner of your backyard or garden. Add areas of privacy here and there, using bamboo or other weatherproof ornamental folding screens. They can be moved anywhere you like as you change your design, or for a different perspective when seasons change. They're portable.
Potted trees can be used to create a Zen or meditative secret garden in any decorative style you like. And the bonus is that it's completely portable, and you can rotate plants and atmospheres easily. And (drum roll, please) No Digging. Plants in pots can be grouped close together in pretty configurations. You have control. You can't do that with in-ground trees. You can easily create a Garden of Eden theme using dwarf fruit trees, like figs or olive trees, in pots. You'll have flowers and fruit. Many varieties of dwarf fruit trees are self-pollinating. You don't have to have more than one for them to fruit. If you already have a small backyard orchard, you already have the backdrop and perfect spots among the trees for a Biblical theme and Secret Garden.
Serious Secret Garden
A secret garden filled with conifers and evergreens will also have that Japanese Garden feel, it will be beautiful, minimalist, and doesn't require much care. Garden maintenance should not be a big chore. Growing larger bushes or plants is a great way to enclose the area. Evergreens won't lose leaves and die back in winter, and your secret garden will still remain a secret. Many conifers are slow-growing, and grow beautifully in pots, making rearranging a joy.
Place some smaller plants around the more open spaces. You may want to plant bushes, and flowering vines, as well as flowers. A potted dwarf weeping Japanese maple or two would be awesome. Not only are they easy to grow, but they grow slowly, grow well in pots (I have several) and they can be pruned into a weeping Zen shape as they grow. Sort of like big bonsai. The colorful display of leaves over multiple seasons is an attraction. They don't even need to be fertilized. Find one hardy to your area.
Another beautiful tree I grow in a pot is the dwarf Snow Fountain Weeping Cherry. Gorgeous small flowering tree that's entirely covered in white blossoms in early spring, even before the earliest of bulbs consider blooming. The weeping habit is delicate and beautiful - it drapes almost down to the ground. It can also be pruned to keep the growing canopy branches weeping. It gets through our zone 6 winters beautifully. It looks pretty even when it's not flowering. Perfect on either side of a garden gate, in the center of the garden, or as an entrance to the secret garden itself.
Use dwarf bamboo, large ferns and swaying dwarf ornamental grasses in pots. The look of gentle movement from a breeze is very Zen. A beautiful type of dwarf bamboo, like Fargesia, is beautiful any way you use it. It can also grow indoors in a pot.
Design the garden in a way that you would want a visitor to discover and enjoy it.Create privacy and make it feel like it's a secret room in a secret garden. If you already have a line of trees or bushes, use them as the divide between your secret garden and the rest of your backyard or garden.
Entrance - Create an entrance to your secret garden, if you wish, and no need to make obvious where that entrance leads. Perhaps make it a little harder for a visitor to spot. If you'd like, try using an arbor or arch and add an old partially open gate leading into the garden. The gate can be a vintage architectural item that came from a fence or gate, or you can purchase a wooden gate, or wrought iron gate if you want to add an entrance through two large, unmanicured shrubs or small potted trees. No need for a fence, unless it's already there, or if you want to install a few fence panels and then cover with vines. A tall filigree iron fence panel or gate would be superb. Another addition could be a folding Asian-style outdoor screen. If you're lucky enough to be able to find old architectural items at flea markets and salvage yards, the sky's the limit in terms of the originality of your garden entrance. If you have old stones around your property or an old crumbling retaining wall, there's an idea for creating an entrance to a garden that looks like it's always been there.
Elements of surprise - Oddly shaped driftwood and interesting rocks, spiritual objects and other oddities can be placed in a way that adds surprise. Partially hidden objects in the garden beds, peeking out from behind a tree, almost beneath a shrub, among flowers and pots, or laid in a curve in a path adds to the anticipation of what else might be discovered in the gardens. A group of small, colorful, ceramic pots nested as if there isn't a plan is a great object of interest. As is a large, partially broken clay pot turned into a planter by laying it on it's side, filling the broken edge that's laying on the ground with soil, and popping in herb or creeping flower plants. That gives the illusion of Nature fixing the broken things, and putting out the pretty things.
Create the seating areas of the Secret Garden in a shady spot. Add a few small, musical wind chimes add to the magic and serenity.
Add a small and simple water feature, even if it's just a birdbath with a solar fountain that bubbles gently, or a realistic-looking lotus flower floating in it I have both.
Display a rain chain that drips rainwater from cup to cup and into a flower bed. These are normally used on rain gutters to divert water. I have two copper rain chains with cups like open tulips hanging down from limbs of small trees. They don't make sound, but they do add vertical decoration to your garden. Rain chains come in long sizes, because they're supposed to reach from your gutters. I cut mine off at half it's length, and then I have two rain chains to dangle from tree limbs. They actually do taken the rain water trickling down from the trees, and drop it into the flower bed below. The rain would have eventually done that on it's own, but it's much prettier to see it in the cups and flowing down in a more concentrated way into the beds.
Light - solar landscape lights that are subtle with a warm light, but still highlight the flower bed and path areas and strings of teeny solar fairy lights here and there, or in mason jars hanging from shrub and tree branches, adds to the secret garden atmosphere. You don't want to light up the garden with bright light, you want to have a soft glow here and there, appearing as thought there was no real plan. You still do want to see where you're going, if you're going to sit there at night. Have jar candles and a lighter already handy in a weatherproof tin or box in case you're going to sit out there after dusk. Solar lanterns can be placed on ornamental shepherd's hooks or hung from branches. Candle glow is magical. As is always recommended, include a little romance and fragrance.
If you live in an area that mosquitoes frequent, plant a few citronella plants in the garden near your seating area, or in pots as a natural insect repellent. After a busy or trying day, enjoy quiet rest and solitude in your secret garden, away from the realities of your busy life.
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