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The distinct charm of a Secret Garden

The Secret Garden book cover. From The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett via Wikimedia Commons

“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. The few books she had read and liked had been fairy-story books, and she had read of secret gardens in some of the stories. Sometimes people went to sleep in them for a hundred years, which she had thought must be rather stupid. She had no intention of going to sleep, and, in fact, she was becoming wider awake every day which passed at Misselthwaite.”

― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Great Maytham Hall Garden, said to be the inspiration for “The Secret Garden.” By Stephen Nunney via Wikimedia

The secret garden described by Frances Hodgson Burnett exists only in our imagination. I consider this a good thing. It means we can become inspired by this vision of perfection but will never succumb to comparison with our own real-life examples. How could we ever live up to it? But, beyond that, just what is a secret garden, anyway? To me, a secret garden is  an untouched canvas, an area

  •  that is overlooked but nearby,
  •  a green space you make your own, one which has your personal stamp on it
  •  that already has foliage, flowers, bushes, and trees in and around it
  •  which may or may not have water features…bird baths, fountains, etc.
  •  in which you will add furnishings, statuary, garden art, plantings
  •  within which you develop a particular theme, tone, or mood,
  •  walls or natural barriers that make it difficult to find or enter
  •  which is a refuge or getaway

My mini-Secret Garden in a sweet, out of the way nook: ferns, mosses, large stones, and the giant mushroom I made last year.

Several years ago, I began creating a secret garden at the top of our property, in amongst the deciduous trees and understory. It still exists but I didn’t finish it because the area is now the domain of our neighborhood bears. It made me sad to give it up but I didn’t particularly want a surprise encounter with a bear while I was lounging in my hammock.  The fact is, though, a secret garden can be made anywhere, if you put in a little effort. For instance, today, I noticed that a secret garden had formed unbeknownst to me right outside my front door, to the left a bit. It lies to the right of the stairs that wind past an arbor and up the hill. This year, it’s all overgrown, as it’s an area I worked on earlier in the season and not since. It does indeed qualify as a shady Secret Garden. It’s also a moss garden and in it sits the big amanita muscaria mushroom I made last year, a good luck symbol according to German folklore.

Another secret garden - geograph.org.uk - 417484

Another secret garden Doorway into the garden of the Old Rectory, near Cynwyd. From geograph.org.uk, by Eirian Evans via Wikimedia Commons

Unless you already know about the elements of Secret Gardens, you probably want to know more. Well, there are plenty of resources online and it helps to become inspired by landscape designers and gardeners who have experience. According to Garden Guides’ “Secrets to an Almost Instant Secret Garden,” your first consideration is deciding how big your garden will be and whether it will be part of a larger area. Author Carol Wallace says, “You may be shocked at the very idea of dividing up what may already be a pretty small space, but trust me – your garden will actually seem larger if you create separate ‘rooms’ in it.”  Privacy is your next concern. Just how you shield your Secret Garden is a subject that is widely addressed in all the sources I read. Wallace talks about ways to do this, too, stating that you can rely on “either lattice, fencing or shrubs with a ‘door’ leading to the rest of the garden.” Classic secret gardens in Europe have often been created within the confines of an actual wall, as shown in the photograph above, however, yours can rely on “green” walls.

Secret garden sp

A breach in a wall in Vila Madalena. By Jeanjmgs via Wikimedia Commons

Elspeth Thompson, of the Telegraph, wrote an article about such getaways, too. In “Creating your own Secret Garden,” she describes how strongly she was affected by the book The Secret Garden:“It remains one of my favourite books to this day” and “that notion of secrecy, mystery and enclosure is still, for me, a vital ingredient of my ideal garden.” She suggests using curving paths in larger gardens to keep people guessing about what’s around the corner. “The key is not to give away all your garden’s secrets at first glance.” Thompson has advice about small spaces, too. I like her idea of using a “a panel of woven willow” because I had been thinking about making something with twigs myself. She also describes creating a tiny space reached by walking through an arch. What a lovely idea! While it is true that none of the articles I read talked about ceramics or even clay statuary, that shouldn’t bother us too much. It’s all about making something that has the elements that appeal to us personally, so we can place our own creations as we wish, along with those of others that we’ve collected along the way!

Our hydrangea bush bloomed this week! It is so lovely and would make a wonderful addition to a Secret Garden. Periwinkle centers and deep lavender petals.



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