Creating Your Secret Garden

June 16, 2015

Backyard Woodland Path[1]By Crystal Godfrey

It’s the feeling you get when you imagine relaxing in a beautiful natural refuge—a calming and positive influence on your emotions, like a good vacation. Most of us have a secret garden image stored in our minds. It may be carried over from childhood or projected as a reward for success in life. Whether expressed as a gated haven of lush green and bright colour, a charming little seaside cottage retreat, a small urban plot or balcony with limited space, or a spectacular patio/pool oasis behind a designer dream home, your own secret garden of delights will be a healing, happy place once you make it real.

Turning your secret garden into reality can be a very satisfying creative experience and it’s not as difficult as you think. Mother Nature has the power to stir our imaginations, awaken our senses, and connect us to the planet on an organic level. Are you ready to create and connect?

Begin with Perspective

Secret garden installations are typically planted in the privacy of a backyard and not intended to be shared with the outside world. They are a very accessible and personal place for family and friends to enjoy and become a natural extension of your indoor home space.

Elements may include:

Rainbow Garden[2]
Rainbows are a delight to young and old. Why not duplicate a rainbow in your garden room with colourful plantings and walkways?

Good initial design planning includes research to explore the possibilities and help reduce the chance of plant losses, feelings of being overwhelmed, and spending over budget. Garden design is only limited by our imagination; however, setting a budget certainly adds an earthy perspective. Keep in mind a garden is always evolving and you may expand it as finances allow.

You may prefer to hire a professional for initial installation and help with ongoing maintenance, or simply to provide design consultation. Consider the money versus personal time you are prepared to invest in the project to make this decision.

Creating a theme for a garden room is a fun way to personalize your space. You can get ideas from gardening magazines and online articles, or simply apply interior design concepts and substitute features with weatherproof materials and living plants. Be creative and make your design as unique and personal as you wish.

secret gardens by crystal patio display[3]
You can grow easily accessible fresh produce on your patio, along with beautiful flowers to cut for bouquets.

Patio Party Garden

Homeowners, apartment dwellers, and people with accessibility issues may all enjoy the benefits of container gardening for the following reasons:

To make a small patio seem larger, use both vertical and horizontal space. Provide trellises for vining plants, grow low annuals under tree types, and make use of shelving when possible. Hanging baskets and wall planters are also perfect for patios.

Environmental issues such as excessive heat, prevailing winds, and existing structures blocking rainwater from reaching pots should be addressed. Grouping several planters together is often referred to as a ‘guild’ and can make for a spectacular display within your patio design concept. Taller, robust plants shield more delicate varieties from strong winds and heat that may be trapped by an enclosed deck.

Plant tall evergreens or grasses for shade and privacy. Use a light potting mix with some compost added and good drainage to ensure optimal plant health and beauty. Extra watering will be required to keep your patio planters healthy, so find ways to store rainwater for later use.

Be creative, have fun, and don’t be afraid to indulge your personality. Here are a few suggestions:

Poolside Relax Chairs In Garden Style Swimming Pool[4]
Creating your own tropical oasis is one way to enjoy a staycation. A beach entry pool complemented with a few chairs can feel like a Caribbean resort. Include some succulents, spiky textured evergreens, ornamental grasses, and a few palm trees in planters.

Poolside Retreat Garden

An outdoor pool is a wonderful centrepiece to an ambitious garden project. Build your garden around the pool’s perimeter and position planters on the deck. The area between your pool and the surrounding patio will be greatly enhanced with plants and will soften hard lines.

Safety should be your first concern when planning a poolside garden, so consider the following:

A poolside garden typically receives sunlight all day long and should contain plants that thrive in full sun. Reflected heat from patio stone and chemically treated water splash can dry out garden soil and planters, so drought-tolerant plant varieties are recommended.

There is a wide range of low-maintenance shrubs with interesting colour and texture to consider. Plants with waxy, thick leaves are tougher and hold moisture. Foliage with silvery, soft leaves and stems covered with light-reflecting tiny hairs called ‘tricomes’ are also good choices for pool gardens.

Beautiful woodland garden path in springtime. Also available in[5]
A 2007 study by researchers at Kyoto University’s Graduate School of Medicine found that shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing’ may be employed to reduce stress, while forest environments can be enjoyed as therapeutic landscapes.

Woodland Garden

The practice of spending time in a woodland area connecting all five senses with nature has many health benefits and is gaining traction in North America. The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing.’

An existing natural forest on your property, or one you have developed, can be personalized with a few additions, such as:

It’s always best to use native plants and varieties suited to your growing zone and soil type. Soil under a tree canopy may become dry due to lack of rainwater or competition for water with neighbour tree roots. Thinning those neighbour trees may be required to save a favoured tree.

You can also improve woodland soil structure by amending with compost to aid in water retention and to lighten up wet clay soil when you grow plants that prefer those conditions. Plants in bog conditions do not mind having their feet wet most of the time.

Woodland gardens usually have varying degrees of direct sunlight throughout the day and you should be mindful of the general sun/shade guide to make your plant choices:

Choose shade-tolerant plants accordingly and remember that an area receiving less than two hours of direct sunlight may not be suitable for planting. To let in more sunlight, open up the tree canopy above by thinning out the branches of taller trees.

You can encourage wildlife by providing wood and rock piles and low-growing shrubs for refuge and berry shrubs for food. A water feature of any scale will encourage frogs and toads in particular. Bat and bird houses, bird feeders, bird baths, and flowering plants for pollinators will all connect your secret woodland garden intimately with Mother Nature.

Decorative pond at night[6]
Your night garden will come to life with its own special magic after sunset. Design your lighting placement for safety, to highlight focal points, and to create atmosphere.

Night Garden

After a busy day at work or running errands, the evening hours may be the only time to enjoy your secret garden. A well-planned night garden can be an especially delightful environment for relaxing and entertaining guests. Creative lighting is the secret ingredient for atmosphere and it’s worth taking time to research this area when planning your project.

Make sure pathways and stairs are well-lit in your design plan and your extension cords or cables are buried or placed off walking areas.

Consider some or all of these elements:

Five year old girl walking over pebbles. Sensory Discovery Walk.[7]
Include bright colours, plants with assorted textures and scents, and music in a child’s garden room if possible to create an interactive sensory experience.

Children’s Garden

Children love playing in the dirt—they gain higher levels of confidence and positive attitudes toward healthy living when they play outdoors and connect with nature. And they have an innate curiosity about wildlife.

Including your children in your family’s secret garden project should stir their imaginations, especially when they can design an area just for them. You can teach them to help manage it and respect the environment as you develop your project. Getting your children involved is the important thing.

Thinking creatively with them, consider including the following:

Planting native species teach children about plant diversity and the symbiotic relationship plants share with insects, birds, and other living creatures. Annuals like sunflowers and pole beans planted from seed are easy to grow and fun to watch. Colourful plant markers with corresponding pictures in a vegetable garden remind children of what they are growing and why they need to water consistently to have a good harvest. A word of caution: make sure you research toxic plants or those that contain skin irritants and avoid using them in your design.

A sensory garden is a great fit with children and will positively influence their cognitive, emotional, physical, and creative development. Water fountains, wind chimes, and rustling grasses add natural sounds; fragrant herb plantings and mini piles of soil, mulch, and compost add scent; brightly coloured flowers, whirligigs, and garden art add visual stimulation; and buckets to bake squishy mud pies, along with a little dining table to serve guests, can make it easier to encourage a happy child gardener. And don’t forget to add a birdhouse and water dish to attract local varieties.

Garden Therapy

Grow your grandmother’s favourite poppies. Plant a seaside garden with Rugosa roses, ornamental grasses, and add beach shells and sea glass collected on your vacations. Happy memories and life ambitions can be inspirational during the garden design process; your secret garden of any size or design will surely be a magnet and a source of pleasure for all.

Gardening is a perfect way to balance mind, body, and spirit. You’ll learn patience, humility, and perseverance from gardening success and failure, and nurture your creativity experimenting with new plants and designs. So start researching, make your plan, and happy gardening!

Crystal Godfrey operates Nova Scotia-based Secret Gardens by Crystal, offering specialized garden design, consulting services, and live presentations for organizations and event shows, including Canada Blooms. She can be reached via e-mail at[8].

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