I’m really looking forward to taking my children to see the new film adaptation of the much-loved classic children’s book ‘The Secret Garden’ released in cinemas this Friday (23rd October).
The story is based on three young children who, together bring an abandoned hidden garden back to life. In the process they create a mystical, magical place. Their interaction with nature helps the children grow happier and healthier and is a tale for people of all ages.
If seeing the film makes you want to turn part of your garden into a secret spot, here are some ideas…
What makes a garden area feel secret? Well, it’s a combination of things rather than just one item.
This is the most obvious element but as most of us have small(ish) gardens it’s not often feasible or cheap to have a stone or brick wall built in part of it!
So, another way to achieve this would be by using a mix of mature or quick growing shrubs and trees to surround the chosen area.
The type of plants you choose to achieve this would depend on whether you want a formal or informal style of enclosure and also the overall size of your garden.
If you wanted a formal look, then conifers would be the obvious choice as they’re evergreen and can be planted very close together. But do choose wisely, especially if space is an issue, as Leylandii will soon grow, not just up towards the skies but outwards too.
This could cause an oppressive atmosphere dominating the whole garden.
Equally you don’t want to be waiting impatiently for your evergreen enclosure to grow tall enough, so for that reason I’d avoid slow growing plants like holly.
Thuja plicata ‘Atrovirens’ (western red cedar)
This evergreen conifer will regrow when pruned into brown wood and tolerates most soil conditions. It’s also relatively fast growing and, as an added bonus, has leaves that smell like pineapple or pear drops when crushed!
If your garden is more suited to an informal look, consider plants that have softer more spreading form to them.
This densely evergreen shrub with glossy deep green leaves and pinkish white flowers. It will reach a height and spread of 3m and can be grown in full or part shade.
Once you’ve enclosed the space you need to consider how to create atmosphere in it.
Water features are a great way of achieving that, especially if there are other noises nearby you have no control over, such as road traffic.
The sound of water can distract the mind away from less pleasant sounds. Fast flowing water stimulates the senses and creates a sense of adventure, whereas a slow trickle creates a more serene, relaxing atmosphere.
Old pieces of stone or fallen branches covered in moss strategically placed around the area are also a great addition as are plants that rustle in the wind or when you brush past them, such as grasses and bamboo.
Fargesia rufa (dragon head bamboo)
This pick is a fast-growing clump forming bamboo that reaches a height of 3m and spread of 1.5m. It will also grow well in full sun or part shade in a free draining, moist soil.
Plants that twine and dangle so that you have to walk under or gently push them to one side can create great atmosphere in an enclosed space.
Parthenocissus tricuspidata (Boston ivy)
This is a glorious climber with leaves that turn fantastic shades of red at this time of the year before falling to the ground. It will look fantastic if you have one or more walls or a large tree in your secret garden.
Next is one that’s not only a visual beauty, but has the added bonus of scented white flowers in spring which join its elongated evergreen leaves.
This hardy clematis reaches an eventual length of 8m.
Mystery & discovery
Linked to atmosphere is the creation of an air of mystery and discovery. A winding path with twists and turns is a great way of achieving this, as is using plants to create areas of shade and light.
Strategically placed plants of differing heights and leaf texture alongside the path to hide or partially obscure what’s around the corner will heighten the sense of discovery.
Fatsia japonica (Japanese aralia)
This pick is a great low maintenance choice for shaded areas. Its large glossy evergreen leaves create an air of other worldly exotica, like a Jurassic jungle.
Birds singing in the bushes and hedgehogs shuffling through fallen autumn leaves are part of the joy of the secret garden. Certain plants will encourage them to become long term visitors too. For eaxmple, plants with snackable fruit and berries for birds such as: –
Cotoneaster franchetii (Franchet’s cotoneaster)
A quick growing evergreen shrub that birds love to nest in. In addition, they love to devour the pretty colour orange berries that cover it from autumn to early winter. Bees and other pollinating insects also adore its tiny spring flowers.
Also including plants that shed their leaves in autumn and allowing the leaves to stay where they fall creates the perfect environment for hedgehogs to hibernate amongst during the long chilly winter months.
This is the final and probably most important of the secret garden key elements. Filling the garden with plants that together provide year round interest and colour should make your secret garden feel like the ultimate joyful haven: –
Choose a variety of different types of roses such as ramblers to scramble up and over a rose arch or tree trunk. Pair them with repeat flowering shrub roses that form pretty colour rose hips.
Most garden centres and plant nurseries sell long trailing ivies perfect to twine around old tree branches strategically placed around the garden. If you haven’t got any old branches, local tree surgeons should be able to supply cheaply or free of charge.
A range of bulbs to flower at different times of the year is the perfect thing to have in a secret garden. This is because, when they’re buried below ground, they’re often forgotten until they seem to magically appear from nowhere.
Imagine walking into an area covered with white snowdrops in late winter followed by a spring carpet of native bluebells and daffodils.
The exotic look of summer flowering lilies followed by the soft coloured flowers of autumn cyclamen; dreamy eh?!
Try to include a range of mood enhancing plants to give off scent year round such as: –
Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ (Winter flowering honeysuckle)
Small, soft, creamy white coloured scented flowers appear on naked stems during winter before giving way to fresh new leaves in spring.
Osmanthus x burkwoodii
Is an evergreen shrub with delightful white scented flowers April to May.
Buddleja davidii ‘Wisteria Lane’
Not only will this shrub delight with early summer scented blooms. It also attracts butterflies to add to the wonderful secret garden atmosphere.
Lathyrus odorata (sweet pea)
Highly scented coloured blooms trained up simple wood trellis structures or hazel pole wigwams will not only be a source of constant delight but also encourage you to regularly visit your secret garden. The more you pick the flowers, the more new flowers will be produced and, if you’re lucky, will do so right up until the first frosts.
I hope this has inspired you to go create your own secret garden paradise for you and your family to enjoy for years to come.
David Domoney is a Chartered Horticulturalist, Broadcaster, and Author. David has worked with a number of the UK’s leading garden retailers as a plant buyer and strategic consultant. With more than 30 years experience, in horticulture, David is as passionate about plants now as he was when he bought his first plant at a village fete.
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