What is a secret garden? It's a little spot tucked away in the back corner of the yard. It's a place where you'll be able to retreat, to sit in the quietude of the summer evenings undisturbed by the hustle and bustle of daily life.
You don't need a lot of room for a secret garden; you can still leave the lawn open and still have flower beds in front of the house. Mostly, you'll need a place where you can tuck a chair, a few plants, and, if possible, a couple of hedges.
Start by planning the garden based on where you'll be happiest sitting. To best do this, don't just imagine being outside, but actually bring a yard chair out to the spot in question, and have a seat. Think about what you would like to look at out here: tulips, wisteria, song birds flocking to a birdbath? It's yours to make up as you will.
TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson adds, "For a more formal secret garden consider installing a pergola."
If money and space allow, start by planting a few hedge-type bushes. You want these to form a semi-circle, or an arm reaching out from the back or side of the garden to enclose your space a little bit.
Hawthorn is the all-time favorite hedge, providing springtime flowers and autumn berries to attract the birds. They do have thorns, however. Alpine currant is also popular. It's a compact shrub which also attracts birds with its small yellow flowers in spring and in autumn its scarlet fruit. And then there's boxwood, an evergreen that has a unique, sweet scent year-round.
Adding a rocky landscape can help encourage the feeling of the secret garden, making it feel more enclosed. You can hire a couple of older kids to truck in rocks from the woods in a wheelbarrow, or, if this isn't possible, you can buy rocks at a nursery or garden supply story. You want them to be big enough--about 8 inches round--so that the plantings will be able to climb over them.
TIP: Susan suggests,"A small water feature adds a measure of tranquility to any outdoor space."
Once you have the rocks in place, plant some ivy and creeping violets throughout, so that it will spill over the rocks. Around the edges of the rocks, plant some Lilies of the Valley, remembering the old folk song "White Coral Bells":
White coral bells
Upon a slender stalk
Lilies of the Valley deck my garden walk
Oh don't you wish
That you could hear them ring
That will happen only when the fairies sing
TIP: Susan advises, "Always choose plants that are appropriate for your growing region."
A flagstone path leading to the secret garden will complete the feeling that you are actually entering a separate place, but to really make you feel as if you have your own special outdoor room, you might invest in a gate or a trellis. For the trellis, or for the sides of the gate, any climbing flower will work, such as morning glories, honeysuckle, or sweet peas.
Add a couple of chairs or a wrought-iron bench, and your secret garden is ready for visitors--but only if you invite them in.