Secret Garden Ideas: How To Create A Magical Backyard Hidden Garden
Would you love to have your own secret garden, hidden away from prying eyes? If so, you’re in luck – we’ve got some top tips to help you make your dream a reality. From choosing the right location to incorporating plants and features that lend themselves to privacy, we’ll show you how to create a secluded paradise all your own. So read on for some secret garden ideas that will turn your backyard into a relaxing retreat you won’t want to leave .
Charleston, SC is one of my favorite cities to visit. With its big old houses, cobblestone streets and awesome restaurants, it has tons of atmosphere.
The other thing I love about Charleston is the gardens.
Many of the houses have fairly small yards but they have the most magical gardens. Even the side yard landscape design looks fabulous.
Peeking in from the street, they look so inviting you just want to go in and sit down.
I think it’s because they all feel like romantic secret garden rooms with gas-lit lanterns, wrought iron fences and lots of lush foliage!
So when I created my backyard plan, I decided to use some of those Charleston secret garden design ideas to do my own version in my standard suburban yard.
Of course, I didn’t have the beautiful architecture or the old cobblestone walkways. But I still managed to get some of that secret garden room feeling.
Keep reading to find out how to make your own backyard secret garden even if you have a small yard.
1. Make An entrance
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The first element of a secret garden that all Charleston gardens seem to have is defined entrance, usually with an arbor and a gate leading into them.
The arbor creates an entryway that looks and feels special.
The gate makes you notice that you’re entering (you actually have to stop to open it).
While not nearly as grand as the Charleston version, installing a standard garden arch over your secret garden entrance still has the same appeal.
And don’t forget to add some plants around it that create that lush outdoor space to walk through.
You Might Also Like: Creative Garden Gates
2. Create A Sense Of Privacy
The second of my secret garden ideas is to create a sense of privacy.
In Charleston, you can often see into the garden but rarely get to see the whole thing.
Often the gates or doors have peephole windows with wrought iron details that obscure the view even more.
You can find a similar gate peephole HERE.*
While wrought iron screens may be out of most people’s budgets (including mine!), you can accomplish a similar feel with any kind of divider that helps to obstruct the view.
A lattice fence that partially encloses an area works well (like my mother has on one side of her deck).
Plants can also create a great privacy screen.
For a less permanent option, you can hang some curtains to create a secret garden room. They have an extra benefit in that you can choose whatever colors you want.
Click HERE to find some more backyard privacy ideas.
3. Install Curved Paths
Another way Charleston gardens create the feeling of mystery that makes a secret garden successful is to install curved garden paths.
You can’t see exactly where it ends up…but it sure makes you want to find out!
I did a small version of this in my backyard by putting in a circular garden bed between my patio and deck. Which created a curved walkway to get from one to the other.
Installing an arbor (which you can find HERE*) at the front of it and taller plants on both sides prevents you from seeing all the way around the curve.
So it creates that curiosity of wanting to see what’s around the bend.
Find some DIY garden path ideas HERE.
4. Provide a Destination
Although you don’t get to see the final destination of many of the Charleston garden paths, I can only imagine that it is somewhere worth going to.
Which is why the next one of my secret garden ideas is creating a space to go to.
And it usually involves patio furniture that provides seating so you can enjoy your hidden garden.
That could be a beautiful table set for lunch (like the picture above). Curtains on the gazebo help to provide even more privacy.
A relaxing seating area on a deck surrounded by plants.
Or just a pretty bench with greenery behind it.
Anything that gives you a reason to go down that path.
5. Make Sure There’s Enough Shade
What’s the one thing that can ruin that special romantic feeling really quickly?
Having the hot sun beating down on your garden room all afternoon.
If you are lucky enough to have trees providing shade for your seating area, you are ahead of the game.
But if not, try to provide some man-made shade to keep your space cool and comfortable.
You can find some DIY backyard shade ideas here.
6. Plant lots of plants
In case it’s not totally obvious from the pictures, all of these secret gardens have one thing in common. Lots of plants.
You can’t have a hidden garden if all of your neighbors can see straight into your yard.
And while putting up fences and walls will achieve privacy, you need plants to provide the secret garden ambience. In Charleston, you’ll often see walls covered with vines to soften the view.
If you want the ivy look without using real vines, you can actually buy faux ivy panels (like these ones*). I haven’t tried them so I don’t know how realistic they look, but it might be worth a shot.
7. Add secret garden decorations
The easiest way to decorate your secret garden is to bring your indoor style outdoors.
Mirrors, console tables, sconces and statues are all great ways to make your backyard garden room feel comfortable.
While I didn’t think growing vines up the side of my house would be a great idea, I did find a mirror and outdoor console table that I love.
Adding ferns, potted plants and some candles help to create that cozy feeling.
A large urn on a pedestal makes a focal point in my backyard secret garden.
The plan is to turn this into a bubbling water fountain so I can have the sound of water back here, too.
8. Light It Up
In the evening, Charleston gardens have charm and romance. And it’s all about the lighting.
Adding outdoor lighting will make your backyard retreat even more magical at night.
That way you and your friends and family can enjoy your relaxing outdoor living area even after dark.
I didn’t go so far as to invest in a gas lamp (although I would love to!), but I did install landscape lighting that can help any yard feel special at night.
9. Put in a water feature
The sound of water running is so soothing that they use it in phone apps to help put you to sleep.
So it’s hard to think of a relaxing backyard without one.
And most Charleston gardens have at least one water fountain to provide that tranquility.
It can be a large one that creates a focal point like the one above.
Or a wall fountain that fits well in small spaces. Which is what I chose to do in my side yard.
Besides being soothing, the sound of the water also helps to block out any city noises that you don’t want to hear in your hidden garden.
10. Add Some Romance
Finally, the last of my secret garden design ideas…
A secret garden wouldn’t be a secret garden without some romantic touches (if you ask me).
In Charleston, it’s kind of built into the whole city…the architecture, the lanterns, the wrought iron, the cobblestones…you get the idea.
In our own yards, we probably have to put a little more work into creating a romantic environment.
Whether it’s hanging outdoor chandeliers, using your crystal glasses outside or just lighting a few candles, the added touches are what will really make your outdoor room feel special.
Hopefully, you’ve found some inspiration to create your own secret garden using these design ideas inspired by the secret garden masters in Charleston.
Other garden design ideas you might like
- How to design a modern cottage garden
- Zen deck ideas: How to create a relaxing deck
- How to build a DIY outdoor privacy screen
- How to create a Japanese zen garden in your backyard
Have comments or questions about our secret garden ideas? Tell us in the section below.
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This post was originally published on August 15, 2018 but was updated with new content on July 29, 2022.
Your Secret Garden ideas are wonderful!!! Beautiful!!! Under #2 you have one that says plants make a great screen, but I’m wondering where you found that beautiful umbrella!!! Does it have the light attached??
Thanks, Martha! I got it from Pier 1. It looks like they have sold out this year, but they may have it back in the spring. No, it doesn’t have a light attached.
Thanks so much for your response!!!
❤️ Charleston as well . A simple water feature is also quite nice. Good article.
Thanks, Sue! You’re right…A water feature is a great addition 🙂
LOVE IT….LOVE IT. Thank you. SUCH GREAT IDEAS.
Thanks! I’m happy you like it 🙂
Have wanted to create a secret garden for years and am beginning now. I love your ideas and pictures. So many great points. Thanks!
Thanks, Cindy! Good luck with your secret garden 🙂
I love secret gardens and I think I’ve visited the most amazing of secret gardens which is The Secret Graden of Wendy Whiteley in Sydney, Australia.
There’s a coffee table book by the same title by WW and it was my accidental finding of this book at a local library in Melbourne, Australia, that actually took me on the trail to discover the Secret Garden!! It was so much fun and so I shared this with you.
Back home in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I have created a kind of fairy garden/Alice in Wonderland/secret garden in the front entrance area of my apartment! I also have plants extending to the inside of the house, the balcony area and the kitchen and every room of the house.
I plant NASA accredited plants for air purification, mostly and they are doing wonders to give better air quality as I’m bang in the city!
I have very little sunlight and rain in my front garden but much love and care has given me great results. It is also entirely an organic garden. Only water that I use for washing my grains, fruits and vegetables in the kitchen and kitchen refuse I put into a compost pit, nourish the plants!
Luckily for me these apartments have planter boxes and I use those abandoned by other dwellers.
So it’s a container garden in which I have created the sort of secret garden with a mirror attached to one wall so as to give depth to the garden. I have graded the plants so the tall ones go at the back when you look from different angels and the ground cover like plants bellow.
I’ve included some fairy elements as I also make miniature and fairy items and gardens.
There’s also a water feature I’ve made myself by converting a stool into a toadstool on which I’ve placed this glass bowl with water.
It gives me endless pleasure to tend and be in this garden. Thought I’d share.
Thanks, Sharmini! I’ll have to add Wendy Whiteley’s garden to my travel list 🙂 Your secret garden sounds beautiful. You have so many creative ideas for turning an apartment entrance into a special garden room 🙂
You’re most welcome, Wanda.
I’m happy I shared WW’s Secret Garden with you.
Thanks 🙏🏽 very much for all your lovely words on my ideas for a garden room😊
If you are ever back in Charleston you should know that is the garden gate is open you are free to go in and walk around! If closed then no. Natives Charlestonians and those lucky enough to live close enough to visit often know this secret!
Thanks for the tip, Caroline! I didn’t know that…and I live in Greenville, SC, so close enough to get there a couple of times a year. I’ll definitely take advantage of that the next time I’m there 🙂
G’day,Wanda,you must add the job’mindreader’to your arsenal because I recently commenced a kinda’secret garden’ when I fashioned a side door(into the street)from various timbers help together by an unseen steel frame,painted it red,and with the help of my children and’late’sweetheart, began the project..as I work full-time,time management is paramount,however,three years down-the-track I’m far from finished..I have added the’shy princess’series of statues,one of those has a fountain,and I’ve installed a pump and it works a treat..have silver birch’s to plant,grape vine looks good,especially in autumn,and apart from a handmade winding brick path and lavender bushes,I haven’t proceeded further until,UNTIL this morning(4:15am) after I returned from work I discovered 10 things that can grown under trees,etc..and,as I have a rainforest tree,there,I think,would be perfect for azaleas,rhodododendrons,hydrangeas,pieris japonica,Japanese’tree’peony,etc,etc..I have just added an almost life-size shy princess within the precinct of the r/f tree,however,when I open the side gate from the street’she’looks a little sad standing there withot proper company and,as I said recently,when I head to my nursery,I now have an added reason to visit besides seeking’blue’colour flora..thanks Wanda..it is true-‘show me your company and I’ll tell you what you are like’..cheers..Ron from’down under’..
Thanks, Ron! Your secret garden with the shy princess statues sounds awesome. But the Rhododendrons, Hydrangeas, Pieris and Tree Peonies are really good options for filling it out 🙂
Thank you Wanda for your support..it is’late’AUTUMN here in Eastern Australia,and working outside has been a real chore due to the above-average temperatures all Summer,and discovering your website is somehow recompense for my work to date or perhaps I need to recalibrate my’gardening time?’..the four that you have shown me seem to seem soon-to-be-part of the garden of 105,and thanks mate you are a’treat’..I will NEXT WEEK head to my nursery as I have said last week with a list of four so far and need to research’drought-tolderant’flora too I guess!cheers Wanda and enjoy your spring when it arrives,as I know you sure will..Ron Lock..Geelong..Victoria-Australia..(your a cutie)..
We live in the Austin,Texas area where it is hot and dry… and even a weed is a welcome green plant. I am trying to overcome these extreme obstacles by installing an awning over the window and a solar screen over a moon gate on the porch. We have a masonry birdbath that is a big draw for the birds and squirrels. I have recently purchased a large Montana bowl that even the bunnies love. Your article has given me new ideas. Thank you for sharing!
I’m happy you got some ideas from it, Dorothy! Your garden sounds pretty even if it is hot and dry 🙂
I live in Scottsdale, AZ–also a hot & dry area. Trying to find a simple circular moon gate as an entryway to a small Secret Garden. Only need around 80 ” high & no more than 6’wide. Welcome suggestions.Love reading about all of your creative ideas, and sure I can do the same. Thanks, Wanda, for “being there” to help.
Hi Sandra…the closest one I could find to your size is this one on Wayfair. It’s probably still a little too wide (and it’s not cheap!) If you can find a metal-worker in your area, you might want to look into having one made.
Thanks so much for your prompt response–& research. At this time, due to the excessive heat in AZ, newly planted climbing bouganvillas have all died, so I’m not pursuing anything at this time until the weather changes. We are all So Lucky to have you as our mentor. Thank You for “being there” for us.
Thanks, Wanda, for “being there” for so many of us. We are all so lucky to seek–& receive–your prompt replies. With the weather So Hot now in AZ, I’m not pursuing anything until the heat calms down, as the climbing bougainvillea have all died. They were So Pretty with dark green leaves & bright pink flowers at this time. I appreciate your quick response.
Love this article. Great ideas and photos. I recently saw an idea where a bicycle tire frame was used as a window. In this case I imagine painting the spokes and frame of the wheel black and building a brick or stone wall around the circular bicycle wheel frame to create a peek a boo into the secret garden.
Thanks, Veronica! I love your bicycle wheel idea! Very creative 🙂
Your “Secret Garden” article is very timely, thank you. I have started working on a “Secret Garden” Wedding plan. Our historic property includes a 19th Cent Woolen Mill, a 1851 Inn, originally a boarding house for women that worked in the Mill, all surrounded by woodland full of hardwood trees, Pawpaw trees, and wildflowers with creeks. Our plan is for small intimate weddings with food service. The area is small and overlooks a beautiful creek, hillsides and natural rock formations. We installed landscaping ten years ago but it needs refreshing, pruning, and new varieties of perennials in the borders. One of the major frustrations is the sod that we laid down ten years ago didn’t take. Moles have rendered it non-walkable and a weedy grass, creeping Charlie has taken over. Dreams are plentiful and it is inspiring to see other examples.
Thanks, Barbara! Your property sounds stunning…a beautiful place for weddings 🙂
I just loved your ideas. Where does the wrought iron come from? The one where it says ATouch of Romance.
Hi Beverly…That picture isn’t from my house (unfortunately!) so I’m not sure where the wrought iron in that particularly gate came from. But most of the homes in Charleston have their gates custom-made by local wrought-iron companies. Cooper Iron Works and Fraziers Iron Works are a couple of examples. You can also find some pretty ones on Etsy if you search for “wrought iron gate” (some of the sellers might be willing to do different designs in you ask them.) Hope that helps! Wanda.
On one side of my large Victorian home, there is a narrow strip of lawn that ends in a portion of the house that creates an L shape. The former owner merely had bushes against the house, but, since it was so close to a small road, I wanted to prevent strangers from coming up close to the windows. I transplanted all the bushes and placed them along the sidewalk for the entire length of the house. Behind the bushes, I laid a stone path (which happens to be set up on a slight rise compared to the sidewalk and street). At the L shape, I placed a large rock that had split in half. Separated, it resembled giant feet. I placed the mysterious ‘feet’ at the entrance to the far end. At the front end near the front of the house, I placed a dark red home-made gate of lattice, framed in with wood and the posts have round toppers. Recently, I added a round, glass-topped patio table with two stone benches. My next step is to make the narrow stone walk have a curve in the path, giving it more ‘oomph’. I’m thinking about painting a sign for the front gate that merely says, “Shhhhh…” to invoke the idea that it is a ‘secret’ garden.
Your garden sounds beautiful, Susan! I love your sign idea 🙂
Thanks, Wanda, for your prompt response re: a circular Moon Gate. It has been So Hot here in AZ that my climbing
bougainvilleas have all died, so guess everything is still on hold. I did, however, find some beautiful white wicker rocking chairs for the area outside of the MB: navy & white pillows, as one can see my navy blue bedspread from the French doors facing the patio. You are Wonderful, and it’s Great that you’ve given so many terrific advice–all beautiful. Thanks.
It’s great that you talked about how to design a garden for our backyard. Recently, my wife mentioned she needs to help her mom for a few weeks, so she’ll be staying at her house. I want to prepare a surprise for my wife while she’s gone, so I’ll be sure to look into it. Thanks for the tips on how to create a secret garden and how to accessorize it.
Love your ideas. Thank you.
Thanks, Sandra! I’m happy you found it helpful 🙂
This post was so beautiful, Wanda. I was really unaware of many of these ideas. It’s like you just understand plants more than anyone could. I am definitely going to try these ideas. I loved the way you explained everything so beautifully. Staying tuned for more tips and tricks. Thank you so much for this! <3
Thanks, Michelle! I’m happy you liked it 🙂