Secret Garden Ideas: How To Create A Magical Backyard Hidden Garden

Last Updated: April 13, 2024

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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 .

how to create a secret garden room in your backyard

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.

Charleston secret garden with a gas lantern and wrought iron gate

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

Wrought iron gate and columns in Charleston, SC

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).

Wrought iron arbor over a side yard pathway leading into a backyard secret garden

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

Round wrought iron window in a secret garden door looking into a private garden ©Heather Wissman -
©Heather Wissman –

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.*

Lattice fence creates privacy around a backyard deck

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).

Outdoor chairs and an umbrella on a backyard deck with lush plants in the background

Plants can also create a great privacy screen.

Outdoor room created by colorful curtain panels ©#moreideas |
©#moreideas –

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.

Find more backyard privacy ideas.

3. Install Curved Paths

Gated alley entrance to secret garden with curved pathway. Charleston, South Carolina. ©Noel -
©Noel –

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!

Curved path with an arbor leading off of a flagstone patio in a backyard secret garden

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

Private garden with brunch table ©#moreideas -
©#moreideas –

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. Find out how to make DIY outdoor curtains.

Relaxing seating on a secluded deck

A relaxing seating area on a deck surrounded by plants.

A wrought iron bench surrounded by greenery

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

Two wrought iron chairs and a table under trees in a secret garden

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

Wall covered in ivy with plants in front surrounding a small hidden patio

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

Secret garden decorations including an outdoor mirror, console table, statue and wall sconces

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.

Outdoor mirror on a console table with candle lanterns and ferns on a backyard deck

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.

Large blue urn on a pedestal surrounded by trees and plants

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

An arbor leading into a secret garden lit up at night

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.

Landscape lighting in a backyard secret garden at night

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

large water fountain in the middle of a Charleston garden

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.

Wall fountain on a side yard fence with plants growing around it

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

Wrought iron gateway to Charleston secret garden ©balashark -
©balashark –

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.

Outdoor brunch table under star shaped chandeliers in a gazebo ©#moreideas -
©#moreideas –

In our own yards, we probably have to put a little more work into creating a romantic environment.

Outdoor table setting on a hidden flagstone patio surrounded by bushes

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

Have comments or questions about our secret garden ideas? Tell us in the section below.

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Secret garden ideas

This post was originally published on August 15, 2018 but was updated with new content on April 13, 2024.

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  1. Florida One says:

    While I really like the iron gateway you did on your own garden-when one looks at it-we see an arch in the distance, looks like a shed in the background and looks like an iron trellis near the shed. TOO much. I would either relocate your very lovely iron gateway elsewhere or do the harder thing and eliminate all the above. The view fights with the above elements. I have seen the iron gateway in person at a store-and it is indeed stunning lovely! But not with all the view-distractions.

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi…I am a maximalist, in both gardening and decorating, which means I like having many elements in view at one time. I am very happy with the my garden design and have no plans to change it. It sounds like you are more of a minimalist, so my design style is not your taste (which is fine). That is a personal choice and everyone is entitled to do it their way in their space 🙂

      1. I’m a maximalist as well. All sorts of weird and silly and creative odds and ends can get tucked in between tall perennials and amongst your trees and a long pathways that you create in your yard to make different spaces. And when your eye is tired of looking at it, either transform it into something else by being creative, or just move it to a different location and use it for a different purpose aka old bike Wheels from my children’s grown up bikes that I ripped the rubber off of and spray painted the metal rims and spokes and put them together with several zip ties and spray painted them different colors and attach them to a huge metal shepherd’s hook and I grow old fashioned heirloom morning glories up and through them all. I have an old lampshade frame ( no fabric) hanging on that shepherd’s hook with little dangly crystals from an old chandelier

    2. Wow! How rude. I personally think her design is perfect. Find another page.

  2. Always remember fences (and privacy) make good neighbors. Wish I had spent the plant money on a fence.

  3. KIM E P MASSEY says:

    Totally awesome.

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      I’m glad you liked it, Kim!

  4. EllaBella says:

    Great ideas and nice list capturing the elements that make Charleston and Savannah and so many other areas like this so quaint and romantic! Many of these ideas can be done in small yards/condos like mine too. Don’t forget window boxes!

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Thanks, EllaBella! We actually have another post on Charleston-inspired window boxes, but I should probably add a link here. Because you’re right, they’re a big part of the Charleston charm.

  5. Love these ideas! I have a tiny backyard/ garden in SW Florida, and this is just the kind of info I was looking for. I will be renovating my space in December, after hurricane season is over and will be using your tips as a guide. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Kathy Filgo says:

    Hi there –
    You have a photo of a lovely metal arbor with a gate on this site on Pinterest, and I cannot find any information anywhere on your site about it: dimensions; material; where to purchase; etc. – it’s only a photo on this article
    Is this somewhere that I can find this?
    Your photos and info are terrific and spark tons of ideas. Thank you so much!
    [email protected]

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Kathy…Most of the arbors in the article are from Charleston, so I don’t have any information on where those came from (they are probably custom made). There are a couple that are in my yard, so in case those are the ones you are interested in: They are both metal. The first is more decorative, about 8’10” tall, 5’7″ wide and 15″ dee. You can find it HERE. The second has a round top, is 7’6″ tall, 4’2″ wide and 18″ deep. You can find it HERE. Hopefully that helps!

  7. M. Wegner says:

    ….. just W-O-W !!!!!!!!!!!!
    ( ‘know what I hope to be doing
    over the next 2 years!! )

  8. TM Erickson says:

    You have a knack for staging a scene. The original mirror and console table appear to be wrought iron which is weather tolerant. Yours appear to be some other materials. Are they meant to be disposable after the weather damages them? Did you get two seasons use from them? Just curious. Hope you’re not suggesting spending money and resources for the sake of a postable photo.

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi…Both the mirror and console table I used are intended for outdoor use. The console table is resin and the mirror is wrought iron (it’s actually the exact same one from the Charleston picture). They have both been outside for 5 years and still going strong.

  9. Bonnie Doane says:

    Hi Wanda, Thank you for all of this detailed information. Just what I was looking for. I have a narrow area along one side of the garage, and I plan to have a fence added in the same area. I like the idea of creating a space where there is a surprise around every bend. Your detailed information will be very helpful.

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Thanks, Bonnie! I’m glad you found it helpful 🙂

  10. Roy Leonardo Neve says:

    Some great ideas. I’m in Central Texas, temperatures been in the three digits for the past many weeks so keeping the plants alive is a chore. I have a small area which I am currently searching for durable bushes to cover up the perimeter fences from neighbor’s. In the end hopefully I’ll have it complete in the next few weeks to finally completed after winter. Once again thanks

  11. Hi Wanda. Where did you find that lovely mirror. That is just what I’ve been looking for.

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Hi Sharon…I bought it from or (I can’t remember which). I couldn’t find it on either of their websites right now, but it might come back in the spring.

      1. Thanks, Wanda I’ll be watching for it in the spring

  12. Each idea is lovely, and I have created similar concepts throughout my back yard, random pathways to seating, or the rock waterfall multi level pond, my husband designed and created and built. I’m just a flower chick, so I put in all sorts of creeping flocks and creeping Jenny and Alyssa and miniature zinnias along with variations of sedums and dianthus all over the place around the pond. It looks like it’s been here forever, we just completed it October 31st of last year. My husband also designed and built me a she shed based off our desire to use 5 ( of the 8 we purchased mismatched sizes) multi paned leaded glass windows. They had been in a house in Dallas that was built in 1896 and had recently been torn down. And they were just too beautiful to not take them home with us. Two large ones are hanging as wall decoration and a guest bedroom that I painted Hunter green and all of the furniture is antique natural wood except for the bed that is black oak from a tree that fell on his father’s property in Illinois and my husband handcrafted and made a beautiful bed out of that tree that he hauled from Illinois to Texas.
    Creating your yard to make little vignettes or privacy pretty spaces can literally cost you only elbow grease.
    Many towns have plants swaps locally with other gardeners that have too much of certain types of flowers and perennials and thrift stores are the best finds for random mismatched fun chairs and a table or two, (except if you want to go out the night before trash pickup and see what your neighborhood and the streets nearby have put out by their trash cans that they’re just getting rid of and you can transform junk into something funky.
    I found one of those 1970s horses that were suspended by springs on a metal frame that you would bounce up and down on when we were toddlers and it was pouring rain and my husband did not want to stop and get it and I told him if he didn’t back the truck up I would walk over and get it myself. We took it completely off of the stand and springs I painted it metallic blue and it is hidden amongst my tall garden flowers as are many other fun things you will happen along here in my yard. Never disregard what you can repurpose if you have the vision to do so. Many of my visions end up with swearing and me throwing them and jumping up and down and anger then I come back down and look at it again later and figure out what the heck I was doing wrong or change it up again into a whole new idea

    1. Wanda Simone says:

      Thanks for all the tips and ideas, Sarah. Your yard sounds beautiful! I love all the funky accessories 🙂

  13. Toni Vaughn says:

    Thank you for the wonderful ideas😊

  14. Dodi Panton says:

    Thank you for sharing. Your cottage garden is beautiful I rent and have a small yard, I’m gonna try to copy your garden but in a smaller scheme. My landlord is on board for whatever I do. Thanks again. Keep them coming.

  15. Hello, is it possible to get the seller of that beautiful outdoor umbrella? It is the one that is cream colored with scrolls of umber/brownish and white fringe.
    Is such an umbrella for sale today?

    1. Hi Meg…Sorry for the late response. I bought that outdoor umbrella from Pier 1 before they went out of business. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen them anywhere else since.

  16. Thank you so much for posting this article it was helpful, inspirational and motivational!!! You’ve given me the nudge I needed to start (and finish) my wee backyard into a secret garden sanctuary.. I look forward to your future posts!!