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.
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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.
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.
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.
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 May 22, 2023.