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Create a Secret Garden as a Therapeutic Outdoor Space

Have you been lucky enough to visit a secret garden? As you walk along a pathway, through an ornate gate, or under a rose-covered arbor, you arrive at a welcoming spot, perhaps with a water feature or a bench, to sit and enjoy a small space that is usually beyond view. It draws you in. As you turn a corner or open a door you are met with the answer to the mystery. A garden space that seems to be created just for you. A secret garden.

Touring Secret Gardens and Healing Spaces for Inspirational IdeasCanuck Place

I became interested in the idea of secret gardens after touring the Canuck Place Children’s Hospice gardens and seeing the secluded and unique places that have been designed around the grounds for families and children. Canuck Place is a truly moving place, filled with beauty and love for the most unimaginably difficult times a family could ever go through. The gardeners work hard to create a secret garden—or a collection of them throughout the larger garden—as a place of joy and tranquility.Canuck Place Childrens Hospice

What struck me on my tour of the gardens were the small spaces; the hidden benches and covered arbors that invited you in, like a friendly hug. The volunteers work many hours to create such spaces throughout the garden so they can touch the lives of those who need it.

Secret Gardens are EverywhereGarden Bridge

After my tour of Canuck Place, I began to notice the secret gardens that were tucked in residential houses on garden tours, public spaces, and within botanical or public gardens.Secret Garden

From doors that open to an outdoor living space to quirky benches built into a hidden corner, a secret garden is unexpected, inviting, and quaint.Entry to create a secret garden spaceWalkway garden by studio

Each one that I have seen is completely unique, yet the common thread to all of them is that they are fiercely personal.Arbor Seating with Mirror

Modern concrete surrounded by wild-looking grasses are in great contrast to a front yard running riverbed.

Creating a Secret Garden in a Small Space

Pathway to a Secret Garden Wooden Bench

My First Secret Garden

When I was in my first home and recovering from a debilitating illness, I created a space that I could use to sit out and enjoy the garden during those periods where I barely had the strength to sit upright. The backyard garden was my therapy space, where I would garden to strengthen my body and my mind. Some days I could only work for a few minutes, but just being out in the garden was healing.Zen Garden with Hammock Chair

I found a hammock chair and hung it up under the small deck. There was just enough room to tuck the chair in and it was a perfectly cool and shady spot to watch the pollinators buzz and the flowers blow in the wind. The ground below was covered in river stones and engraved rocks with words like “love” and “smile” set randomly throughout. It may not have been the most elaborate space, but I spent many hours healing in that space and I’m so very grateful for it.Hammock Chair Looking Towards Garden

Time, Again, to Create a Secret Garden

In my new home, I have my hammock chair installed under an arbor in a prominent spot in the backyard. I spend many summer days cuddling with my son, and many more of them spinning him and his friends around in it. The hammock in this new house has taken on a brand new life.Garden Therapy Back Yard Play Garden Tour Apple espalier and hammock chair

I missed that secret place under the deck, a quiet but lively space, where the garden can be watched and enjoyed, which inspired me to once again create a secret garden, this time in the front-yard shade garden. The garden centers around a spillway fountain and river rock bed under a large pacific dogwood and backed by a Lace-leaf weeping Japanese maple. Even though I have been studying these spaces often, I’m still surprised by how much pleasure it provides. It’s secret but not isolated—the garden welcomes family and friends to sit, talk, read, or just watch the wildlife.

Japanese Painted Fern and Hart's-Tongue Fern

What Lies Beneath

The front yard is my favorite garden on the property. It has fabulous structure and some beautiful mature plants. When we purchased the house, the garden structure, as well as some lovely trees and shrubs, were in place. But the plants were sick.

There was a home renovation three years before we purchased the house and the contractors buried much of the debris in the garden beds. Seriously, this happens all. the. time. Contractors who don’t want to fork out the funds to dispose of broken concrete, rocks, and construction waste will bury it in the garden beds before landscaping. Clearly, this is horrible for gardens. Since building healthy soil builds healthy plants,  I adopted this garden with dead soil and overgrown, diseased, pest-ridden plants.

Stacked rocks as garden art

Gardening from the Soil Up

Over the years that I have been gardening here, I have been gardening from the soil up. I have dug out the plants and replaced or amended the soil (and properly disposed of the construction waste). I have made my own compost and green amendments. I have mulched with leaves in the winter. I have pruned the 4Ds. I have divided perennials. I have attracted beneficial insects. And I have used organic disease and pest control. With all of these practices the garden is recovering and beginning to thrive.

It All Comes Together

There is still much work to be done in rehabilitating the gardens and soil, but little by little, the plants begin to look healthier, the disease is less rampant, and the pests get gobbled up by the beneficial insects and birds that we welcome to the space.

Walk along the sidewalk in front of my house and you will enjoy the blooming hydrangea, draping Japanese maple, and colorful shade garden plants like ferns, Hellebores, and Heucheras. Only a few people will notice the trickling sound and curiously peek around the corner. The secret garden isn’t much of a secret, it just feels like one. It is only a few feet from the public sidewalk and passersby can hear the fountain bubbling as they approach the front steps. Friends and neighbors (and the occasional off-leash, water-loving canine) will be drawn down the stairs by the sound, see the fountain, and be welcomed onto the bench to sit and enjoy the space. Very much like a friendly hug.

The three basalt towers were provided to me by Aquascape and I have shared the DIY instructions for how to install the spillway fountain along with the before and after photos of the space in this post.

Take a virtual walk through my other garden tours here:




  1. Wow! I was able to visit a secret garden before too and I was like in a paradise because of the amazing landscape and beautiful plants. Seeing a garden like this made me very happy and it also inspires me. Thanks for sharing this Stephanie. Cool!

  2. I’ve loved reading about secret gardens. I have a corner in my garden which has been ‘waiting’ to be developed, one of your photo’s has given me the inspiration to get IT done!


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