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News: Secret Gardens: Private Gardens of Paradise


November 19, 2019

From The Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of American Gardens

The secret garden, also known by its Italian name, giardino segreto, has a long history that can be traced back to Roman peristyle houses which featured a garden located within a central courtyard. Secret gardens were also often found within traditional Islamic houses and were considered paradise gardens — an oasis where one could contemplate privately. 

Although secret gardens were originally cultivated as spaces intended purely for the enjoyment of nature, some evolved over time to become more utilitarian. On English country estates, enclosed gardens were often created to shield vegetable gardens that produced crops. The walls protected the plants and enabled sensitive fruit trees to bear fruit. They also served to keep precious, and sometimes exotic, crops hidden from prying eyes.

The typical configuration of a secret garden is comprised of square or rectangular boundary walls, an entrance and exit, and a fountain (or other water feature) located at the center of intersecting paths laid out on an axis. The walls surrounding the garden shelter the plant life within and serve as a boundary between the outside and inside spaces. When you venture inside a secret garden, you get the feeling of being transported to another place.

Top: The Friersons’ Hidden Retreat, New Orleans, LA. March 2012. Laura C. Williams, photographer.

Second: Davis-Yust Garden, Los Angeles, CA. October 2002. Judy M. Horton, photographer.

Images from The Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of American Gardens By Audrey Abrams, GCA Garden History & Design Intern, November 2013.


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