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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Secret Gardens: Private Gardens of Paradise

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. In the Islamic tradition these enclosed garden spaces were considered paradise gardens--an oasis where one could contemplate privately.

The Friersons’ Hidden Retreat, New Orleans, LA. March 2012.
Laura C.Williams, photographer 
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 even through the winter. The walls protected the plants and enabled even 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 from the elements. The walls also serve to create 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 entirely.

Audrey Abrams, 2013 Summer Intern
Archives of American Gardens

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