Introduction: Secret Garden

About: I've always had a tendency to make things rather than buy. When your design aesthetic never seems to work with your budget you end up developing pretty good maker skills. I hope my little projects can inspire …

This one is for the girls and boys out there that want something more inspiring than a Playhouse. A perfect place to dream and wonder and let your imagination go wild. Who wouldn't want their very own Secret Garden?? A little private oasis made specifically with all of your favorite things. Sounds like a slice of heaven to me. Which is exactly why I turned it into a reality for my little girl. :)

My daughters birthday was coming and we wanted to get her something memorable that you couldn't buy in a store. At first we thought of building a playhouse but the prospect of a house in my small backyard was not that enticing. And playing house is fun and all but a secret fort is much better in my book. In fact I'm pretty sure my childhood jealousy of my Brother's fort combined with my love of The Secret Garden movie led to making this for my daughter. :)

Of all the crazy projects I've made, this one is closest to my heart. We made the whole thing in top secret without her realizing what was going on. We told her we were making a storage space for gardening tools and she never thought twice. On her birthday we gave her the DVD of the movie and a key to unlock the door. She was completely confused only to be surprised with probably the coolest gift ever. All the kiddos at the party were freaking out. Now she has a private spot to go hide from her brother and read a book, play games or do her homework on a sunny day.

Step 1: Making the Perimeter

The first thing we did was create the perimeter. We have chain link fence which isn't pretty to look at so we attached green lattice to those sides. For the rest of the perimeter we planted arborvitaes and installed a gate. Tall enough to feel private for her but small enough that we could easily see in if we wanted. We made steps using the same blocks that we used for the retaining wall so it worked seamlessly with our yard. You would never know that behind it is a lush garden. :)

The next part is planning out the different elements that you want. For my daughter I knew that I wanted a sitting area, a fairy garden, a fountain, a picnic area, and a game to play. I've broken down these major elements into steps for those that want to recreate them. There are so many different things you could do. If you had more room you could do trees, a swing, koi ponds, hammocks, larger lawn games. So many fun ideas.

Step 2: Making the Checkerboard

One of my favorite elements is the built in checkerboard(or chess board ). It is pretty to look at with an Alice in Wonderland feel and as a bonus it functions as entertainment.

For this project you will need -

  • 1 roll of sod
  • 32 6" square overs
  • 24 rocks
  • Red, Black, Yellow, and white paint
  • Extra rolls of sod for surrounding grass

To start you cut the sod into 6" wide strips using a serrated kitchen knife. If you use a 2x4 you can keep your line nice an straight. Use your paver as a guide. Put the paver on top of the strip and cut out 32 squares of grass.

To install you will want to put these on top of the dirt in a square with rows 8, alternating paver and grass. Once you have it laid nice and evenly you will add scoops of topsoil under each grass square. Add enough so they are level with the pavers. Add more sod around the borders of the checkerboard. When you are finished water the sod really well. Be sure to keep the sod moist for the first week. Especially on hot days.

Step 3: Lady Bugs and Bumble Bees

This being a garden and all I opted to do lady bugs and bumble bees for the checkerboard pieces. This is a really fun project to do with the kiddos. You can use them for checkers, tic tac toe, or as garden decor.

You will need-

  • 24 oval-ish rocks
  • Red paint
  • Black paint
  • Yellow paint
  • White paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • 3-6 Qtips

The first step is to wash your rocks really well and let them dry.

Lady bugs-

Start by painting the rock red leaving a small portion at the top for the head.
Then paint the top part black for the head.
Using your Qtip make black spots all over the red area.
Then use another Qtip and make two white dots for the eyes.
Using a tiny paint brush or a toothpick make two small black dots in the center of the white dots
Let dry and your done.

Bumble bees-

Start by painting the the rocks yellow but leave a portion at the top for the head.
Then paint the head black.
Then paint black stripes over the yellow area.
Now using Qtip make two white dots on the head.
Then using a tiny paint brush or a toothpick make two small black dots in the center of the white dots
Let dry and your done.

If you want you can paint a crown on the bottom of the rocks. When you get "kinged" you can simple flip the rock over.

Step 4: DIY Fountain

I wanted a small fountain but they are pretty expensive and I couldn't find one I liked. Instead of buying one I ended making it with a simple garden pot.

You will need-

  • Pump kit
  • Pot of your choice
  • Jb weld - water weld
  • Drill bit that is as wide as the plug.

First you will drill a hole center bottom of the pot. This is where the pump plug will go through so it is hidden. Stick the pump plug through the hole and seal it using jb weld. Caulk or quick cement could be used as well. You can probably take extra precautions to waterproof it but the jb weld has worked great for me.

Put the rest of the pump together and fill with water. Make sure the water never goes below the pump. Plug it in and enjoy.

Step 5: Fairy Garden and Flowers

You've probably seen fairy gardens all over the place. Now the figurines are available every where. Mini houses, chairs, benches, swings, pots, fairies. Everything you can think of and they have it. Joann fabrics has a large selection and they are always on sale.

We started with a large pot and added dirt to the top. I used chicks and hens on the sides with moss in between. Planted a small pine tree start I found and added some pebbles for a water effect. This garden is outside and has thrived well on its own. It has changed over time and still looks really cool. My daughter rearranges it every time she's in the garden.

For the rest of the plants in the garden I chose my daughters favorites. She would want a rainbow of colors and a lot of roses. I tried to put them in places with less contact or to remove the thorns that are too close. I used Clematis and vine crawling plants along the lattice. Petunias, delphiniums, and hydrangeas for summer color. Lavender at the entry to fill up the place with a nice fragrance. I like to be able to switch up the flowers so I keep the long area for annuals and bulbs.

This part is totally subjective and always depends on your zone and the sun/shade in your chosen area.

Step 6: Lighting

You might be surprised to know the The Secret Garden is even better at night. It is so fun for the kids to have a safe place to hang out after dark. Makes summer sleepovers even more better.

I bought outdoor globe lights at the end of the season so they were really cheap. They have clips on them that I attached to the lattice. I made sure the plug end was at the same area as the Fountain plug. Then I used an outdoor extension cord with multiple sockets. I buried the cord so you don't even know it's there and it is easy to turn on and off.

We also have solar lights. This is another way to light it up. My toddler likes to pull them out and use as a sword so we hid them from him. For my daughters sake haha.

I did paint rocks with glow in the dark paint and scattered them throughout the garden but they didn't work well. However I'm sure it would work if you used a better quality glow in the dark paint.

Step 7: Kids Bench With Secret Compartment

I wanted a nice bench that would fit a couple of kids. And I'm pretty sure it's a requirement to have a secret compartment in your secret garden so we added that element to the bench. Not only can you put top secret things in it but you can also store the lady bugs and bee checker pieces.

My husband and I made this bench. We are not woodworkers by any means but carpentry does have a lot of similarities to sewing. We basically made it up as we went and using material we had around the house along some we bought new. I will try my best to describe how we made it for those that may want to recreate it. Hopefully it makes sense to you.

To make this bench you will need-

  • (7) 4" wide Cedar fence boards
  • (2) 2x4
  • (1) 1x3
  • (1) 2x2 (it's what we had laying around)
  • (1) box of 1 1/4" wood screws
  • (1) box of 1 1/2" 4d nails
  • (4) corner brackets
  • (2) strap hinges
  • (8) simpson strong tie straps

First you will make the frame of the bench. We designed the frame around the storage compartment. Using the 2x4's the two back legs are 26" and the two front legs are 20". The front legs will be taller then the seat to make an armrest. The frame width piece are 12", and the length pieces are 25.5" . Use the simpson strong ties and corner brackets to secure the frame together.

For the base of the storage area you will need (7) 12" fence board pieces. and (2) 25.5" 2x2's. Attach the 2x2s under the frame, these will be what you screw the 12" pieces too.

For the top of the seat you will need (7) fence boards cut at 13" , and (2) 1x3's cut at 25.5" Secure all of the fence boards onto the 1x3's. Then screw on the hinges and attach it to the chair.

For the back of the chair you will need (9) fence boards cut at 15.5", (2) 25.5" 1x3 pieces. You make the back similar to how you made the bottom. Screw the pieces together like pictured.

Before you attach the back of the chair you will nail in the arm rests. For the arm rests you will need (2) 14" fence board pieces. Nail in the edge of the arm rest onto each end panel 3.25" above the bottom.

To attach the the back you will need to allow at least a 1" gap above the bottom so the bench will open properly. Nail the two end pieces in and secure the back with the strong ties.

No you will nail the arm rest edges onto the 2x4 front legs. Sand and stain to your liking. I haven't decided on a stain color and still have some sanding to do, but you get the gist. Hopefully the pictures will help as well.

Step 8: Yard Overhaul

When we started the secret garden project we were in the middle of giving our backyard a total overhaul. These are the before and after pictures. It used to be filled with a large hill. My husband removed part of the hill and put in a retaining wall. He leveled out the new yard space and we planted grass seed. Behind that retaining wall was a 10-13 foot slope that I've slowly been landscaping. This is where we utilized a section for her secret garden.

Step 9: Enjoy Your Oasis :)

I hope this instructable inspires all of the Dads and Moms out there looking for a unique present. You could also make it for an adult and itstill translates as the best gift ever. The fun part is that now the idea has been planted (<--garden pun) there are a million different ways to implement it. Go wild, be crazy, make your inner childhood dreams come true!

Someday I plan on having a huge one for myself. No children allowed Muahaha. But I won't be sharing that here because then it wouldn't be a secret anymore ;)

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