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From the quintessentially English garden which inspired the novel The Secret Garden to a disused underground bank vault in Tokyo, we explore some of the most wondrous ‘secret’ gardens worldwide.
Originally published in 1911, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel The Secret Garden remains a classic of children’s literature. The novel was inspired by the garden at Great Maytham Hall in Kent, England, where Burnett lived for a number of years. There she developed a love for gardening: ‘As long as one has a garden, one has a future, and if one has a future, one is alive.’ The concealed, fictional garden in the novel symbolises the healing quality of nature. It serves as a magical retreat for both the fictional children and for the audience who enter into it via their imagination.
A green oasis, strewn with bluebells, herbs, shrubs, roses, and trees, the garden is walled in by solid, stone parameters. It can only be entered via a door set into the tall borders of this fortress. The garden is only unlocked for the public’s perusal a few times a year, making the enclosure all the more mysterious and enticing.
The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is one of the most famous and frequented gardens in the world and ‘the most beautiful garden in Africa’. However, its history, intertwined as it is with the turmoil of South Africa’s colonial past, makes it a worthy contender for being regarded as ‘secret’. In 1660, Jan van Riebeeck ordered that a hedge of wild almonds and brambles be planted to separate the Dutch colony from the native peoples. The hedge was meant to prohibit them from entering the garden and benefiting from its vast riches. Little of the hedge remains today, but one of the sections that does is now a Provincial Heritage Site situated within the gardens. The sections were eventually bequeathed to the nation when the last jailer, the famous and controversial Cecil Rhodes, died in 1902. Finally, the ‘hidden’ garden was unveiled to the public.
The New York City High Line park was created atop a 1.45 mile section of elevated, disused railway, hidden from the intense urbanity. Netherlands-based landscape designer Piet Oudolf spearheaded the project. He envisioned an area of sustainable, tranquil nature, made possible by separation from the pollution-infested metropolis. Oudolf based his work upon the plants already growing naturally amid the abandoned train tracks. This was because he realised that native and drought-tolerant plants would incur less maintenance. On June 9, 2009, the first section of this elevated garden opened to the public; the last part opened on September 21, 2014. Beautiful, green serenity hanging above the madness of Manhattan allows for a respite from the city. London wishes to implement this idea and is currently building a ‘breathtaking new public garden that will stretch across the River Thames’.
A farm, named Pasona O2, has found a way to sustain its business in central Tokyo. The very essence of this project is demonstrated by the nature of the abandoned building it occupies: an underground, disused bank vault converted from a space purposefully built to hold wealth and riches into a working farm. The farm produces sustenance within a city of low-rate food self-sufficiency. Simultaneously, it educates and employs untrained youth in the agricultural industry. Hidden beneath the vast roads, mammoth skyscrapers, and colossal transportation links lies a pure and peaceful Zen greenery.
Situated in Dumfries, Scotland, the Garden Of Cosmic Speculation‘s true beauty and understanding hides beneath scientific patterns and puzzles. This unconventional garden, inspired by cosmology, was designed by landscape architect and theorist Charles Jencks. He wanted to explore the laws of nature in his work. The space includes the DNA Garden Of Senses, filled with helix sculptures. It also contains the Universe Cascade, which is a complex design featuring water running through numerous structures and the Six Senses greenhouse. Endless hidden messages in all the gardens aim to stimulate the visitors’ contemplation and intellect.
Furthermore, this private spectacle only opens to the public for a few hours per year, adding to its mystical aura. It opens with the sole purpose of raising money for the charity ‘Maggie’s Centres’, named after Jencks’s late wife, who died of cancer. Maggie had great creative input into this garden in the years prior to her death.
Italian architect Renzo Piano translated the 2.5 acre roof-space of the California Academy Of Sciences Museum into an exhibition in itself. From afar, the roof resembles the San Francisco hills, hiding this unusual garden from the unknowing eye. The ‘living roof’ aims to be a sustainable source of energy for the building. The foliage forms excellent insulation, which lessens the need to install heating or cooling systems for the numerous guests visiting the museum daily, four seasons per year. The garden captures excess storm water while transforming carbon dioxide into oxygen. Additionally, the roof forms an outdoor and interactive classroom for visiting school children. Within this unusual educational space, the students can examine the wildlife and plants. They can also check out aspects of the museum such as the weather stations recording data from the surrounding climate.
Meaning ‘the pools’, Las Pozas, created by English poet and surrealist art patron Edward James, is a garden containing natural waterfalls and pools, as well as Surrealist concrete sculptures. Some of the sculptures even include hidden rooms and staircases which lead nowhere. Created in a subtropical rainforest in the Mexican mountains — 2000 feet above sea level —, Las Pozas can be difficult to find. After James’ death in 1984, the once-cultivated plants, thriving wildlife, and architecturally pristine sculptures were overrun by nature. Today, with renewed attention, the plants have been sufficiently tamed so that dedicated surrealist fans can continue their annual pilgrimage to Las Pozas, which is hidden beneath jungle foliage.
Many magical childhood fables actually stemmed from The Lost Gardens Of Heligan, situated in Cornwall, England. Having been neglected during World War I, it was only in 1992, approximately 400 years after the gardens’ inception, that dedicated workers diligently restored the gardens to their former glory. Once spanning one thousand acres, visitors can still explore 200 acres of these ‘lost gardens’. It is easy for people to not only become lost geographically but also become lost in their imaginations, inspired by the magical gardens. From the exotic jungle, which encompasses bamboo tunnels and a boardwalk suspended above banana plantations, to wildlife making its home within the natural beauty, these gardens have it all. The most famous element is the group of stone structures. This includes the Giant’s Head, the Mud Maid, and the Grey Lady. These sculptures, emerging from the woodland floor and shrouded by leaves, look as though they are waiting to be rediscovered by the numerous young explorers running about this artistic playground.
The discovery and study of The Ancient City Of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka has illuminated urban planning from the era of King Kasyapa’s reign, 477-495 CE, to archaeologists. Among the most important aspects of these ruins are the oldest landscaped gardens in the world. The gardens of the palace of King Kasyapa were divided into three: the water gardens, cave and boulder gardens, and terraced gardens. This discovery has allowed archaeologists to develop their knowledge about the history of landscape gardening. With the gardens’ former glory partially concealed from view in the present day, it is unlikely that anyone will ever fully understand, visualise, and recreate the way these gardens existed in the ancient world.
Compared to most botanical gardens around the globe, Norway’s Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden is much smaller, covering only two hectares of land and employing three permanent staff members. Situated in Tromsø, it is the most northern botanical garden in the world and hidden by a thick blanket of snow for the larger part of the year. Dominated by large rocks to mimic the Arctic mountains, one side of the Arctic-Alpine Garden houses plants which naturally grow in snowy climates. Meanwhile, the other contains plants from warmer places such as Africa and Chile. Flora ranges from Greek cushion flowers to the cold blue Tibetan poppy found in the Himalayas. Visit the garden from June through August to discover its extraordinary secrets, budding beneath the icy-cold snow.