Saturday, April 9, 2016

Creating a Sense of Mystery in a Garden

Anyone who has been in a longterm relationship will tell you that holding on to a little mystery helps keeps the romance alive. Where there is mystery, there is curiosity and excitement.

Mystery has its place in a garden too. When an outdoor space is revealed in a single glance you remove the element of surprise and the delight that inevitably follows. A degree of mystery draws visitors to explore a garden with the hidden promise of what lies ahead. 

Fostering a sense of discovery may seem like an easily accomplished task when you have acres of land, with the tower of an Elizabethan castle at its core, like the world famous garden at Sissinghurst. But if you are an average gardener with a bungalow and a modest plot of land, what then? 

I do think it is possible to invite mystery into your garden no matter what size or circumstance. All you really need is a little creativity. 

The garden I am about to show you borders an average sized bungalow. The yard is generous, but not huge. 

A pathway of clipped green lawn leads you toward the backyard.  The planting on either side of the path incorporates ornamental grasses and tall perennials which impede a clear view of what will come next.

Behind the birdbath is Cup Flower, Silphium Perfoliatum. The leaves of this native plant form a "cup" around a central stem giving the plant its common name. To the delight of birds and insects, rainwater collects in this shallow leaf basin. In the fall, Goldfinches love to devour the seeds. Cup Plant likes full sun and moist soil best. Height: 120-240 cm ( up to 8'), Spread: 60-90 cm. USDA Zones: 4-8. 

The path opens into the backyard but instead of one big open space, there are doorways that lead to two separate areas of the garden. 

The plantings on either side of the doorways are just high enough to make you wonder about what must be on the other side.

It is rather amazing to think that all you need to suggest a garden "room" is a simple doorway.

The construction of this type of simple doorway would be a fairly easy DIY project.  A couple of metal fence post spikes would be enough to hold the structure in place. The uprights are just painted 4x4's. The cross beams could be made using 2x4's or 2x6's.

Now this country-rustic style might not be your cup of tea, so here are a few other ideas that might help.

A sense of mystery is heightened when a view is partially obstructed. For example, block a clear view of the garden with tall plants, a clump of ornamental grasses or a large shrub. 

In my garden, the view to the back of the yard is partially obstructed with a trellised fence. An arbor at the centre of the fence gives you a glimpse that there is something further that remains to be discovered.

Don't be afraid to break the rules. Design rules are great guiding principles, but they can also restrict creativity and make things predictable.  

Be playful! Make witty choices that will cultivate joy and laughter. 

Don't be predictable. Incorporate something personal or unexpected into your garden's design.  This could be an unusual plant, a unique feature or unusual object that comes as a complete surprise.

Spark the imagination. Add some mushrooms, a little fairy door, a toad house or anything else that feels magical.

Mason Bee House by Wildlife World available through

Encourage visitors to rediscover that childlike delight in nature. Add a pond that will attract wildlife. Make a butterfly puddle. Install an insect hotel or mason bee house. Place a birdbath in your garden or hang feeders to attract birds.

Hide a final destination. Send visitors down a curving or winding path that disappears into the distance hiding the final destination. Place a bench or a nice garden feature like a wall fountain that will be a pleasant discovery at the end of their journey. 

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  1. There are some very good ideas here, I would think little bits could be added to any garden to add a bit of mystery if it is not there already. Interesting post, thanks.

    1. You garden is already wonderful Pauline, but if you found a few new ideas, I am glad.

  2. Terrific shots showing wondering ideas...I am bookmarking as i redesign a few areas!

  3. I like how cleverly these separate areas have been created. Unless you were to wander through the dogrun, my garden has almost no mystery at all because of the center ellipse of grass. But I do wish I had a little hidden spot to escape to. My garden is a daisy - what you see is what you get. :o)

    1. There is nothing wrong with a daisy! Your garden is terrific Tammy!

  4. Lovely post! I have been trying to add more structure/rooms to my garden. We have lots of paths but it is pretty open under a canopy of trees. Adding trellises and waiting for plants to mature to block views.

  5. I know exactly what you mean here, Jennifer, and it really is such a great idea to plan gardens in this way. I will always find a place to put a little "pop" of color, maybe behind another plant, for example, so that it would not be seen unless you were really looking.

    I absolutely LOVE the photograph of the pond with the little frog. Just a really beautiful picture!

    Happy day to you!

  6. Such a beautiful garden! Love the iron work dotted here and there - especially the bench parts. Very creative!

  7. Hello Jennifer girl : )
    This is a smiley post for me ... I love that sense of mystery and playfulness in a garden .. I am trying to accentuate that in my garden eventually.
    The single post pergolas really have me smiling ... I want those too !
    But ? .. mason bee homes are much cheaper at Lee Valley ... about $25 .. I find Wayfair mush too expensive. So I am going to buy mine from Lee Valley and try to accommodate those on their own, lonely bees ? ... how about these record setting LOW temps we have had ... Spring ? where are you ?
    Joy : )

    1. Yes, more snow this morning! Spring is certainly missing in action. The mason bee house was indeed pricy, but I thought it was a nice example of one. Actually, I am thinking I should do a roundup of bee houses and insect hotels that compares and contrasts them.

  8. You always share such great ideas with us...and this is another one. I totally agree with you creating mystery and destination points can be very exciting and add so much interest. Thank you!

  9. Lovely post, and it has given me some very good ideas, thank you. The garden looks gorgeous..

  10. A sense of mystery is high on my list of wants for my garden. I love how the placement of birdbaths etc in your examples gives moments of discovery. They would seems an easy way to begin.

  11. Thanks for the welcome inspiration! Love the doorway - so simple but so effective!

  12. Gorgeous! And now to get out into the garden and create some mystery ourselves! I think Mother Nature is finally going to open the gate to spring this week!

  13. Gardens a place of beauty and enjoyment.
    All through the decades from my Gran ... down to my youngest Grand-daughter fairies have been the magical, mystery ingredient in our gardens. Every garden should have a fairy and a fairy door.
    The grandchildren even spotted a new fairy house for me recently LOL you can see it here:

    As always Jennifer a lovely post to read, look at and enjoy.

    All the best Jan

  14. I agree with you re maintaining a sense of mystery in a garden, and a relationship! Some wonderful examples here. xxx

  15. I love your garden - love the surprises and charm and what's coming up next around the bend. That's what I love! Wonderful!


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