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Meet Secret Gardens Founder – Jane Mahoney

I thought I’d take this opportunity to introduce myself to those of you who haven’t met me, and to give you a bit of insight into how Secret Gardens came about. I’m Jane Mahoney, a mother (and grandmother), obsessive gardener and founder of Secret Gardens.

I live in Lyttelton harbour with my partner Jo, and our rescue-cat Pearl. Over the past eight years Jo and I  have been slowly but surely creating/restoring a largely native garden on our one acre, hillside property, overlooking the harbour.
I’m also lucky enough to be the current  custodian of The Millhouse – a cute little historic cottage, built in 1872, that has been in my family for the past 50 years. The garden there has a completely different vibe – very much ‘Victorian cottage style’, shabby roses, hollyhocks etc and an old established orchard.
Career-wise, my background is in TV commercial production, event management, advertising, communications and content creation. Outside Secret Gardens I also work as a Casting Director for films/tv series and commercials. 

I launched the Secret Gardens website in 2021, with a lot of invaluable help from my daughter Sophie. My vision was to create a platform that encouraged and enabled passionate ‘home gardeners’ to share their gardens, and their knowledge, with other curious gardeners

Our garden in Lyttelton harbour
A learning curve in native planting

From the start of my own gardening journey, I had always enjoyed and gained so much from visiting other people’s gardens. I would keep an eye out for local ‘Open Garden’ fund-raising events, and attend garden festivals. Invariably though, these were one off events, usually at the same time of year in October/November.

Of course there were also ’show gardens’ open to visit in spring and summer. I found these fun to visit too –  amazing,  but of a completely different scale, standard (and budget) to my own – and although the owner would sometimes ‘meet and greet’, you’d usually be left to your own devices during the visit.

Over time I came to appreciate that it was the visits to ‘regular home gardens’ that were often the most inspiring to me – time spent in a ‘real’ garden, with the gardener who created it, invariably coming away with a snippet of gardening advice, a new plant name or two under my belt, and/or (if I was lucky) a cutting wrapped in newspaper. I’d also learnt so much from visiting private and public gardens at different times of the year, tuning into the stages and changes across the seasons, appreciating the ‘off peak’ times just as much as the ‘full show’.

The Millhouse garden - Victorian cottage-style - shabby chic.

And so the idea for a garden-share platform started to come into focus. A platform that would connect curious gardeners with passionate, knowledgeable gardeners. Although social media has been invaluable in helping us establish and grow our community, I see Secret Gardens as, in so many ways, the antithesis of social media –  Secret Gardens is not about perfection, it’s all about creating real connections, exploring other people’s real gardens in-person, across the seasons, getting to see (and talk about) what’s worked and what hasn’t worked, successes and failures/lessons learnt.
Without a doubt, the highlights for me over the past three years have been a. meeting all the amazing and generous gardeners who have come on board as hosts and b. receiving all the incredible feedback from those of you who have visited a Secret Garden and who have come to appreciate and experience first-hand what it’s all about.

It feels like just the beginning for Secret Gardens – we’ve planted the seed and I can’t wait to see it blossom!

Secret Gardens Founder Jane Mahoney - Photo credit: Josephine Meachen

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