The man behind The Secret Garden explains how a business with over 200 million views on social media started off as a lockdown project with the kids!
When the world closed in 2020, Derry Green’s Euro transport company went from being booked nine months ahead to ceasing trading overnight. “I was based one week in Spain then one week in the UK,” he says. “When all of a sudden our ex-pat customers couldn’t travel, I found myself without a business and at home with two young kids off school.”
Luckily, for his two children, then six and eight, their dad turned his attention to fun things to do in their four acre woodland. “The news was full of fear and it was a very unnerving time for everyone so I started trying to find things to keep the kids distracted and entertained. On the first day we decided to camp out in the garden. On the second day we decided that we should build a deck for the tent. Each day we developed or added something. The days turned into weeks, which turned into months, and before we knew it we had created a pod, sauna and a hot tub from things I had salvaged over the years.”
Derry documented his lockdown activities on Facebook to family and friends. “I think my first post had three likes but then I started getting a bit of a following and out of the blue, Unilad (owned by LADbible) got in touch about doing a story – ‘What a dad did on Lockdown’. This was then reposted on LADbible, which has 45 million Facebook followers, and everything went mad!
“Someone made reference to how our set-up looked a little like the Love Island villa and suddenly we had attention from the Daily Mail, The Star and The Sun, and within a few days we were getting messages about wanting to come and stay.”
Derry put his lockdown creation on Airbnb and within three days was sold out for two years! “When I saw that response I immediately thought what else could I do? The house is horrible – although we are getting there with it – but we had the four acre wood which I always knew I wanted to do something with. I had loved the property for the woodland and had always imagined just having it to play with the kids in but now there was real potential for us to do both.”
Derry worked with a planning consultant and in February 2021 got planning permission for a glampsite. Secret Garden Glamping now has seven structures, with a top secret treehouse project underway to be launched in January.
“We have applied for permission for five more pods and a new site nearby. West Lancashire District Council has been great. They were a little sceptical at first and assumed I’d want to flatten the wood for another pod-heavy site but when I explained how I wanted to keep and incorporate all the trees they really got on board with the idea.
“Having wanted about an acre of land and ending up with a total of five, it has been quite a job, to keep on top of the management. I now have a full time groundsman, Paul, and it’s wonderful to see new species of bats and birds emerging, and also deer.”
It’s natural to think that Derry is a joiner or builder but that’s not the case! “I have always been ‘handy’ but since lockdown – when you couldn’t get people in even if you wanted them – I really stepped up my learning. I’d watch YouTube and ask advice.
“I quickly found not to be put off by bigger projects – the principles are just the same as building something small (it usually starts with a frame of some description) and anything I didn’t know, someone else did and usually wanted to help! At the end of the day, we’re all only two steps removed, or something like that, and since the pandemic people seem more friendly and collaborative. So, I’ve managed to build pods, install septic tanks, manage the drainage and create solar powered systems. I love it!”
Love Island styling
The look of Secret Garden Glamping has become heavily based on ITV’s Love Island, and that has been a deliberate strategy of Derry’s. “We are basically trading off what other people have marketed us as,” he says. “The media was using terms like ‘Love Island style pod dad built,’ etc. and I realised quite quickly what people wanted.”
Lighting is a big part of the vibe and Derry reports that the most social media engagement has been generated from imagery showing the glampsite at night. “I actually think that guests get the best experience here when staying in the winter, when it gets dark at about 4pm. They get the whole experience then from the lit driveway, the illuminated trees and their unit with the lights and the neon. Whenever we launch a new accommodation, people get really excited on social media to see how it looks lit up.”
The site’s theatrical styling is in some part down to Derry’s years working for his dad. “He popularised Christmas grottos in the 50s and used to create animatronics for films. He even designed the Stars in Your Eyes sets. When my brother and I were tiny I remember wandering around huge prop warehouses and when I was older I’d be painting igloos the size of a house in mid-summer ready for the Christmas season.”
When it comes to the build of the structures, Derry admits he rarely has a concrete plan. “Things really do evolve as we create them,” he says. “When we were working on the View and the Glade, we had intended on the bathrooms having standard walls. The night before installing them I watched Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Bruce Wayne lives in a glass house and I thought that it would be amazing to use glass walls for the facilities – then I could finally get a great photo! It’s really hard to photograph a bathroom as they are so small. The next day we ordered the glass…”
Most booked glampsite?
The growth of Secret Garden Glamping has been phenomenal. The site is fully booked on all seven units for the next 12-18 months with no mid-week availability until October/November 2023 and no weekends until 2024. “We are taking bookings for 2025, and someone has just booked New Year 2026!”
Having a secure cashflow has allowed Derry to invest in the business’s development. “Being able to forecast so far ahead means I have the confidence to do more. We have gone from a project for me and the kids to a massive business and it has been hard going from doing everything myself to having to bring in more people so I can concentrate on building and developing the business. We now have a site manager, Gemma, groundsman Paul, six cleaners and my mum, Christine. The onsite laundry is a micro business in itself with 12 machines, and I have just taken on my other half, Chelsea, to handle the enormous task of managing our social media.”
And a huge undertaking it is too – with over 300,000 social media followers, this is its own business too. “In the past two years we have had over 200 million views on our posts. Our TikTok views are so good that we have just had a major music producer reach out to ask if they can pay us to use their music in our videos. I find this incredible as when I started this my social media experience was a few family pics on Facebook and wishing people the occasional happy birthday! I don’t actually like social media personally as I think it can be addictive but understand how it is an important tool for business. Since we started I haven’t paid a penny for advertising – it’s all been leveraging exposure on social media.”
It’s like a game
It helps that Derry enjoys learning new things. “It’s like with the building – I enjoy figuring things out through trial and error. I love digging down and seeing why some things work and get traction with our audiences and why some things don’t. You can spend £10,000s with social media agencies but it boils down to a few key points – that said it certainly became easier when we got over the 10,000 followers mark.”
It’s important, says Derry, to think about how to impress Facebook/Instagram/TikTok themselves. “If you create content that impresses the social media provider then they are going to show it to more people. To start with my content was all over the place – a bird here, a pod there. Then I started to ask why certain posts did better than others and created content around that information. Things lit up at night are certainly popular.
“It’s become like a game to me. Like with the glass wall bathroom – people immediately were commenting and sharing regarding the privacy! I deliberately hadn’t said there are blinds to pull down because I knew it would be a talking point.
“Once we hit on what audiences liked we got the benefit of other media channels getting in touch – everyone wants great content. Thankfully Chelsea is just as interested in the whole process as I am and she has taken it all on so I don’t have to be working 6am-6pm building things then until 1am doing social media!
“There are many other far better glampsites out there, built with exquisite craftmanship and/or in amazing locations but that aren’t getting the bookings, and there are others where the owners are incredible marketeers but they clearly haven’t ever stayed a night in their units. It’s hard to put the whole thing together.
“My kids and I sleep in any pod we are working on for weeks (once they are watertight) and tweak things as and when our experience in them dictates the need. It is all about the experience for us. There’s not a lot for people to come to this area of the country for so we have to make the on-site experience the best it can be to captivate them.”
Derry’s latest project is a treehouse build which is already sold out for over a year despite only being marketed from a logo! “People have no idea what it is they have booked – there is so much intrigue and excitement at not knowing. We have done this with other units and when we finally do the big reveal things go ballistic with people sharing ‘look what I’ve booked!’”
“I shouldn’t be allowed to do this,” says Derry. “I am outside all day in the countryside building dens in the wood, and I absolutely love every minute. I am not away for a week at a time like I was before when I was in transport and my kids notice that and we have the best fun. It has all been about timing and I have been so fortunate. Recent events have created the perfect storm – what we have done would not have been possible just five years ago, even three years ago.”
And it isn’t about the money either. “I ‘d do this even if it wasn’t the financial success it has been,” says Derry. “I spend hours on the phone to other sites asking how to replicate what we are doing here and I try and be as helpful and as encouraging as I can. Without being too boastful, we are a country mile ahead of the game so there isn’t much anyone can do that will directly affect us – it can only make the industry as a whole stronger.
“I’d love to see Secret Garden Glamping type sites servicing different areas of the country and keeping more business in our economy, maximising on the staycation boom rather than seeing that money spent elsewhere!”
Secret Garden Glamping
Lancashire, WN8 9PZ