The Secret Garden story begins with a South African architect named Ian. On arriving in China in 2002 he didn't remain Ian for long, with his Chinese friends soon renaming him Fengzi - literally 'crazy'. Which is exactly what the local people of Jiuxian thought when he approached them in 2009 with a view to renting the remnants of a gorgeous Qing Dynasty courtyard house. At that time tourism had yet to be developed in the Yangshuo countryside, and Jiuxian itself was difficult to access on the small dirt roads.
Enlisting the help and friendship of the Jiuxian village leader to help navigate village politics, and after five months of negotiations with six separate landlords, Fengzi successfully rented the ruins of his dreams.
However, up-front payment of 20 years rent had left Fengzi without the funds necessary to restore the buildings. Enter Faye, Fengzi's ex-colleague in the travel industry, whom he approached with the idea of opening a hotel. In this way they hoped to generate income to lease and renovate further buildings.
And so the Secret Garden was born, with Faye and Fengzi working together with the twin aims of preserving a small piece of Chinese history and culture while providing a unique accommodation experience for their guests.