Creating a secret retreat within a garden is something anyone can do in any garden. It's a matter of knowing what you want and how to create it.
For some, the entire garden is a respite. From border to border, the garden serves as a haven from the hectic activities dealt with on a daily basis. On the other hand, many gardens have to fill a wide range of uses, from vegetable gardening to a play area for children to a gathering and entertaining area. Even so, you can still carve out a portion of the garden for the specific purpose of having a place to get away from it all.
One way to make a garden getaway inviting is to make it feel like a room. To start, provide an overhead canopy to help contain the area and bring it down to a human scale. A canopy needn't be a solid roof.
Get ideas for outdoor rooms!
An open structure -- such as the gazebo and the vine-covered hideaway shown on this page -- allows plenty of light and air to move through the area while still providing shelter. Next, choose the seating for the number of people you intend to have in the space. Most successful secluded spots have seating for at least two.
Learn how to use a path to create a sense of discovery in your yard.
Whether the getaway mimics a room or is simply a pair of chairs in a secluded part of the lawn, it should create a feeling that it is a place you actually go to. You may not be able to see it in its entirety from the house or major areas of the garden, and you may not be able to hide it completely, but you want to provide some sense of destination.
Locate the secret garden in a remote-feeling part of the property. This doesn't have to be far from the house. If the ideal space is tucked beside your garage, instead of taking the quickest and closest route to get there, have a path that leads around the garage instead. Each step helps you shed the echoes of the outside world and allows time to anticipate the respite. If this sounds unlikely, try it; you might be surprised at how well it works.
Try planning a winding path that never gives a full view of the secluded area until you reach it. If space is tight, plant large ornamental grasses on either side of the path to create a sense of mystery. Hide the entrance, so you have to brush the grass out of the way to enter.
Your meditative retreat should have a sense of enclosure. It will help you focus your thoughts inward. It also gives a feeling of protection. Above all, enclosure creates a sense of privacy.
The whole idea is to get away from the rest of the garden, so screen the garden from view if possible. Planting is the best way to accomplish this. A formal or informal hedge, a loose screen of plants, or even a bed of tall perennials can give you the privacy you want.
If planting a screen is not an option, orientation is another way to gain a sense of privacy. The use of orientation simply means putting your back to the view you don't want to see. For example, facing seating away from the house may be all that's needed to create a sense of privacy and detachment even though the retreat is very close to the house.
A secluded area does not have to be large. In fact, the smaller and more intimate, the better. A space as small as 8 feet square is large enough for a couple of chairs and a small table, which is all that is needed for quiet, tranquil place.
If your property has many levels, take advantage of them. Going up or down a flight of steps contributes to the sense of destination and literally creates a separation from one area to another. To accentuate a level change, you can add a few steps on sloping ground.
Level changes are also useful in blocking unpleasant views. An elevation of a few feet can be enough to obscure the view of the house or anything else you don't want to see. If the level change isn't quite enough to hide the view you're trying to block, you can plant a row of shrubs on top of a mound or berm (an artificial mound of soil). The same thing can be accomplished by siting your hideaway on the far side of a hill, mound, or berm.
Taking the idea of level changes to the extreme, if your property is flat, you can create a level change by digging a sunken garden or by putting your getaway in a tree.
Keep in mind that level changes and some of the other ideas discussed here can be used to enhance your view out of a space as well as control who can see in.
Get more ideas for dealing with a slope.
Once you reach your destination and feel secure and private, you need to enjoy what you see. Pay attention to the view you have and other details.
Your favorite spot for relaxing may borrow a view from off-site. Perhaps it's the skyline of the city, a view up a stream, or a vista of the horizon.
Pay close attention to details, especially in the realm of comfort. Be sure the seating you use fits your body. A good-looking chair that is not suited to your favorite relaxing position won't draw you to use it. This is a place where looks matter to only you, so let comfort predominate over style.
If you don't have any outer views to take advantage of, create your own views within the secret retreat. Add the plants and yard art that you enjoy the most. This is a good place for mirth and personal expression. Keep a large basket of pottery shards or colorful stones and create a mosaic around where you sit, adding to it or changing it with each visit.
Specimen plants or favorite plants are good additions to a private and very personal meditation spot. Because this garden is for you, you should choose the plants that make you feel most comfortable and that you enjoy taking care of. Avoid overdesigning a space that might look good on the cover of a magazine but that feels too formal or stiff for everyday use, or that becomes a maintenance burden.
Another consideration is fragrance. Scent is the most evocative of all the senses and can make you feel as comfortable as any chair or majestic view.
You could use all the ideas covered on these pages and have a wonderful getaway only to have your time there marred by distracting sounds, such as a jet flying overhead, honking cars, or a barking dog. A fountain may help to drown out unwelcome noise. By adding a fountain with a variable jet, you can adjust the white noise to the level you desire when you desire it.
A retreat doesn't have to be a complex gardening project. Sometimes, it's enough simply to turn your back on the cares of the day.
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