9 Ideas for Creating a Mini Outdoor Retreat
Escape into a secluded garden nook or small seating area where you can relax, recharge or host friends
Here’s what you need to know to create your perfect retreat.
A pair of café chairs plunked in the middle of a lawn, patio or other open space doesn’t feel nearly as cosy and inviting as the same chairs tucked in at the end of a path, backed by a garden wall and surrounded by leafy greenery.
Sites in the garden that feel secluded and somewhat enclosed are best for intimate seating areas. A spot under a large tree or alcoves created by hedges, walls and fences are good bets for creating a small retreat.
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Areas of a garden that feel like inviting nooks can change both with the seasons and the time of day. To avoid limiting your options, use easy-to-move furniture, such as lightweight chairs, so you can easily change the position and arrangement of your seating spot.
Swap furniture as needed. For example, a small folding table used in spring and summer could be traded for a movable firepit to anchor a seating nook in autumn and winter.
Make the route to the seating area feel like a magical journey by paving it with stepping stones surrounded by soft ground cover. Plant lush foliage and fragrant blooms close by, so you might catch a hint of their scent on your walk. Depending on what time of day you plan on using the space, subtle outdoor lighting can add the final romantic touch to evening destinations.
Nothing ruins the feeling of a secret hideaway faster than being able to see straight into a neighbour’s house from your seating spot – or them being able to see you. Increase your privacy by using fencing, walls or strategic planting to cover at least two sides of a nook.
Bamboo is a great choice for small gardens in need of quick cover. The plant grows faster than almost any other, and its skinny, upright form doesn’t take up too much floor space in a small area. To avoid bamboo spreading by underground runners – which will make you no friend of your neighbours – choose a clumping bamboo variety such as Bambusa multiplex ‘Golden Goddess’.
Depending on your climate, protection from rain and wind in winter or from sun in summer can make a big difference to how much you enjoy your outdoor seating spot. Consider including a shade sail, pergola or waterproof awning, depending on what you need. Even if it’s not necessary from a climate perspective, seating areas can benefit from a ceiling to give them the appealing feeling of being tucked in under a structure, looking out at the garden.
Nothing sets the stage for an intimate seating nook more than passing through some type of alluring, partially hidden entrance. Create that ‘secret garden’ tone early on and set the spot apart from the rest of your garden by using a gate or archway dripping with climbers.
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This technique, a bit counterintuitively, works well even in small gardens and narrow city plots. By interrupting how far you can see across a space, one’s eye is tricked into thinking the garden is bigger than it is.
The screening itself, whether you’re using fencing, walls or hedges, provides a perfect opportunity for nestling in a seating arrangement. Here, the designer used slatted timber screens, which run laterally across the plot, to selectively interfere with how far you can see and to carve out multiple spots for seating.
Enveloping a garden nook in foliage not only helps with privacy and makes the space feel more like a secret garden, it also ups your chances of birds visiting your garden.
To enclose a garden seating area with greenery, leave room for planting a variety of perennials, shrubs and trees in large pots or beds around a patio. Hanging a feeder or including pollinator-friendly plants, such as nectar-rich salvia or honeysuckle, will help to attract birds to your garden, if this is one of your goals.
If space permits, go one step further in both budget and effort by investing in a garden room that can function as a four-season seating nook for reading, tackling hobbies or hosting friends.
This garden pavilion includes wraparound bench seating with a central table – a great set-up for entertaining a small group, even in wet weather.
Here’s another idea: convert all or a section of an existing garden shed into an inviting nook by swapping storage space for a cosy chair, blanket and side table.
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