How to Create a Secluded Spot in an Urban Garden
See how designers have carved out peaceful, leafy nooks and different zones in these modest outdoor spaces
In a small space, gaining a sense of seclusion and zoning while not making the garden feel closed in or cramped by hard landscaping is a fine balance.
In this family garden, Tracey Parker of Tracey Parker Landscape Design got it just right by creating an open dining zone for her clients. The hardwood structure defines the area, which replaced a shady patio, while trees above provide a sense of privacy.
As the planting – which includes climbing roses and three varieties of clematis around the pergola itself – becomes more mature, the sense of seclusion will also increase.
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There are three key elements in this small paved garden that give its dining area a sense of privacy. Designer Karen Rogers at KR Garden Design created a high brick bed at the back of the garden, which helps to enclose the zone; this is boosted by the high boundary wall topped with trellis, as well as established trees, screening out the neighbours behind.
The area is also sunken, and surrounded by a low, circular wall, broken up by steps down into the eating area. There are multiple layers of planting across the garden, which add depth of vision from inside the eating space.
Finally, this small pathway into the sunken part of the garden, edged by more brick-built beds and lush planting, builds intrigue, as you can’t quite see what you’re walking towards.
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Wildflower meadow planting, a meandering path, wisteria, foxgloves, the gentle tinkle of water just out of sight – you’d never guess this garden belongs to a 1970s urban semi.
It was designed by its owner, Amanda Shipman. After deciding to remove a patchy, shaded lawn, she had the freedom to reconfigure her petite plot. She used meadow planting and bee-friendly blooms, as well as plentiful foliage, to zone and screen the garden, so it could accommodate no less than four secluded seating zones.
Looking at the plot here, from above, you can see a large, L-shaped sofa in the top left-hand corner and a comfy chair to catch some rays top right. The position of Amanda’s shed creates yet more privacy. She made a point of siting it in the middle of the fence, rather than up at one end. “It means you create two secluded seating areas either side,” she says.
On the patio at the other side of the shed there’s a bench surrounded by leaves and screened by a flowering dogwood tree behind it. The final seating area is a small table and chairs, just seen in the foreground.
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In this elegant outdoor area designed by Tom Howard of Tom Howard Garden Design & Landscaping, there’s an interesting and shady stroll on stepping stones across a pond then beneath trees to reach a raised deck at the end of the garden.
Here, Corten steel lamp-posts cast a gentle glow over what could be used as a dining area or a relaxed seating spot.
Additional trees planted in front of the deck add screening and a sense that this is a discreet part of the garden, tucked away out of sight.
When designers work on a garden, they may make use of established trees within the space, but will also work to incorporate those beyond its boundaries.
Here, the tall trees towering above the wall on the right are on the other side of it, as is the greenery rising up behind the back fence. These ‘borrowed’ features help to create the sense of a private, enclosed space – and designer Jenny Bloom of Jenny Bloom Garden Design has capitalised on them.
Jenny’s also made use of the large tree within the garden itself by positioning a bench beneath it and planting in front, so that, as the plants grow, it will be partially screened from the house, too.
In a small to medium-sized garden, hard divisions could feel too much. As seen already, plants can provide as much seclusion as a wall or fence and have the benefit of potentially allowing some light through. That’s certainly the case with grasses, which Barbara Samitier of Barbara Samitier Gardens employed to section off the dining table in this plot.
Grasses are particularly pleasant planted next to seating areas, as they rustle in the breeze and catch the light. Here, both the dining area and an adjacent comfy seating area benefit from its use as a dividing ‘wall’ between them. The dining table is almost completely hidden when viewed from the house and the sofa zone.
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Part of the brief to designer Joanne Bernstein of Joanne Bernstein Gardens was to include a lawn in this square urban garden, so the owners’ grandchildren could play on it. Nevertheless, she managed to fit in two seating zones at the back of the space.
The one on the left is particularly secluded, almost within its own outdoor room, thanks to a combination of hornbeam and yew hedging used to divide the garden into discreet spaces and provide winter structure.
More: A Beautiful Walled Garden with a Hidden Seating Spot
Which of these ideas could work in your garden? Share your favourites – and your own tips for creating seclusion in a small plot – in the Comments.