In the Garden:
Middle South
October, 2007
Regional Report

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This simple retreat invites you to sit with a good book and a cup of tea.

Create a Garden Retreat

If you spend more time working in your garden than relaxing and enjoying it, maybe it's time to create a garden retreat. After all, a successful landscape isn't just attractive, it's also inviting and livable. It's a place you can look forward to after a day's work. A garden retreat is different than a family picnic table or deck. Ideally, it will offer a bit of privacy and quiet, things often lacking in our today's hurried culture.

Where to Put It
If your yard includes mature trees and shrubs, it shouldn't be hard to find a good spot. Look for a place that's as far as possible from daily commotion (streets, sidewalks, your own or your neighbor's swing sets). A cooling breeze is nice but it should be sheltered from strong winds. It should be relatively flat and easy to navigate.

If your yard is mostly lawn, you'll need to get creative. Where could you plant some evergreen and flowering shrubs to section off your retreat? A rose-covered trellis bordered by shrubs might make an inviting entry and create a feeling of privacy. At first, the planting may appear to stick out like a sore thumb in that broad expanse of turf, but as the plants fill in and you add accessories, it will begin to feel more settled. Remember, you have to start somewhere! Planting a few trees will also help anchor the retreat in the landscape.

Adding a Floor
Prevent the annoyance of having to move lawn furniture weekly to mow by building a "floor." If possible, flatten the area by adding or removing soil. Then lay landscape fabric and pour gravel or arrange bricks, pavers, or flat stones. The more even the surface, the less likely you'll stumble as you make your way back to the house as twilight approaches.

What to Sit On
Garden magazines showcase wooden benches and delicate wrought iron chairs, but who wants to spend more than a few minutes in those? Give me comfort! I like to sit with my feet up, so an Adirondack chair with matching footrest and a weatherproof cushion or two suits me just fine. There are so many options for outdoor furniture -- and now, at the end of the gardening season, is a perfect time to find a deal. If possible, sit in different chairs for a few minutes to gauge their relative comfort. Invite companions and conversation with two or more seats. If you truly want privacy, include only one chair.

Other Accessories
For me, a place to put my coffee (or iced tea, or beer, or glass of wine) is essential. Select a table with a height that's appropriate for the chair so you can reach over without taking your eyes off your book. A fountain with the sound of splashing water is soothing for some people. Do people really gaze at gazing balls? Go ahead and add one if it suits you. If the site is sunny, figure out a way to add shade -- an umbrella or a simple pergola covered with shade cloth, for example. Or build something waterproof so you can enjoy the sound of the rain.

Build a Path
If you'll use your retreat on dewy mornings or if your yard stays wet after a rain, I suggest you build a path. Dig large, flat stones into the lawn (so you can safely mow over them), or create a gravel walkway. Add some solar lights if you like, and maybe a few perennials or container plants to ease your transition back and forth to the house.

Add Personality ... Or Not
Your retreat can be simple or ornate, depending on your style and what you hope to get from it. If you're looking for a place to unwind after hectic days, you might want to keep it simple and soothing. If you're hoping to be energized, consider your retreat a canvas and add art and color as you please. It can be as unconventional or as classic as you like. Forget the garden rules you've read about.

Many years ago a friend in Vermont put a tepee in her backyard so she could have a quiet, sheltered retreat while her husband watched her two rambunctious children. I suspect she slept out there a few times, imagining she was far from the world of work, dishes, laundry, and homework duties. We can all use such a retreat.


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