It’s one thing to create a showy garden that impresses those who walk, cycle, or drive by. It’s quite another to build a garden you want to spend time in yourself. The two are not mutually exclusive: your garden can attract admiration while providing you with a retreat to enjoy your own little piece of nature. Learn how to create a cozy garden you’ll never want to leave.
The Front Room and the Family Room
Garden designers long ago introduced the concept of the garden “room.” It’s a defined space in the landscape set off with a wall or fence, or by a change in the flora, which creates a unified space-within-a-space with a different purpose than the rest of the landscape. It may exist to present particular types of plants, such as a rose garden, or for a specific purpose, like dining or relaxing in a hammock.
Think of the purpose of garden rooms the same way you think of functional areas inside your home. There’s the living room, front room, or parlor for entertaining guests, usually off the front entrance. Then there’s the family room, generally situated in the back of the house, adjacent to or incorporated with the kitchen, in homes with a more open floor plan.
Your garden can have a more formal front room where you nurture flowers and plants intended to present a beautiful picture to people who view your home from the outside. Your cozy garden retreat, however, is more like the family room. It’s not intended to be visible to anyone other than family and close friends. It’s for relaxing.
Your cozy garden space should be visible from inside the home, inviting you to come out and enjoy the fresh air as you set the cares of your day aside for a moment of contemplation and enjoyment. Ideally, you should be able to enter your private garden space from inside the house without walking out through the yard or out a door and back around. A back patio accessible through sliders or an area just outside French doors is ideal.
If your home’s design doesn’t work for that, you can still create a garden retreat in any available space in your yard. There are elements to include in this more private space that will make it a cozy garden you’ll never want to leave.
Cozy implies small. Your private family room garden should be compact yet spacious enough to seat two to six comfortably. Use a mix of individual chairs, loveseats, or outdoor couches to allow you to enjoy the peace of solitude and the companionship of family and close friends in relative privacy.
Seating and Eating
What do you do in your family room? You sit, watch TV, knit, chat, play games, and snack. Your cozy garden should feature comfortable seating, outdoor cushions, and small tables to hold snacks like fruit or chips’n’dip.
If you want to dedicate sufficient space, your cozy, private garden can feature an entire dining area for guests.
Gates, Paths, Paving, and Privacy
Define your family room garden with a decorative fence, tall hedges, or a stone or brick wall. Use a garden arch, a gate, or a curving stone, brick, or gravel path bordered by shrubs to create an entry that makes it clear you’re coming into a separate garden space.
Give your garden family room a lovely floor with pavers, field stone, or gravel. You can use outdoor rugs over pavers or a concrete patio to create a homier feel.
Water, Light, and Fire
All gardens need water to thrive, but a cozy garden benefits from a water feature that creates the soothing burbling or trickling sound of water. Think of placing a small fountain in your relaxing garden.
You’ll want to use your garden at all times of the day, so consider adding solar or string lights or lanterns to provide gentle lighting when you want to linger into the evening.
Many people have taken to adding firepits to their backyards. In a private garden, a fire feature adds warmth, both literally and figuratively. Keep your fire bowl small in your cozy garden. It’s not for a raucous bonfire party; it’s to give you a chance to stare quietly into the flame and think about…nothing!
Trees, Shrubs, and Flowers
The garden part of your private outdoor space needs structure to help define the space and make it as relaxing as possible. Use a combination of low-maintenance evergreens that won’t grow much over six or seven feet. Border your garden’s floor with flowering shrubs, spring bulbs, and long-lasting summer blooms.
Carefully consider light and shade as you select your plants. Add at least one small, decorative flowering tree that can provide shade and branches to hang string lights, lanterns, or a bird feeder.
Birds, Bees, and Butterflies
And speaking of birds, watching them can be very relaxing. If you’re not into cleaning and filling a bird feeder, consider adding a birdhouse or bird bath to your garden. If your space is covered, you could even add small bird figurines or garden bells to the outdoor decor of your cozy garden.
Supporting pollinators has become urgent as habitats decline and warming temperatures affect insect populations. Add a bee home or bushes that butterflies will love to your garden. You’ll get rewarded with fluttering beauty and a gentle busy buzz that signals a healthy outdoor environment.
Depending on where you live, there’ll be a few months of the year when sitting in your garden won’t be possible—it will be too wet, too cold, or covered in snow. Maintain the relaxing aspect of your garden by adding some seasonal interest you can see from inside your house. A smiling angel figurine or a colorful garden flag with a wintery or holiday theme will boost your mood when you can’t go out and sit in your garden.
Sun and Shade
Plants aren’t the only living things in the garden that need sun and shade. If your tree or trees haven’t grown enough to offer shade and privacy, create some of your own with an outdoor silhouette shade that creates a dappled effect. Use a small patio umbrella if necessary, and place your seating carefully to take advantage of whatever shade you have.
During the fall, as the sunlight comes from lower in the sky, position your chairs to enjoy that lovely, slanted light and the intense blue sky that often comes with it.
Creating a cozy garden you’ll never want to leave is a labor of love, and getting it exactly right might take a few years. But building the garden and watching it grow and change is part of the fun and the relaxation a private garden space can bring.