Transform the backyard into a garden room with walls of hedges and furniture amid the flowers. Think of the landscaping as architecture and create entrances and exits from your room, a design made of living things and private corners for dreamy summer afternoons. Borrow ideas from famous garden rooms and children's books. Trim your plans to fit your space and your budget. A garden room is an ongoing project that you can redesign at will.
Classic English Garden Rooms
Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson spent much of their lives and all of their money turning their gardens at Sissinghurst in England into a showplace of fabulous planted rooms. Common elements of their garden rooms include stretches of wall built of old brick to match the estate houses, and green walls of privet, boxwood or other hedges. Rooms have gates and archways through which more garden rooms can be glimpsed. There is always a variety of heights, textures and colours -- the Cottage Garden is a riot of sunset coloured flowers, the White Room is all silvers, greys, creams and whites against dark green foliage. Plantings are designed so that a room flowers strongly in one peak time period. Trees line walkways like sentinels; paths lead to an open patio, a single statue, a worn stone bench. Each room has its own architecture, focal points and places for conversation or contemplation.
Arbor Garden Room
A postage stamp yard can become a tiny garden room with a simple arbor. Build or buy a gabled pergola or an arched trellis big enough for a loveseat to fit snugly inside. Plant trumpet vines, bougainvillea or lilac and train the plants over the arbor. Pave your small space with reclaimed bricks and paving stones, and make low raised beds along the edges using more old pavers. Plant them with evergreen shrubs, ornamental grasses and daylilies. Set metal wash tubs or halved wine barrels out and fill them with a riot of mixed flowers and trellises; in at least one or two, plant climbing roses. Tend any mature trees in the space or plant a small grove of bamboo for height; if you choose running bamboo, pot it so it won't overrun the garden room. A string of paper lanterns under the arbor, a copper fire pit and maybe the music of a half-hidden fountain complete an outdoor respite.
Build a secret garden for a magical child. Create the garden with hedges, an economical alternative to building walls. Lay a meandering path of mixed pavers and old brick with room for white clover, velvet turf and buttercups to grow between the stones. The path should lead to a gate -- a nice, old-fashioned wooden gate hinged on two posts sunk in the ground at a break in the hedge. Continue the path inside the room, widening it at the centre of the space to a small patio that holds a fountain. At the far side of the room, set a cushioned bench under an arbor covered in honeysuckle vines and morning glory. Mark off flowerbeds with small stones. In a drift of mixed wildflowers, place a tiny bistro table and two garden chairs. Plant a weeping willow to become a green curtained hideaway within the garden room. As this is a private space, tend the garden when its occupant is napping or engaged elsewhere.