Mini Garden Retreat

If you’re looking for a quiet spot to relax or entertain a few friends, a private garden nook can provide the perfect escape in your own backyard. In small gardens, nooks serve as focal points and inviting destinations and, in large gardens, they function as a second seating area — perfect for having an intimate conversation away from a larger party or enjoying a quiet moment to yourself. 

Here’s what to know about choosing a spot for a nook and eight design moves to make it feel like your very own secret garden destination.

1. Choose the Right Spot for a Nook

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A pair of cafe chairs plunked in the middle of a lawn, patio or other open space doesn’t feel nearly as cozy 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 nook-like seating areas. Alcoves created by hedges, walls and fences, or an area under a large shade tree, are good bets for placing a small seating area.

In small gardens and narrow rectangular lots, position chairs so they are nestled in a corner or backed by a wall, hedge or large potted plants and oriented to look outward. This arrangement will provide a nook-like feeling of privacy and security.

2. Keep Furniture Flexible

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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, like lightweight chairs, to be able to easily change the position and arrangement of your seating nook. 

Swap out furniture as needed. For example, a small foldable cafe table used in spring and summer could be traded for a movable fire pit to anchor a seating nook in fall and winter.

3. Lay a Dreamy Walkway

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Make the route to the seating nook feel like a magical journey by laying stepping stones surrounded by soft ground covers and planting lush foliage plants and fragrant blooms close by — so you might catch a hint 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.

4. Screen for Privacy

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Nothing ruins the feeling of a secret hideaway like being able to see straight into a neighbor’s house from your seating nook. Increase 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 neighbors — choose a clumping bamboo variety like ‘Golden Goddess’ (Bambusa multiplex ‘Golden Goddess’).

5. Add a Ceiling

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Depending on climate, protection from rain and wind in the winter or sun in the summer can make a big difference in how much you enjoy your outdoor seating nook. Choose among shade sails, pergolas or a 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.

6. Create a Romantic Entrance

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Nothing quite sets the stage for an intimate seating nook like passing through some type of alluring, perhaps partially hidden, entrance. Set that secret garden tone early on, and set the space apart from the rest of the garden by using a garden gate or an archway that’s dripping in vines.

7. Break up a Larger Garden into Smaller Nooks

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This technique, a bit counter-intuitively, works well even in small gardens and narrow city lots. By interrupting how far you can see across a yard, one’s eye is tricked into thinking the space 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 wood slat screens running laterally across the lot to selectively interfere with how far you can see and carve out multiple nooks for seating.

8. Surround With Greenery

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Surrounding a garden nook with foliage plants not only helps with privacy and makes the space feel more like a secret garden, it also ups your chances of being right up close to wild birds visiting your garden. 

To enclose a garden seating area with greenery, leave room for planting a variety of perennials, shrubs and trees in beds around a patio or in large pots. Hanging a feeder or including pollinator-friendly plants like nectar-rich salvia or cape honeysuckle will help attract wild birds to your garden, if this is also one of your goals.

9. Invest in a Garden Room or Structure

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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 in a backyard east of Edinburgh, Scotland, includes wraparound bench seating around a central table — a great setup for entertaining a small group, even in wet weather. 

Another idea: Convert all or a section of an existing garden shed into an inviting nook by swapping out storage space for a cozy chair, blanket and side table.