9 Effective Ideas to Create a Mini Outdoor Retreat

Author: Lauren Dunec Hoang   Date Posted:1 September 2019 

Escape into a secluded garden nook or small seating area where you can relax, recharge or host friends 


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; while 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 you need to know when choosing the perfect place for a nook – and eight design moves to make it feel like your very own secret garden destination.


Contemporary Garden by Huettl Landscape Architecture


Huettl Landscape Architecture

1. Choose the right spot for a nook
A pair of cafe chairs plunked in the middle of a lawn, patio or other open space doesn’t feel nearly as cosy 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. An area under a large shade tree, or alcoves created by hedges, walls and fences are good bets for creating a small seating area.

Find a landscape architect or designer near you on Houzz for customised advice on your outdoor area


Transitional Patio by Jeffrey Erb Landscape Design


Jeffrey Erb Landscape Design

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. Orientate your outdoor furniture so you can look out to the rest of the space. This arrangement will provide a nook-like feeling of privacy and security.


Traditional Garden by Hursthouse Landscape Architects and Contractors


Hursthouse Landscape Architects and Contractors

2. Keep furniture flexible
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, such as lightweight chairs, so you can easily change the position and arrangement of your seating nook.

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

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Traditional Garden by The Taunton Press, Inc


The Taunton Press, Inc

3. Pave a dreamy walkway
Make the route to the seating nook feel like a magical journey by paving it with stepping stones surrounded by soft ground covers and planting lush foliage plants and fragrant blooms close by so you might catch a hint of their scent 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.

Top 10 Scented Plants for Your Garden


Contemporary Garden Remodel Sierra Madre


4. Screen for privacy
Nothing ruins the feeling of a secret hideaway faster than being able to see straight into a neighbour’s house from your seating nook – or them being able to see you. Increase your 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 neighbours – choose a clumping bamboo variety such as ‘Golden Goddess’ Bambusa multiplex.


Traditional Patio by Christine Darnell Gardens


Christine Darnell Gardens

5. Add a ceiling
Depending on your climate, protection from rain and wind in winter or from sun in summer can make a big difference to how much you enjoy your outdoor seating nook. Consider including a shade sail, pergola or 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.


Country Patio by Catherine Sandin


Catherine Sandin

6. Create a romantic entrance
Nothing sets the stage for an intimate seating nook more than passing through some type of alluring, partially hidden entrance. Set that ‘secret garden’ tone early on, and set the space apart from the rest of your garden by using a gate or archway dripping with vines.


Contemporary Garden by Adolfo  Harrison Gardens


Adolfo Harrison Gardens

7. Break up a larger garden into smaller nooks
This technique, a bit counterintuitively, 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 slatted timber screens, which run laterally across the lot, to selectively interfere with how far you can see and to carve out multiple nooks for seating.

Screen Stars: 10 Hedging Plants With Punch and Panache


by Serena & Lily


Serena & Lily

8. Surround with greenery
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 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 including nectar-rich salvia or honeysuckle will help attract birds to your garden, if this is one of your goals.

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by Goose Green Design


Goose Green Design

9. Invest in a garden room or structure
If space permits, 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 set-up for entertaining a small group, even in wet weather.

Here’s another idea: convert all or a section of an existing garden shed into an inviting nook by swapping out storage space for a cosy chair, blanket and side table.


Transitional Deck by Sauvaje


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