A place to relax in the garden

It’s not hard to turn an area of your yard into a welcoming outdoor living space.

David McDonald
Hideaway: Although this yard borders a public sidewalk, there’s a little sanctuary tucked away behind the fence.

You almost have to wonder why avant-gardeners even bother to sprinkle those fancy teak benches around their yards. They never actually sit in them.

Well, they start to ... but then they spy this weed that must be plucked. And another. And ... gee, that clematis vine really needs better staking. And look: That stone edging must have gotten out of whack the last time the grass was mowed.

About the time a gardener gets back to the bench, the lemonade is lukewarm and there are itty-bitty bugs in it. Might as well go inside.

Sure, a gardener’s work is never done. But maybe he or she would find the time and inclination to actually sit a spell if the seating areas were more inviting.

First things first: To site your garden refuge (a fancy way to say, “Where do you want to put the bench?”), find a spot with a backdrop.

Not that you want to be on stage. Just the opposite. You want to feel sheltered, protected. How can you get lost in a book if you have this creepy feeling that someone is behind you peering over your shoulder?

Hedges are great at supplying this kind of privacy. Walls can do the same, but you probably want it vine-covered so your garden room doesn’t make you feel as though you’re walled in.

Sun or shade is a choice you might not have to make. You probably want both – a sunny spot (with, perhaps, some reflected heat) for early- and late-season reading and a shady nook elsewhere for escaping the high-season summer sun.

Drainage is paramount. You don’t want to sit in a puddle. And your bench might rot if you do. You probably want to perch your bench on something that affords dry footing on a daily basis. Gravel, stone, brick, decking, even a thick layer of mulch – they all work handily.

Remember that if you put your garden chair on grass, you will have to move the furniture weekly when you mow, or risk damaging the bench with your weed trimmer.

Make sure your perch is large enough to accommodate the necessary furnishings. Even a lone chair might require an ottoman. Do you want a side table on which to rest your drink or magazines? (Tip: When buying a bench, get one with flat armrests on which to set your glass.)

You’ll most certainly want to add some flowering plants to this little garden room. But keep it simple. One suggestion: something that attracts butterflies. Flying flowers are always a welcome diversion.

But these considerations are only half of what you’ll want to think about.

When planning your green sanctuary, you actually have to create two settings: Besides the one where you’ll be seated, think about the area that you’ll be facing once you’re seated.

You want both the seating area and the view it affords to look spiffy. After all, you wouldn’t put a brand-new sofa and fancy new accessories in the living room so that you sit with a view of a blank wall or an exposed pantry.

So, too, you don’t want to plop down on your expensive teak bench and take in a view of the back of the garage or the air-conditioning unit.

Looking up from your pages of Proust (or, OK, Danielle Steele), you might want to take in a romantic flower bed, a favorite outdoor sculpture, or a calming water feature.

And when you close your eyes – now that the weary world has been quietly fended off – you can ease back in your chair and think: nap time.

Go ahead. You deserve it.

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