There are certainly many types of gardens, but if you’re like me, the most satisfying kind of garden can be a retreat garden. I think most of us long for a space where we can go for a few minutes of quiet time (or maybe hours, depending on what kind of day you had). The best part of a retreat garden is that it is something that you can design to meet your own needs using the space you have. If you are a garden fanatic you’ve probably gone on a few garden tours and been mesmerized with what other people have done to create amazing spaces. I went on a neighborhood garden tour just the other week and was taken aback by some of the beautiful garden retreats people had created as a place to refresh their spirit, slow down and just be. If you don’t have what you would call a “retreat” garden, take any opportunity to visit other people’s gardens, botanical gardens or arboretums. It will help you decide what you want to go after.
All garden retreats have a few common elements that truly make them a retreat. After determining what you think your style may be, you’ll definitely want to have some kind of portal of entry. This is where you transition to the space. It could be an actual gate, an arch made of tree branches, even an opening in a row of shrubs. Whatever it is, it should lead you into your own Shangri-La! You really will want the space be somewhat enclosed. True, it is inspiring to stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon and feel at peace looking out at this grand vista, but that is not what we are shooting for here. This should be an intimate place for reflection and can be enclosed with a simple brick wall, a wooden fence or shrubs that can provide sheltering green walls. You can get creative to save money. One section of my space was just a chain link fence. I decided I could use the neverending supply of maple tree branches that fall out of my trees and weave them into the chain link. It almost looks like I have a giant basket for a wall! My neighbor was thrilled that she could just throw her downed tree limbs on to my pile. She calls me the “stick man” and said she didn’t know there were so many uses for tree branches.
The next element that helps create your sanctuary is some sort of pathway leading to somewhere or something. May be it leads to a seating area, a cool vista or it just goes on a winding stroll with no destination. My path starts at the garden gate that sports a grinning green man who welcomes me in to the garden. The stone path right inside the gate leads right to a cherished stone birdbath that serves as the focal point of my retreat. Your path can be formal and straight or more relaxed and undulating. I admire formal gardens, but for my own space, I like a more wild and relaxed look that lets the imagination wander.
I think every garden retreat needs a piece of furniture where you can “sit a spell” and veg out among the vegetables. Looking for that perfect chair, bench or stool can actually be a lot of fun. Check out antique and secondhand stores for that treasure. This year, the season was moving along, and I couldn’t find that perfect seat I wanted. In my panic, and in order to have a place to sit, I settled for a plastic adirondack chair from the Home Depot. There is nothing wrong with these and I could have gotten it for next to nothing if I would have been agreeable to open a Home Depot credit card, but I declined. Long story short, after the Home Depot purchase, I found my garden retreat dream chair in someone’s garbage while walking my dog. I managed to walk the rest of the way home toting a beautiful bright yellow ladder-back chair while being pulled along by my sled dog. It was very early. I don’t think too many people saw this spectacle. The chair was just what the garden needed.
Whatever your plans are for a garden retreat, be open to the possibilities and have a little patience waiting for the retreat to become what you want it to be. I’ve seen my space grow from one raised bed about twenty years ago to the place that today, offers a place of quiet seclusion, a place to think and just be.