A private oasis
Escape in your own backyard with a private oasis.
By: Gail Johnson
Making a private oasis doesn’t have to be an overwhelming project. Start by looking for secluded spots within your larger yard or garden. Whether it’s a magnificent oak tree that begs for a bench under its shady canopy or a bamboo shade on one side of your sun porch, it’s important to create a sense of protection.
Consider garden structures
One way to define your space is to use garden structures such as pergolas and gazebos. A pergola is an arbor or passageway of columns that supports a roof of trelliswork for climbing plants. The amount of privacy you create depends on the pergola’s design and the type of climbing plant or vine growing on it.
A gazebo is a freestanding, roofed, usually open-sided structure that provides a shady resting place. These open structures allow plenty of light and air to move through the area while still providing a sense of privacy and a feeling of protection.
If you don’t have the budget or construction skills to add larger structures to your yard, a simple trellis covered with vines is a great way to create a living screen. If you love shade but don’t have large trees in your yard, use a table umbrella that you can angle to provide shade and seclusion.
Add plants for privacy
Plants are another way to define a space and create a feeling of seclusion. Use perennials, annuals, vines, ornamental trees, and shrubs alone or in combinations to create a living privacy screen and soften the look of a wall or garden structure.
Pots of plants. Line up containers of your favorite perennials, annuals, or bulbs for a fast and easy way to define your space and add seasonal color. Tall plants in pots can create a private nook within a few steps of a house. For extra height and privacy, add trellises to large containers and train elegant vines such as clematis to go over the trellis.
Small trees. Small, ornamental trees can also create privacy. Many small trees reach only 25 to 30 feet tall and feature interesting flowers, foliage, bark, berries, or form. One good tree for screening is the weeping Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum f. pendulum, Zones 4 to 8). The cultivar ‘Amazing Grace’ has layered weeping branches and grows 25 feet tall and 30 feet wide. When choosing a small tree, do your research and avoid planting one with messy fruit or seeds. If planting space is limited, choose a dwarf variety that grows well in a container.
Ornamental grasses. With their graceful, arching foliage, ornamental grasses are a good choice for creating thick, fast-growing walls of privacy. Taller grasses, such as zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’, Zones 5 to 9), and purple-leafed fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’, Zones 9 to 10), work well as screens. Ornamental grasses are highly resistant to insect and disease problems, tolerate heat and drought, and require little pruning. But they need full sun (at least six to eight hours a day) and well-drained soil.
Hedges. A well-clipped formal hedge is a beautiful way to define your space, but it requires regular pruning and takes several years to become a living wall. For a formal evergreen hedge, consider the yew (Taxus spp.). This classic hedge plant has fine needlelike foliage and grows in sun as well as shade. Hardiness depends on the species. Boxwood (Buxus spp.) is another classic plant for hedges. This dense, small-leaved evergreen grows from 1 to 6 feet tall, depending on cultivar.
Small shrubs. If you prefer something more casual and easier to maintain than a clipped hedge, group a variety of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs to create privacy. By planting species with different mature heights, shapes, and colors, you can layer the plants into a lovely wall of privacy. Some varieties of tall shrubs such as serviceberry, viburnum, and lilac require little maintenance. Or use small shrubs such as Japanese spirea (Spiraea japonica, Zones 4 to 9) to create a low hedge.
Vines. Elegant annual or perennial vines can define your space and provide privacy and shade. Both groups are easy to grow and can climb up and over garden structures and supports. For a perennial vine, consider Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla, Zones 5 to 8), a fast-growing twining vine that will cover an arbor or pergola in a single season. Its large heart-shaped leaves form a solid screen for privacy and shade.
Select comfortable seating
When it’s time to select seating for your private space, it’s all about comfort. That Parisian bistro chair may look charming, but if it isn’t comfortable, you won’t use it. No matter which type of material you select, think about cost and maintenance. Here are some seating options to consider:
Aluminum furniture is designed to remain rust-free, but most iron and steel furniture must be covered with rust-inhibiting paint. Or look for iron and steel furniture that is covered with a protective finish so it doesn’t rust or need painting.
Wicker is also a favorite material for outdoor seating. Because direct exposure to the elements can damage wicker, use it only in protected areas, such as porches, screen rooms, and sunrooms. Weatherproof wicker is a better choice for your outdoor retreat—it’s pricier, but it’s maintenance-free.
Wooden outdoor furniture is a popular choice, especially benches made from exotic woods such as teak. Teak furniture is expensive, but it will last many years, even when left outdoors year round. You can also find benches and chairs made of cedar, which weathers to the same gray color as teak but is less expensive.
Hammock. Transform your space into a relaxing retreat with an old-fashioned hammock made from rope or canvas. Or select a maintenance-free hammock made from fabric and upholstery that resists sun, wind, and rain damage. Hang your hammock on two posts, such as trees or fence posts; mount one end of the hammock to the wall of your garage, garden shed, or house; or choose a hammock that comes with its own stand.
Swing. The gentle rocking motion of a swing will let you enjoy the serenity of your private oasis. Whether you purchase a swing that comes with its own stand, hang it from a tree, or attach it to a classic arbor frame, a swing adds informal charm to your space.
Pillows. To bring your indoor decorating theme outdoors, toss a group of comfy outdoor pillows on your favorite patio chair, bench, or hammock. Many cushions are made from materials that resist rot, mildew, and fading, so you won’t have to move them every time it rains. Mix and match different shapes and colors to create a cozy, comfortable space.
Decorate with garden art
Add your favorite garden décor to your oasis to give it a personal touch—whether it’s a concrete cherub peeking out from the ferns, a collection of colorful glass stones that sparkle in the sun, or a group of miniature birdhouses. An ornamental accent such as a sculpture, sundial, pot, or urn can add color and beauty to your space.
Don’t worry about making a big design statement—if it makes you happy, it’s perfect. If you love antiques, a wheelbarrow or a weathered sled might be the perfect accent. Float a gazing ball in water or place it on a pedestal to reflect the beauty of the plants around it. Or carry your indoor decorating theme outside by attaching framed garden art to the wall of the porch or side of the house.
(Gail Johnson is the managing editor of Gardening How-To.)