How to Create Garden Rooms

Garden Rooms
There should be enough of an opening to intrigue you and make you curious about what is inside. © Marie iannotti

Creating garden “rooms” is a great way to add an element of surprise to your garden, no matter what size it is. It’s also a great way to indulge in plants that might not work well together. If you keep them in separate rooms, they will all work fine.

What is a Garden Room?

Let’s start with what it is not. It is not decorating your patio with floral printed furniture and adding a couple of potted plants.

An inviting patio makes a nice transition from the house to the garden, but it is not necessarily a garden room.

Rooms, whether in homes or in gardens, are spaces separated by some type of wall. In the garden this can be accomplished with hedges, trees and shrubs, vines, or fences and other structures.

Sissinghurst garden, shown above, was very influential in popularizing the concept of garden rooms. They used a geometric hedge, to create formal garden rooms, but you could use this idea for a more casual impact. Instead of a clipped hedge, you could create you walls with a row of lilacs, or tall grasses, or maybe runner beans trained on two trellises, to create an entryway. The only real requirement is that your wall or walls block the immediate view of your room, so that it is isolated from the rest of the garden.

The main idea behind garden rooms is to create both a sense of enclosure and discovery.

Why Create Garden Rooms?

Aesthetically, garden rooms can make your landscape appear larger. When the entire yard is open, your eyes will take in the whole space with one sweeping glance. When the view is obstructed, your perspective becomes more focused and you observe your garden in much smaller chunks.

And as I mentioned earlier, it also allows gardeners to play with different color schemes or styles without creating chaos. You can have a bright, hot, tropical space and a calming pastel cottage garden without having the plants compete with each other for attention. You can always unify the disparate sections by repeating hardscaping or a handful of plants.

Practically speaking, garden rooms can be used to create spaces for different functions, like a dining area, a play area, a place for contemplation, or an edible garden. One approach is to view your garden like a house. Lay out a kitchen, a living room, a family room, playroom, a place to rest... But don’t let that idea confine you. You can get away with a lot more fantasy outdoors.

How to Get Started

Decide what you want to do in the room. Whether it’s to experiment with color or a fort for young boys, begin creating your garden room with its intended purpose. [One tips when creating spaces for kids -- if you want to keep a eye on them, keep the walls low enough for you to see over, while still giving them a sense of being hidden.]

Think about the paths you already take in your yard. You don’t want to obstruct the main entry, but you do want to divert the traveler, so that they have to go around a corner to discover your room.

Consider the views from within the room and of the room. Will placing a wall there block a view from in the house, or create intrigue? Would placing the wall there block sunlight from getting into the room?

Once you have the intent and the site, you can begin to consider what type of plant or structure will create the walls.

  • With the walls in place, the real fun starts. You get to “furnish” the room. The options are limitless. Some ideas to consider:
  • Do you want hardscaping or a grass floor?
  • Will there be any structures within the room, like a pergola or water feature?
  • Do you need to provide electrical access, for lighting, pumps or entertainment?
  • Choose plants that engage all the senses, including sound, scent, sight, touch and even taste.

Most importantly, make it a space you would want to discover and spend time in.

You could start with a room for dining and entertaining that creates a passage from the house and opens into the larger garden. Or start with an already enclosed space, like your vegetable garden, and add a table and other sensory elements to it.

Play with creating your first secluded space and you could easily find yourself expanding the idea further.