Creating garden “rooms”—separated areas in a garden—adds an element of surprise to your landscape, no matter what size it is. You can create distinct zones for different uses and divide them off from each other with a feature, such as a pergola, shrub, or fencing. Garden rooms also provide a 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 a garden room 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. They don't have to be 8 feet tall; they just have to give a sense of separation, to give you a defined space to design and use.
The Sissinghurst Castle Garden was influential in popularizing the concept of garden rooms. It uses a geometric hedge to create formal garden areas, but you could use this overall concept in a more casual way as well. Instead of a clipped hedge, you could create your walls with a row of lilacs, tall grasses, or maybe runner beans trained on two trellises to create an entryway.
When your wall or walls block the immediate view of the room so that it is isolated from the rest of the garden, it creates 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 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.
Creating separated rooms 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 the hardscaping or a handful of plants.
Practically speaking, garden rooms can be used to create spaces for different functions, such as a dining area, a play area, a place for contemplation, or an edible garden. One approach is to view your garden like a house. Design the layout of a kitchen, a living room, a family room, playroom, and 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
First, decide what you want to do in the room. Whether it’s to experiment with color or to create a fort for young children, the room's creation begins with its intended purpose. 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 travelers so that they have to go around a corner to discover the room.
Consider the views from within the room and of the room. Will placing a "wall" in a particular location block a view from in the house or create intrigue? Would placing the wall there block sunlight from getting into the room?
After you have the intent and the site, you can begin to consider what type of plant or structure will create the divider between it and other areas of the garden.
Designing the Garden Room
After the walls' locations are planned, then the real fun starts. You get to “furnish” the room. The options are limitless. Some ideas to consider:
- Do you want hardscaping, mulch, or a grass floor? Will there be a path to the room?
- Will there be any structures within the room, such as a pergola, seating area, fire pit, or water feature? How about other focal points such as bird baths, statues or other outdoor artwork that will need to be placed before the plants can go in?
- Do you need to provide electrical access for lighting, pumps, or entertainment?
When you're choosing plants, don't focus only on color, height, and the smell of the plants. You can also include sound, touch, and even taste. You might also want to take pollinator attraction into account. (Think trumpet vines on a trellis for hummingbirds or butterfly bushes within sight of the seating area or as walls.)
Most importantly, make it a space you want to discover and spend time in. You can start with a room for dining and entertaining that creates a passage from the house and opens into the larger garden, or take an already enclosed space, such as your vegetable garden, and add a table and other sensory elements to it.
Play with creating your first secluded space, and you can easily find yourself expanding the idea further. But don't let yourself get overwhelmed with the options. The best gardens take years to mature. You can always revise things as you go, too. It's better to start small and add to it over time than to never attempt to create your new favorite "sitting spot." As a bonus, you may even find that you spend more time in the garden enjoying it after the addition of a dedicated room to spend time in.