Design A Garden Retreat

Big or small, grand or simple, create your very own sanctuary where you can get away from it all

Design A Garden Retreat

The look and feel of your garden oasis is limited only by your imagination. Image: Getty Images 

For many people, particularly inner-city dwellers, a courtyard is the only garden option. But even a small and dingy area can be transformed into an enchanting and restful outdoor space.

Getting started

The biggest part of the job is in the planning, and time well spent at this stage will help you down the track. 

All you need to plan your design is graph paper, a tape measure, coloured pens, white-out and Blu-Tack

So where do you begin? Well it may sound obvious, but the place to start is with what you’ve got. 

Make a rough sketch of the area, take measurements and plot all the existing features, including plants, structures and paths, then make a scale drawing on graph paper. 

Once your plan is complete, make two copies on paper and four copies on transparent plastic overlay sheets at your local copy centre.   

Likes and dislikes

Use two different-coloured pens and an overlay sheet to mark the features you like and the ones you don’t. 

Include what you can see beyond your boundary that you enjoy, such as a tree or church spire, and the things you can do without, like a telegraph pole. Label this Likes and Dislikes.

outdoor garden and chair arrangement, timber table with yellow chairs, handyman magazine,
Choose furniture in colours and styles that complement the look of your garden. Image: Getty Images 

Sight lines

Go for a wander around your house and yard and study the space from a range of angles. Evaluate the view you get from the kitchen window and what you’re looking at when sitting  in your favourite spot outside. 

Draw your sight lines onto a second overlay and label this Sight Lines. This ensures you’re not going to see only rubbish bins or the clothesline from where you most often view the garden.

Traffic control

Consider the flow of traffic through your proposed retreat, as your plan needs to cater for any essential access. 

Is there a well-worn track from the back door to the shed? Do the wheelie bins regularly traverse the space? 

Use different colours to mark essential and non-essential routes on a third overlay. Label it Traffic Control.

Sun and shade

You need to know what part the sun plays throughout the seasons. Where does it rise and set? Which areas are in shade and which are in full sun? Are deciduous trees providing shade? If so, the sun will shine through in winter.

Mark the sun’s rising and setting positions, as well as the sunny and shady areas of the yard, on a fourth overlay. Label this Sun and Shade.

Seek approval 

There will always be certain things you’ll want to remove from the yard, but there are a few things to remember before you get too carried away.

CUTTING DOWN TREES generally can’t be done without getting prior council permission. So call and check with them before you start chopping.

You’re also not allowed to cut down your neighbour’s trees, however obstructive they may be.

CHECK YOUR LOCATION of electricity, gas, water and telecommunication cables and pipes before you do any digging or excavating for safety reasons. Call Dial Before You Dig on 1100 or visit their website

From start to finish

In this yard, the bins were moved by the sheds and a trellis put up as a screen. The rotary hoist was replaced with a retractable clothesline and a new paved area was created for seating, with morning and afternoon sun options. Shade-loving plants now conceal the neighbour’s house.

diagram design a garden retreat, handyman magazine, DIY,
In this yard, the bins were moved by the sheds and a trellis put up as a screen

Wants and needs

Now you know what you’ve got to work with, you need to think about how you’d like to use your alfresco space.

Would you like to eat and entertain there or create a play area for kids? Do you want to grow vegies or dry your washing? Write an ‘I want’ list. 

Read over your list, then perform a reality check on it. Which items are feasible and which aren’t? 

If you have an in-ground pool and an entertainment area that will seat 40 people on your ‘I want’ list, and the space measures 3 x 5m, cross out both. 

Write down each ‘I want’ item at the top of a fresh page, then create a corresponding ‘I need’ list of things required to make your wants possible. This will become the Wish List.

If you have conflicting needs, you need to be realistic and prioritise. And don’t forget to consult other members of the household during planning, as a miniature golf course may not be at the top of everyone’s list!

outdoor couch with blue cushions on a deck, handyman magazine, design a garden retreat,
Timber decking adds warmth to this setting. Image: Getty Images 

The grand plan

Go back to your first overlay, Likes and Dislikes, and look at the items you selected as undesirable. 

Decide which of these can be removed, which can be obscured, and which you’re just going to have to live with. 

Write a list of all of the things you would like to remove, then take to one of the paper copies with the white-out and blot them out. 

Make sure you write your list first, as any removals will need to happen before you start on the rest of the job. If they’re not visible on the plan, the chances are you’ll forget them. Label this Removals. 

Take the paper plan from which you’ve deleted all the dislikes that are removable, then make two clean copies on paper. These will be the Master Plan and a spare. 

Make another four copies on transparent plastic overlays.

Screening solutions 

Take your Sight Lines overlay and lay it on the Likes and Dislikes one. Start from the outside and work inwards to check which remaining dislikes you can hide with a screen. Remember, it’s not worth the effort for something you only glimpse once a week while putting out the bins.

There are many screening options, including walls, fences, hedges, trellises, decorative panels and self-supporting climbers. 

If you can see the bins from the kitchen and you can’t move them, a trellis with a climber will hide them. A line of black bamboo in pots could screen a shed and a creeper can conceal a fence. 

Blu-Tack one of your copied overlays on the other two, work out what and how you’re going to screen and draw these onto the overlay. Label this Screens.   

Paved sections

The paved areas are the next to be considered. It is important that these areas not only look great, but are functional as well. 

In terms of shape, think in circles and curves rather than squares and straight lines. This will give a much more natural feel to the space, and make it more appealing to the eye, as well as add to the atmosphere. 

Start with the positioning of the paths. Take the overlay labelled Traffic Control, then stick it on the top of your pile. 

Do any of your screening elements interfere with the current traffic routes? Have any of them become redundant and could now be moved? Which areas require hard paving? This might be the area straight outside the door into the house. 

Consider which of the traffic routes can be eliminated or made to look more appealing. 

This might mean replacing an uninteresting straight path leading to an unattractive back gate with a meandering one so that the gate is not in your line of vision. 

Stick another fresh overlay on top and draw in your new paths. 

After this is completed, the ideal positioning of the paved central area will become obvious. Draw in your main patio area and round off any corners where it meets or overlaps the path. Label this Paved Sections. 

Decide what sort of paving you’re going to use. There is a huge range to choose from, but try not to use them all at once, as too many textures tend to create a confusing, rather than soothing, backdrop. 

paved outdoor courtyard with mini pond, design a garden retreat, handyman magazine,
Paving sets the tone for the whole design. Image: Getty Images 

Garden beds

At this point, you get a bonus for all your hard work. If you look at your plan now, you’ll find that the garden bed positions have pretty  well designed themselves. 

Draw them in, remembering to round off any unwanted sharp corners. Label this Garden Beds.  

Final layout

Taking your paper Master Plan, plus your overlays for Screens and Paved Sections, draw up your final layout.Remember that you have a spare Master Plan sheet, just in case you mess this one up. 

Position your Likes and Dislikes, Sight Lines, Traffic Control and Sun and Shade overlays on your Master Plan to check it still works. You may need to make minor adjustments.

Now try out your idea to avoid potentially expensive mistakes. Using a garden hose, boxes, bits of old rope or whatever you have to hand, lay out your design on site. 

Will a wheelbarrow fit down the path behind the trellis? Does the shed door open? Give yourself a couple of weeks to test run your new design. 

If you keep walking across an area designated as a garden bed, you’ll need to adjust the ground plan. If it annoys you now, it will annoy you forever.

When you’re happy with the final layout, the last stage is to add plants. If you’re not sure what to buy, take your Master Plan, plus your Sun and Shade and Sight Lines overlays, to your local garden centre and ask for advice. 

Outdoor courtyard with table and chair set up, design a garden retreat, handyman magazine, The clean lines in this yard are softened by a climber framing the metal gate. Image: Getty Images 


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