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making a retreat

Posted by nebrguy 5 (My Page) on
Sun, Jul 11, 10 at 17:43

I'm curious what factors you think are key to making your backyard a retreat. I want to create something that can suck you in, taking you away from the world, to be a retreat. Width of the backyard is about 75 feet and probably about 100 feet deep. I'm curious what factors or features you considered to be important in your own venture.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: making a retreat

Some place to sit down and something to see and be enterained by.

A play area for kids and me.


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RE: making a retreat

Define retreat.

If you were setting out on a journey, as opposed to already owning a particular home, what kind of places along the way would strike you as retreats?

I ask it that way because sometimes ones own backyard can only be an approximation of what one hopes for as a getaway. In other words, adequate wealth might lead to a retreat involving a very long driveway and very high wall. The other day I stopped in to visit with friends. He is a world class archery coach. His home is moderate, but its situated in the country and, more or less, on a bluff overlooking the tops of trees and a spreading expanse of valley beyond. It is very much a quiet retreat.

So you start by playing with privacy, enclosure, and the functions you want the retreat to support.

What will create adequate privacy for you? A stockade fence? Use of plantstrees, shrubs, hedgeto block certain sight lines from the neighbor(s) windows, deck, etc.?

Do you want to create a sense of enclosure somewhere in your garden? Enclosure and privacy are sometimes accomplished simultaneously, but the two arent the same. I remember a front deck discussion here that was very public. That homeowner liked sitting with friends watching the world walk / drive by. But the deck (I think it was a deck) gave more pleasure once its edges were defined, enclosing the viewers on the deck as belonging to one space and the passers-by to another.

Finally, your retreat needs to support what you like to do. Swing in a hammock hidden from your spouse? Sit on a patio courtyard drinking wine with a few friends? Putter around tending different garden borders filled with favorite plants?

You can get more to think about by exploring old posts. I found a few threads I hadnt read before looking up "retreat" and "sanctuary". Just use the search feature on this forum. "Retreat" gets you 15 hits. "Sanctuary" came back with 11 hits. "Enclosure" 61 hits. Didnt try "privacy" because Im sure youll get a bazillion for that one. Dont know if it fits the kind of retreat you are looking for, but "secret garden" 22 hits.

Heres a quote from a thread I liked:

"For me the idea of an original garden, if such a thing exists at all, is the origins of the paradise garden; a walled garden with its reliance on water, shade and beauty to contrast with the surrounding wilderness or often desert, in an attempt to provide a pleasant respite from the surroundings in contrast to the harsh natural environment and man's architecture. The paradise garden was a step up from a garden for food, in that plants were chosen for beauty, fragrance, shade as opposed to being only utilitarian for food and fiber. The paradise garden became associated with relaxation, entertainment of guests, dining and music, outdoors rather than enclosed within a building. As a reason for creating a garden, I think it is still a highly useful starting point, that has never lost value over the centuries."

Here is a link that might be useful: The Original Garden


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RE: making a retreat

Thanks for the comments. Wellspring, you hit on a lot of what I've been wrestling with which is why I asked what others feel they need to create a retreat...for ideas.

This is the third summer I've been in my home and I've found that I don't use the backyard much. I've been trying to determine why that is and what I can do back there that will entice me to go back and use it.

I think for me it is finding a way to form privacy from my neighbors, but it is much more than that as well. I live in the city and the backyard is lined with large (overgrown) cotoneaster on one side, a chainlink fence on the other and pines and yews in the back. Privacy is an issue because all three homes (mine and neighbors) have walk-out basements, so the primary living areas look out into each others yards.

I also think that the fact the backyard is only accessible through the walkout basement plays into my problem. If I had access to the back without going through the basement or out the front and around the house I might use it more. That's not there, so there needs to be something that I look at through the windows on the main floor that creates a desire to go there.

In addition to meeting a need for privacy a landscape needs to have a (or multiple) vista(s) and interest point(s). Right now the yard is a "box" with a weedy lawn in the middle and nothing that serves as a vista, nothing that draws your interest or provides sanctuary, and nothing when you are there that says "hey, come around this corner and see something different". That's why I'm trying to figure out what others used to make a retreat. Did the backyard become a retreat for them with a water feature such as a fountain or hot tub? Or was it incorporating an outdoor kitchen into the patio? Maybe it was creating a "sleeping area". Maybe it was a place that drew in birds and butterflies that turned the backyard into something more.

I don't have kids so not using the area as a play space but at the same time I won't always live here and don't want to take the ability to have a place for kids to play away, which could impact resale value in the future (though no plans to leave right now). I had thought of incorporating raised beds and expanding the patio, putting in meandering paths with seating areas, a small pavilion or a hot tub, but I realize that do this might just take too much away from the open yard area.

I'll go back and broaden my search terms, maybe I was using too many terms when I tried before and that's why I didn't come up with any posts that were helpful.

I really have a blank slate to work with and that is what is driving me crazy. Maybe I'm just thinking too hard and trying to avoid damaging the resale value too much...especially if I don't have any current intent to sell it.


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RE: making a retreat

  • Posted by tibs 5/6 OH (My Page) on
    Sat, Jul 17, 10 at 16:04

What sucks me into my back yard is all the weeding and triming,


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RE: making a retreat

Ha! Yeah, and then you're so tired, sweaty and dirty, you have no choice but to collapse out there and 'enjoy' it. :)


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RE: making a retreat

Nebrguy, do you enjoy gardening, or do you view it as just another chore? Any suggestions would have to take that into account. I love gardening, but not everyone does. Some people want something very low maintenance.


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RE: making a retreat

I have not had the chance to garden as an adult as I've always lived in rentals. So to some extent this is a new venture. I don't mind the mowing, don't mind trimming the hedges, etc. But, I will also add I don't want something that requires me to be working it every night.

I like the end result and if it is something that I know is what I want I don't mind putting in the work to get there. One downfall, maybe an excuse, is that I do have a job that requires me to travel, sometimes a week at a time and so on some level it does need to be lower maintenance. I think that is partially why I am wanting a retreat, a place to come back from a business trip to become rejuvenated for the next one.


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RE: making a retreat

Nebrguy-

I'm just now thinking that my spouse and I may need to put "landscape service" in the budget. Not something we can easily afford, but I'm just not keeping up with the maintenance of the retreat. I was talking with a neighbor about the heat, the mosquitos and the weeds! Dripping with sweat! I'm not able to do the mowing and can't seem to train my dh or ds to care about doing it in a timely way.

That being said, getting out there and weeding, cleaning up, watering,etc. is wonderful for me. It takes me entirely away from all other problems and pressures in life.

So I'm torn in posting here between suggesting that you just jump in and see where the garden adventure takes you or tell you that it really probably is more trouble than it's worth unless you've got a hired hand to help.

But if you like to dream and plan, maybe that's where you start. Gather pictures from magazines and photos of gardens you find on your travels. The zone may be different in the places you travel, but you are looking right now for what sorts of settings make your heart sing.

Who knows? Maybe just a really good clean up of the backyard will have you thinking about it differently.

You can also plan as much and as big as you like on paper. Do it yourself; just start with a bubble diagram and have fun with it. No one will know how many get thrown toward the trash can. Have fun with it! Or, decide to get a pro in to help you. Whatever ends up on paper doesn't have to be installed all at once. That's the real tip: Start small. Professional plans can also be phased in over time.

Next, stick to your desire for low maintenance. Just don't settle for a look that doesn't speak to you. Low maintenance shouldn't mean ugly. If you want to seriously shorten the learning curve on how to achieve beauty and relative ease of upkeep, then, again, this will take a professional landscape designer. There's a wonderful archived thread somewhere on GardenWeb about gardening in one's later years. My guess is that you aren't that old (grin), but that thread is smart for anyone. Some folks seem to leap to plopping beds and borders here and there, attempting to have them overflow with pretty flowers, ringing trees with hulahoops of hostas, and lining all fences with plant material. . Yet it's things like a well executed path, a well thought out place to sit, and mixed borders made up of shrubs, small ornamental trees, and dwarf and intermediate evergreens along with a careful palate of perennials that can really quietly create a restful space.

Not sure why I'm writing such a tome tonight. Got to go!


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RE: making a retreat

Nebrguy, is there anyway for you to post a picture or a link to a picture of the backyard? In my mind I think I know what you are trying to go for, but it's difficult without a picture.

Congratulations on 1. Starting your gardening career 2. Purchasing a house! I just purchased my first house last year. It is very exhilerating and terrifying at the same time.


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RE: making a retreat

  • Posted by laag z6CapeCod (My Page) on
    Sun, Jul 18, 10 at 7:56

"I'm curious what factors you think are key to making your backyard a retreat. I want to create something that can suck you in, taking you away from the world, to be a retreat."

Any project, whether it is a retreat or a shopping mall, starts with a general goal followed by objectives.

Those objectives are then realized by listing the Activities with the desired Experience for each of those activities and then the actual physical Requirements that must be present and/or built to meet those objectives. Activities can be passive or active (resting is an activity).

This is followed by figuring out an Ideal arrangement of these activities regardless of the realities of the site so that one does not conflict with another and so that those that support each other do so (ie, dining near kitchen, not resting next to the tennis court).

Then the attention goes to the realities of the site. This is where the Ideal arrangement of activities gets trumped by reality. You have to make compromises that blend the best arrangement of activities with the site based on where they fit, existing conditions on and off of the site, and so on.

Grading, planting, fencing, circulation, hardscapes,.... should all be introduced to support desired activities and mitigate conflicting activities or negative influences as necessary.

Only the OP knows what Activities (s)he has in mind and what experiences (s)he intends to get out of them. I'm not going to guess on what a retreat means to him/her, but this is the path to making it work no matter what it is.

The problem is that these can each be difficult concepts to learn and understand. This is why people think that even when they don't know how to do it, someone else can instantly have the answers. A good designer will work with you and draw out of you all of these things without you even knowing that it is being done. In the end, you feel like the designer did it on instinct (some designers believe this as well), but it really is a process based on reasoning rather than collecting cool ideas and putting them into a site.

True success is guaranteed when following the design process and having a thorough knowledge of it, the client, the site, and all of the materials used in the project. A good designer can do that for you.

Short of that, the best bet is to find a place that feels like a "retreat" to you and then try to figure out ALL the things that are present that make it that way and all of the things being kept out that would ruin it.


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RE: making a retreat

Laag, the point of my OP was to try to draw some of those ideas out from others. I don't expect someone else will have the answers for what I want, but I do think there are people out there who know what it took to make their yard something more. I do agree that a good designer can pull it out of someone as well, but that doesn't mean I can't have ideas before going to a designer.

Let me try to post the pictures. http://i781.photobucket.com/albums/yy100/nebrguy1969/Backyard_fromHouse.jpg is a view from my guest bedroom on the main level into the backyard.

http://i781.photobucket.com/albums/yy100/nebrguy1969/backyard_two.jpg is a view from one neighbor (chainlink fence side) toward the other neighbor (cotoneaster side).

http://i781.photobucket.com/albums/yy100/nebrguy1969/Photo425.jpg is a rough layout of the backyard.

I took some rough measurements as well. From the chainlink fence to the base of the cotoneaster is about 60 feet. From the house to the back property line is about 70 feet, however I currently don't have access to the full length of the yard. There is an old "stockade" fence that is 60 feet from the house. The last 10 feet drops about 4 feet down to the neighbor behind me. There are also some pines and upright yews that are about 20 feet from that stockade fence.

Next to the house is a patio that is 16 feet wide by 53 feet long (length of the house, plus steps) and about a 5 feet wide hedge of yews. Ideally, I think two or three of these yews need to be removed from the left edge of the patio as this would reveal the backyard from the doorway. As it is now, I look out the door and all I see is a hedge. The a/c is at the right end of the patio, so nothing that really draws me down that direction to go around the hedge and enter the yard.

I would like to have a screen on the east side of the lot, whether that be a row of columnar trees or a privacy fence I have yet to determine. And I wonder whether to go the full length or maybe 20 feet (about the lawn-side edge of yew hedge) to make it more private on the patio. I want to incorporate some form of water feature. Again, it has to be something that is big, probably at the back side of the lot, if for no other reason than for me to see it from the main floor and think that I want to go out there. I want planting beds as well. I've contemplated using raised beds/planters (made from blocks, not timbers), but I realize that this could give the area a very formal look. That maybe part of my problem. The hosue is a 50s ranch and could easily fit in with a formal landscape with raised planters and formal pond or it could easily be more of a Japanese garden.


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RE: making a retreat

OP's links:

http://i781.photobucket.com/albums/yy100/nebrguy1969/Backyard_fromHouse.jpg
is a view from my guest bedroom on the main level into the backyard.

http://i781.photobucket.com/albums/yy100/nebrguy1969/backyard_two.jpg
is a view from one neighbor (chainlink fence side) toward the other neighbor (cotoneaster side).

http://i781.photobucket.com/albums/yy100/nebrguy1969/Photo425.jpg
is a rough layout of the backyard.

I'm sorry; I don't remember if you mentioned it. Looking at the backyard from the house, which direction are you facing?


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RE: making a retreat

I am facing north when standing at the back door facing the back property line.


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RE: making a retreat

  • Posted by laag z6CapeCod (My Page) on
    Sun, Jul 18, 10 at 17:38

I did not mean to be rude, but you seem to want others to determine your landscape for you and then have that landscape drive your activities instead of the other way around. This is why I took the time to layout that long design process.

My hope was that you would see that the process you are undertaking is backwards and will have the landscape that fits someone else's lifestyle dictate how you can use your space. This is very limiting since you really don't know if you will change your lifestyle to make use of the space, or if the space will go unused because it does not fit your lifestyle.

Wouldn't it be more efficient if you determine your desired activities up front? Then determine the experience you want while partaking in those activities? After that you determine what needs to be present or built to make it all possible.


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RE: making a retreat

No worries, not offended. Let's step back a few posts and see if I can better explain this. At this point in time I do not use the back yard and I really don't know what to use it for. Why? Because it is not accessible from the main level of the house and because of privacy issues. So my goal is to create something that will draw me out there. I haven't done anything in the back because I don't use it, I don't use it because I haven't done anything back there...it's a horrible cycle.

So I know I want some form of screen from the neighbors to my east. I want it to be a refuge, a place to relax. What does it mean to be a refuge and a place to relax? Well, privacy and an opportunity to get away from the world. But it also needs to be inviting so that when friends come over for a bar-b-que, we have a place to hang out. Comfortable seating is a must. Since I live alone it could include a place in the shade (structure?) to lounge and read a book.

The relaxing comes about through being with friends or from seeing the changes in the landscape over the seasons. It includes watching the birds and butterflies congregating on the plants or having a pond, maybe with fish (and the inevitable racoon to eat the fish). Water and fire are both mesmerizing (sp) and relaxing to me, so both should be part of the picture. I could be satisfied with a pond or some moving water feature. I've been fascinated by the sounds of suikinkutsu. Lighting is also key as it sets a mood that is inviting as well.

I do get backaches, so I want to consider that as an issue. I want to be able to avoid bending over when possible, but I know that in a landscape that cannot easily be eliminated. I like the idea of incorporating raised planting beds in parts of it.

Since I don't have kids I won't be using it as a play area, but I do want some open lawn. As I stated earlier, one concern is going completely into a design that eliminates the ability to create a play area for a future owner and maybe that isn't something I should concern myself with. And with such a long patio the option is there to incorporate a backyard theater into the mix.

In some form, how it will be used is as a "picture" seen from above through the picture window looking down on the yard from the dining room.

I realize I didn't say all of the above in prior posts and not certain this fully gets at your question, Laag. I have thought through these things in my mind, so my post was to try to figure out what ideas people might have that would suggest elements to consider. Again, I'm not wanting someone to design my yard, but to toss ideas around that I can say "yuck, i don't want that" or "hey, that is a really cool idea." Then taking those ideas, the things that others identified as creating a retreat, combine them with some of my own ideas and develop my plan from that. And maybe that is too complicated to do through a discussion of ideas on a bulletin board.

funny thing is, believe it or not, my undergraduate degree is in landscape design. The problem is that I haven't used it in over 15 years and have never had the opportunity to go through the process for myself. I can process through another's desires and develop a design for them, but when it is your own... it's the proverbial, "the mechanics car never runs" syndrome. lol.


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RE: making a retreat

My house is on a steep slope, with a small flat area around the house, which faces north. When we moved in, the flat area was bordered by overgrown yews which blocked the view, the breeze, and generally felt claustrophobic. I immediately thought of this when I viewed your diagram of the patio bordered by yews. I would remove most of the yews, leaving only those on the east that might help shield your a/c unit.

The silver maple has a lovely trunk, and is a natural focal point, especially when viewed from the northeast corner of the yard. If you had a chaise longue, hammock, or similar in the NE corner, it would be enticingly visible from the house.

I'm not sure where you are, or if you have enough sun, but if appropriate, tall grasses could be a nice screen with movement and softness. Maybe a place for the water feature too.

Unless there is a reason not to, I'd consider removing stockade fence and yews, and doing a staggered planting defining the rear property line. You might want to keep the stockade fence until the new border provides privacy.

As for house to garden connection, you'd probably need to post more photos and/or layouts for more comments. It looks like a terrific opportunity for a retreat!


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RE: making a retreat

  • Posted by laag z6CapeCod (My Page) on
    Sun, Jul 18, 10 at 21:24

Neb,

That is a much clearer picture of your needs. I think that will help you get more detailed responses.


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For me, two things turned my forested yard into a retreat. First, I demo'd the concrete stairs and added bluestone stairs and patio just large enough for a cafe table and two chairs. Then I took out some overgrown bushes to allow a little sunshine in, and planted flowering shrubs and plants that please me (mostly white, blue, purple and a few pink). Basically I aimed for a few clearings in the woods, with favorite plants.


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I've been collecting landscape photos to help with my own design dilemmas and I've had good luck doing searches for: 'patio' 'sitting area' 'outdoor rooms' and 'garden paths.'

Nothing draws me into a garden better than a good path, I don't know why but a path that curves off into greenery makes me want to walk down it. And having a sitting area with a water feature or fireplace at the end makes it even better.

If you would like to attract wildlife to your garden you should consider planting native species, and definitely add the water feature.


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I'd start by buying a reasonably inexpensive, easily movable, fairly comfortable chair. Then make yourself spend some time out there reading a book. After maybe ten or fifteen minutes of this, how does the experience strike you?

It's fairly common for houses with this topography to have some sort of door with steps to allow direct access from the living level to the backyard. Since you are taking the photographs from the guest bedroom, does that mean that none of the 'public' rooms face the back?


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Mad gallica, I took the picture from the guest room because it is the easiest to remove the screen from so that the camera can actually take a decent picutre. In addition to that bedroom, the bathroom, dining room and kitchen all look into the backyard. The dining room has a picture window that is probably 4 x 5 feet. None of these rooms provide access to the back other than a view through the window.

Peachymomo, there is a reason you react to a path this way. A meandering path creates mystery and draws you in because you want to see what cannot be seen from where you currently stand.

Since part of my enjoyment is entertaining others and providing them with a relaxing atmosphere, the backyard isn't just about me.


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So you could put a door and staircase to the backyard from the dining room or the kitchen. My guess is it would cost less than a good patio set, and you'd get a decent amount of it back at resale since it would make the house generally more livable.


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One of the most influential contributors to this forum once described his design approach as seeing his garden from the captains chair. Botann has a garden that works as a whole but it is when he is in his favourite spot that he appreciates the details, the combination of light and shade etc.. From an earlier thread on Vignettes.

Like Botann, I have a "captains chair" spot from whence all my planning seemed to try and develop. But oftentimes planning gave way to serendipity. And though lovely (so I've been told) and private, my gardens seem to be closer akin to set pieces to be viewed, moved around and tinkered with - not places to sit in. No particular reason why not; just not exactly my style, I guess, even though bugs and bees and all the other garden creatures don't bother me a bit. I have a patio for sitting and grilling and entertaining.

What I don't get from any of your descriptions is the walkout. Is it finished living space or in effect a basement room? Is the egress a sliding glass door? Where do you keep tools, lawnmowers etc. for easy access? Does everything have to be brought around from the front of the house or a garage? Sometimes the biggest impediment to gardening is inconvenience - like dragging up the hose cart and the assortment of shovels, spades, hoes, loppers, clippers, pruning saws...

I might first think about getting rid of the line of patio shrubs. Might open up a previously unseen vista once the eye isn't arrested by them. I'd probably concentrate on the chainlink fence side after that... mixed shrub border or a strategically placed sight blocking small ornamental tree like a crab or Japanese Maple.

What ever you do, do for you. The possibilty of a future resale to someone with kids wouldn't even enter my mind - God knows families with kids leave a childless new owner with elaborate playground sets to dispose of.


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Duluth-

You've done this before ... put into words a question that was trying to form in my foggy bottom brain. I was also wondering about tools and/or garage and/or where this walk-out comes out.

Then you touched on the kids thing.

Nebrguy, I think you've brought that up enough times that it makes sense to figure out where that issue really needs to be in your priority list. Like Duluth, I'd say "Don't worry about it!"

Sure, kids like run around room. But they also need nooks and crannies and secret places to explore. My guess is that the more interesting and engaging your environment becomes, the more likely it is to appeal in some special way to a child. My favorite garden growing up had very limited open space. What it lacked in lawn, it made up in interesting spaces, an old arbor, several climbing trees, and an amazing array of plants, groomed and yet abundant, and a little wild. Oh, it was heaven. My mom and dad also loved it!


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Thanks, I appreciate the comments and questions. Good point on the kids and creating interesting and engaging environments...and the play ground equipment that is often left behind. lol. Didn't happen to me, but know the issue all to well.

There is no tool shed in the back. All the tools do come around to the front and get stored in the garage, including the mower. The mower is the primary tool issue for me as the house takes up almost the entire width of the property and what is left is steps along both sides of the house. there is a sloping patch of dirt on one side that i believe belongs to the neighbor and that is where I push the mower from front to back. if I could ultimately do away with the manicured lawn in back, leaving the mower in the garage would be helpful. That said, it would be nice to incorporate a small tool shed/greenhouse in the back.

There are two standard entry doors leading from the basement onto the patio. One goes from the laundry area out. The other from kind of a family room, with carpet, out to the patio. This is the primary access as it is closest to the stairway. This family room, like the dining room, has a large picture window that looks out into the yard...a view that is blocked by the yews. I'm pretty certain that some of that hedge will come out directly in front of this particular door to gain a view into the yard. Eventually the entire hedge may go.

Mad G, I have toyed with the idea of opening a doorway from the kitchen onto a deck.


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nebrguy,

My best on your quest, and thanks for this mention: " I've been fascinated by the sounds of suikinkutsu."

SUIKINKUTSU - google search explained this to me and now I'm fascinated also. This I will incorporate into my gardens!

Rosie, Sugar Hill, GA


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My mother's house is similar, the basement leads out to the back yard and would be the only way out there if not for the deck and stairs. I think if I were in your situation I would add a deck and stairs as well, it will provide another place to enjoy the view of your garden as well as easier access. But it also might block your view of the yard, I don't know.

Having re-read your question I feel the need to list the specific things that draw me out into my garden retreat.
#1. Edibles, I love to wander the garden nibbling on berries and checking to see when the next crop will ripen.
#2. Fragrant flowers.
#3. Roses.
#4. A shady place to relax and listen to my fountain.


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I'm another person with a walk-out basement and main-floor deck. I think stairs from the main floor are a great idea. Here are some things you might want to consider:

Will the view from the deck include too much of the neighbors' yards? This might affect whether you plant trees or shrubs along the chain link fence, and that would affect the amount of shade in the back yard and what you could grow there. Even if you don't plant trees, the neighbor might dislike the view of your deck or the feeling you're looking into his yard -- and he might plant trees!

A deck will need supports over your patio. It will also shade part of the patio. Both will change how you use the patio, and which part of the patio you tend to use. Will you want a roof over part of the deck?

Having a deck on the same level as the kitchen, you'll be eating on the deck quite a lot.

Putting the entry to the deck in the guest bedroom would provide a fire exit from that bedroom.

When building stairs and/or a deck, you might consider using some of the space beneath as storage for garden tools. I assume that would end up costing more than simply buying a garden shed.


I also thank you for the mention of suikinkutsu. I doubt I'll install one, but it's intriguing.


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When searching suikinkutsu on google, did you find the youtube clips?

Here is a link that might be useful: suikinkutsu


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Hi there

Some really interesting comments and great suggestions. I'll join in if that's okay?

With a space that big (75' x 100') have you thought about breaking it up into "rooms"? which would include the retreat you want to create. We worked with a similar area and my main goal was a rose garden (which is my idea of a retreat). Outer dimensions of our rose garden are 70' x 50' and it is quite distinct from the adjacent area (about the same again) with an arbour at the entrance for the "door" with honeysuckle, roses and clematis growing over it and tall-growing roses along the outer borders for the "walls".

It doesn't sound like you have the time for roses but it's the idea of creating a space within a larger space that I'm suggesting and there's lots of prolific flowering, fragrant vines to select for an arbour ("door") that don't take a lot of fussing over. From a pre-fab gazebo for a quick fix - there's so many choices of materials (rock retaining walls, low wooden fencing/latticework) that can be softened and embellished with ornamental grasses, perennials, etc.

Some kind of water feature adds so much - we found a solar-powered birdbath for our area and the gentle splashing of water is so relaxing and does draw you in.

If I could figure out how to post photos I would show you the progression of a huge area of waist-high weeds and thorns into what we now enjoy! It took a few years and was worth the wait.

Good luck!!

Here is a link that might be useful: before and after: garden retreat


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1. establish a sense of enclosure by planting a fast growing vine on that chain link fence - recommend silver lace vine, it is vigorous but will fill out in a season.

2. defined entertaining space - you have a swath of grass - for very easy to install and low maintenance, opt for a 12x12 stone and space about 6" apart for a "checkerboard appearance"

3. Add pots - the bigger the better, with one species or monochromatic for big impact - looks like you have a shady yard, which is perfect for a sense of enclosure, privacy, retreat. Anchor the entertaining area with the pots, use them to define the border of that space. Try planting hydrangeas in pots for a showy statement and long lasting color. Add in seating, so many options - I'd love to see sectional seating in this space (think outdoor wicker, woven resin material ie. crate and barrel)

4. add a water feature - this can as elaborate as you want, but a simple fountain with a trickle would give the retreat feel - if ambitious go the watergarden route.

5. Pay attention to lighting - add lanterns/candles - this really gives a great feel to the space

6. finally, set the entertaining area so that it darws your eye to one area of the garden - maybe that's an urn in one of the beds, a tree, or even an arbor in the cornewr of the yard with a vine/morning glory covering it.

honestly, you are lucky - smaller spaces are the best - you can have a huge impact with a minimal amount of time, resources, and expense - make to post pics when done.


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