Design Like a Pro: Sitting Areas

Creating a calm oasis in the garden.

By Gordon Hayward

Photography by Corey Hendrickson


A sitting area can be as simple as two chairs under a tree or as complex as an outdoor dining area within a fine gazebo. These calm, inviting spaces draw you and your guests deep into the landscape to places to relax and immerse yourselves in the garden. Since the spring of 1984, my wife, Mary, and I have been developing an acre-and-a-half garden in southern Vermont, in which we have created four sitting areas. One of these havens of repose might be a model for a place to sit in your garden.

paved dining area within a garden

A paved dining area within a garden. For years we tried gardening in a shady spot, roughly 60 feet across, under five maple trees. Because the trees had massive root systems, the soil was always dry and completely shaded. Plants did not flourish. We took up all the struggling perennials in the center of the area and laid down 2 inches of sand topped with tightly fitting pieces of bluestone. 

The bluestone covers an area approximately 12 feet by 20 feet—a perfectly flat floor for a dining table and six chairs. Shade-loving shrubs and perennials border the patio. Containers bring the plants even closer, where we can appreciate their flowers and fragrances.


an arbor next to a shedden

An arbor next to an existing shed. The sunny south-or west-facing wall of an outbuilding, a garage, or the wing of a house suggests a place for a sitting area. Our 150-year-old garden shed, with its weathered barn siding, provided us with the perfect backdrop for a rustic grape arbor. Under the tall arbor, a bench faces the adjacent herb garden. In a garden I designed for clients, we covered the west-facing wall of their garage with espaliered apple trees and then planted an intimate herb garden with a bench against the espaliers, facing west. The most successful sitting areas are within gardens.