Design Like a Pro: Sitting Areas

Creating a calm oasis in the garden.

By Gordon Hayward

Photography by Corey Hendrickson


shady spot for conversation
A shady spot for conversation. A group of trees, or even just a pair of deciduous apple trees, provides a place for a sitting area. To make a cozy, low-maintenance outdoor room under a stand of towering ash trees, we took up the poorly growing lawn, laid down 2 inches of finely crushed gravel, and then topdressed the gravel with an inch of 3/8-inch peastone. The shaded, tranquil space is furnished with pots of colorful annuals and four chairs facing a pool and bubbler. I pruned the interior branches of the trees 25 feet high to create a lofty, leafy ceiling.

My 85-year-old mentor, Howard Andros, came to our garden early on in its development 27 years ago, saw the work we were putting into it, and said, "You have to promise yourself to sit and relax in your garden to admire all that you have accomplished." That is sage advice. We gardeners are driven; we have to consciously give ourselves permission to sit, and Howard knew that.

a gazebo in a garden

A sitting area in a gazebo or arbor. The end of a straight path in a garden also suggests a place for seating. At the far end of our lawn path that stretches between perennial beds is a finely crafted post-and-beam gazebo. Its placement at the end of the sight line draws us to that part of the garden. This sitting area, offering a sweeping vista of the parallel beds, is the most dramatic of our four sitting areas. Therein lies an important point: Make each sitting area in the garden different in terms of light and shade, size, outlook, and purpose. Be sure the views from each area are interesting and take advantage of the garden's strengths.