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“My extravagance is my garden – it’s the first thing I look at every morning when I wake up. It gives me so much pleasure.” Ina Garten

One of my favorite ways to relax is by browsing through garden books—you know, the ones with gorgeous photos of beautiful outdoor spaces. I’m always inspired by pictures of an untamed English garden overflowing with roses, or a hammock hung over wildflowers in a secluded grove of trees. I can imagine myself living my best life in that hammock!

Is “garden porn” a thing?

But seriously, it's well documented that spending time in nature is good for our emotional and physical well-being—it’s calming and eases feelings of isolation, while reducing stress hormones and blood pressure. In 2019, a study out of the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter found that the sweet spot for realizing these benefits is 120 minutes of nature exposure per week. That’s less than 20 minutes a day!

Ok, realistically, I’ll probably never have that hammock in a grove of trees—we live in a suburban neighborhood! But this reminds me a bit of what Virginia Woolf said in her book A Room of One’s Own. She points out that every woman needs her own room so she can have time and space to pursue her writing. In a similar way, I think we all have a need for our own outdoor place to rest, relax and refresh ourselves.

As the 18th century poet Minnie Aumonier wrote:When the world wearies and society fails to satisfy, there is always the garden.”

A few years ago, while remodeling, we carved out a small private garden accessible through the sliding doors in our master bedroom. It’s a long, narrow space, partially shaded by the roof overhang. Patio furniture doesn’t fit. The best feature is a six-foot high white stucco wall that gets good sun and borders the space. We planted three peach-colored climbing roses (Bathsheba) against the wall, with an olive tree at either end. Underneath those are small sun camellias, mini-olive bushes, and some grassy stuff. A decorative fountain hangs on the center of the wall. We added drip irrigation and lighting. In front of the plantings is a long, curved path of decomposed granite where the piéce de resistance sits: a small Italian painted lava table with two metal chairs.

It took about three years for the roses to really take hold and the olive trees to fill in. But now it’s slightly wild and perfect! Several weeks ago, we had our first flush of spring roses. The garden was stunning!! Despite the street just beyond the wall, it’s a quiet, magical spot to observe the small and subtle changes of nature from day to day. We sit, read, chat, and sometimes work there; it’s where we enjoy Friday afternoon cocktails & appies and Sunday morning coffee, brunch and the newspaper. An added bonus is that from inside the bedroom this garden is framed by the windows.

A place of your own in the garden doesn’t need to be large or elaborate. If you have the resources for that, great! But a comfortable chaise set under a backyard tree, a small café chair on a balcony next to a potted tomato plant, a tiny nook with a bench under an arbor, or some rattan chairs surrounded by potted plants on a patio will suffice. You can add stuff: a fountain, a couple of bird feeders, wind chimes or a piece of art.

The options are endless—but the main thing is to have a comfortable place to sit, and something green and growing to look at. It may not make the pages of a glossy book, but it will be your special place in the garden!

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