How to start a Blissful Garden Retreat

by | Apr 9, 2018 | Garden | 17 comments

A Blissful garden retreat is something that relaxes your senses and whole being. My “operational” word here is how to”start” your garden retreat.  The aim is first to get your “ideas” together – but only roughly.  This is because you don’t often know how the final idea will evolve.  You will often think of ideas while the “garden” is coming together.


Sometimes you will have things to deal with in your garden that may seem like a setback. Lack of sun, very hard clay or very loose sand, a big hill, a weed invasion or anything that you think of as being in the “very hard basket”.  There are ways around any hard situation – it’s working creatively with what you have.


With your aim being a blissful, away from “everyday interiors” you may at first find it hard to picture.  The goal is to have a sanctuary away from the home or office – a get away from it all. Your difficult place at present may be so full of weeds and look rather dingy at the beginning stage. Don’t be dis-heartened. We’ve got this!


Look around and make a mental note (write down if you wish) of what comes to mind first. It helps if there are two minds better than one at this stage. But sometimes one has a better creative edge. Don’t be put off if someone has an idea you might not think will work. You can piggy back off their idea.


Statue nestled amongst greenery

Statue nestled in my garden (C) Deborah Hunter Kells


The plans to consider:


  • What are the negatives and positives of your chosen area.
  • Are you going to walk through there often?
  • How much sun or shade. Some plants will love it – some will hate the amount.
  • How much shade do you have at present to keep out summer sun. Do you need to consider planting some quick-growing shrubs or can you make do with what you have growing?
  • Do you have shrubs or trees that are drawing goodness from the area and you may have to leave space away from if growing plants.
  • Do you want to include a picnic table and a bench for seating or other types of furniture. Even a crafted stone setting looks attractive in a placement for a retreat.
  • Do you want to include any water areas – small or large. A pond, waterfall or birdbath for example
  • Do you want to include extra items such as trellis, stone statues, chimes, arches
  • Do you want to include a Barbecue with places to stack timber.
  • Do you want a hammock, (remember to take it in periodically as these can break down in weather), a love seat, an arch, a wigwam, even a bathtub that can be heated up with hot coals.
  • Do you want your garden retreat to be a quick one – ie 1/2 grown plants or do you want the garden to start from small seedlings.
  • Are you on a budget and which cuttings of plants can you gather from neighbors and friends?
  • What plants do best in your climate
  • What items you need for walking on -ie pavers in clay or concrete, gravel, timber, plain concrete or large pieces of sawn off logs for stepping stones.
  • Will you include a vegetable garden in a “natural” way so as to be part of your “special place”. ie  have vines such as passionfruit, kiwi fruit or chokoes for privacy and flowers amongst your parsley and tomato vines.
  • Will you have a herb garden? with bee loving flowers such as lavender, basil, sale, thyme, borage, snowdrops, jonquils, tulips for example
  • Will you include a fragrance garden? – plants such as lavender,  rosemary, lemon balm, honeysuckle, roses, butterfly bush, stocks.



Remember planning is an ongoing project. You can have the foundation or skeleton of your garden set up and add to it as inspiration hits you as you see things in full size. You don’t always have to spend a great amount of money to have a lovely idyllic area.  Re-purpose where you can and be on the look-out for suitable items. Even better let what you find inspire you to include it in your little “green place”. You may also have some of  someone else’s garden to work with (you have just moved in) – so make slow steps before changing too much.


Consider  chatting to other gardeners – not only in garden clubs but those who have gardens which show a loving hand. Rare is it that a gardener doesn’t want to tell you about his or her garden journey.


Our making of many “different gardens”


My husband and have started many garden retreats- some in a short period of time and some a little longer. Sometimes I knew the amount of time we would be living in a home. Sometimes not.  Difficult when you put in a bit of effort. My effort has always been to bring as much of nature around us as possible. Bringing in various plants, flowers, trees, and vegetables as space and time allowed. A big thing with me was mixing the vegetable garden in with herbs and flowers. My gardens were a riotous splash of various blooms in amongst the vegetables. I often let vegetables go to seed to see what would come up next season. I find that the product of doing this makes for hardy vegetables.


When setting out a garden (which is a passion for me) I also take into account my husband’s style. He is very much into “items”. By this, I mean old ladders, little stone pieces, metal planters – both modern and vintage, wooden planters and eclectic pieces, metal arches, rustic fences and logs, and so forth. While some bits and pieces amongst the greenery set it off I feel (including waterfalls, and seats) – I do watch how much gets set out. My minimalism coming into play I’m sure. I do know however that an eye doesn’t know where to look if you have too much going on. I don’t want the clutter effect to “take over”. I love a place to have some chimes as well – something extra nice about the gentle noise.


Here is an overview of gardens we have worked together on. This has been for more than a decade.


Our Queensland Wedding Garden


  • A round circle divided into pieces of “pie” (for herbs”
  • Trench mesh put up vertically to capture as many climbers as possible (a good idea if you have only flat ground)
  • Use of a large tree for interest and a large natural border
  • A simple waterfall pond.
  • Post here


Our Murray River Garden:


  • A grove effect by putting a path down the center. This was done as a crazy path using up a huge amount of left-over concrete. Posts were put each side and across the top. This was to also capture the “grove effect” by putting up hanging baskets with voluminous over-flowing greenery.
  • Lavender lined each side leading up to the grove at the entrance.

    Johnny Jump Up Flower

    Johnny Jump Up Growing strongly in our Queensland Garden. (C) Raewyn Adam (friend)

  • A vegetable garden nestled towards the grove with suitable plants to gather shade and give shade.
  • A plot made in the shape of our country a little towards the outside of the growth and with durable, suitable plants
  • More posts opening at the end of the grove both left and right to hold more potted plants. In the early stages, use of shade cloth is a good idea till your plants start to grow. The shape of the grove was like walking up a letter “T” with arms either side and top posts to hold vertical hanging plants.


Our level ground garden:


  • A very large square that your front garden window can look out upon – plant a variety of flowering seasonals.
  • Lining walls and driveways with suitable plants. (We used Agapanthus & Hollyhocks)
  • A path meandering through a garden bordered by both vegetables and flowers.  I have always liked to mix both together. It seems to make for happier, healthier plants.
  • Use of trellis for climbers – particularly passion fruit.
  • Use of old tree stumps for bringing height and interest.


An in-town garden:


  • A garden can be set up on a large area of pavers (there were many at this home).
  • We put a large area of river rocks and placed a plant in the center
  • We placed a large metal barrel for plants.
  • A Parisian style cafe table setting enhanced the look of the garden


An out of town farm garden: 


  • Use of wine barrels for planting and to take away the flatness of an area.
  • A keyhole garden. Round with 4 paths leading off. A large ceramic urn was placed in the middle.
  • A tipped over large ceramic broken pot. End down and pretty mixed seedlings spilling out once flowered.
  • A trench mesh round support for tomatoes or potatoes – again to take away from a flat area.


A quiet Hills garden: 


Daisies Alyssum Garden Barrel Picket fence

Placement of items in a garden as you start a Garden Retreat to give you atmosphere. Photo (C) Deborah Hunter Kells

  • Making the most of planting so that you gain “visuals” through your rooms in the house.
  • Use of arches for plants such as honeysuckle, climbing rose and passionfruit or kiwifruit.
  • Use of Agapanthus as a border plant for the driveway, hilly areas where weeds can be a problem.  After a while Agapanthus grows so thickly that no weeds grow through.
  • Fenced off garden area with gates which have an arch just level with the gate.
  • Use of cracker dust or crusher dust (made of blue metal) for stairs made down a hill with logs bordering.
  • A stone table to sit at through an archway. Surrounded by rosemary, geranium, daisies, lambs ears, roses, tansy, salvia and more.
  • Pot plants – small and large to border the front pathway. This gives shade and a green ambiance when all grouped together.
  • Bench with wrought iron over-looking the valley views


Shape in a garden is important.  You can gain that by strategic placement of solid items and placement of vessels and plants. The backdrop of various foliage and different heights of shrubs and trees makes for a beautiful “place”. The plan is to make a garden a retreat from everyday life, a blessing,  an inspiration for creativity, a food forest.

I love gardens – I hope you do too. They certainly can make fabulous blissful retreats – so do take the time to enjoy them after your hardwork.

Up-dated June 2019.


Deborah Hunter Kells

I have a wide range of interests and the top of my list is people and relationships. I appreciate our big wide world and nature which tries so hard to deal with what we do to it. As noted you will find a variety of topics covered (see Home page) My appreciation goes to my team and others whom I collaborate with to make this blog successful and resourceful. Thanks especially to my team: Sarah, Tina, and Billah (See footer for more of their details)