Consider the evergreen jasmine Trachelospermum jasminoides, sweetly scented and flowering for weeks on end, planted on one side, and the glorious, new repeat-flowering, soft pink rambling rose, David Austin's The Albrighton Rambler, planted on the other.
© Marianne Majerus
Honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum Graham Thomas, with its yellow and white flowers smelling of honey and coconut, would make a good alternative to the jasmine. Add a bench and you have the most romantic of retreats, heavenly perfumed. A seat backed by a wall or fence needs only a double arch to set up a similar result.
At this year's Chelsea Flower Show, designers Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam, for the Cloudy Bay Discovery Garden, created a more contemporary arbour. It had clusters of vertical posts made from builders' copper tubes over structural steel, topped with a steel sub-frame, clad with glass-reinforced plastic roof, to match the polished concrete floor. The palisade of piping made an attractive screen that would half-conceal the people within.
A retreat doesn't have to be at the end of the garden, or tucked into a corner. One of the most effective ways of creating a secret space in a long, thin garden — and breaking up the humdrum tunnel effect at the same time — is to create a central room, surrounded by evergreen hedging or, for a quick result, trellised screens planted with ivy. If it is within the lawn, add to the contrast by making a floor of gravel, with membrane beneath.
Home offices in the garden
Pavilions and work offices make fine retreats but you don't need to install a grand building. Customise a DIY store garden shed or basic summerhouse by painting — and protecting — the wood with a good-quality exterior paint. A deep, dark colour such as navy or burgundy makes the best contrast to foliage or flowers. Conceal it behind large-leaved planting and it becomes a special, secret space, with just an intriguing glimpse of door or window.
The free-standing plants that will camouflage quickly, setting up a big, green, jungly screen include bamboo, Tetrapanax papyrifer and banana Musa basjoo. A large-leaved ivy such as Hedera colchica will soon swarm up a pair of stout trellis screens several feet in front, with enough space between them for one person to slip through.
Tailor retreats to fit your space
The important point is to make the retreat suit the space in which it sits: you could draw inspiration from Prince Charles's Sanctuary, a little house resembling a Russian dacha, built from blocks of clay and barley straw, sited in a secluded woodland setting at Highgrove. A pair of multi-stemmed silver birches would make a magical screen to front a garden building, that would be just as effective when they lose their leaves in winter, exposing their stark silhouettes.
The beautiful moss-topped tea house that was the focus of the Japanese garden at this year's Chelsea Flower Show, An Alcove (Tokonoma) Garden, designed by Kazuyuki Ishihara, was enchanting and perfectly at home nestled among Japanese maples and moss-covered rocks; it would be less at ease in a country-garden environment. With a building as exquisite as this, however, it would be worth transforming a garden to suit the sanctuary.