Every garden, whatever the size, should have a secret sanctuary where you can escape from the cares of the day or simply from the summer heat. It doesn’t need to be a grand summerhouse — even a small wooden or metal arbour in a cool, shady corner, or a double arch a couple of feet from the garden fence or wall, installed with a comfy seat and a couple of cushions, is perfect.
However, what turns a plain framework into an enchanting, perfumed bower are the climbing plants scrambling over it. Fragrant white jasmine flowers, intertwined with solar fairy lights, make an ideal choice for late summer lingering.
Honeysuckle and rose is the classic partnership that is easy to achieve with, say, Lonicera periclymenum Heaven Scent planted at one side, and soft pink cupped rose The Generous Gardener on the other. When the two intermingle, they make true midsummer magic.
On a plain, bare structure such as a small pergola or a loggia against a patio wall, you could provide instant shade by draping lightweight fabric such as a length of sari silk up and over the struts of wood or metal. Secure them into a loose knot on either side of the front supports, and they will give your retreat a sense of theatre.
If there is no space for a structure, think about a triangular shade sail that just needs three hooks for anchoring. Easy to set up, it will provide shade, UV protection as well as define a space and shield you from neighbouring windows, thus making your retreat a private one.
At last year’s Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, designer Martin Royer showed a smart idea for an adjustable sun awning that is easily copied.
On a small, simple square-shaped steel pergola with just four overhead beams, he attached a length of fabric the same size as the pergola canopy, securing it at intervals along the two long sides with hooks to make it fully adjustable. You could do similar, using metal rings so that the effect is of a curtain running along a pole.
A special retreat doesn’t need to be in a tucked-away corner of the garden. It might be right in the centre, with, perhaps, the added advantage of helping to break up a long, thin plot. Turn the space into a room and give it a sense of intimacy by enclosing it with green walls, either of sturdy trellis screens planted with a quick-growing, large-leaved ivy such as Hedera colchica or, in the longer term, planting evergreen hedging such as bay or yew.
You could define the space further by giving it a different floor to the rest of the garden. Lawn might be changed to gravel, with weed-suppressing membrane beneath.
Trees can do an excellent job of marking out a space and making it a private one. The garden designers’ contemporary take on the classic vine-draped pergola is to plant six or eight roof-trained hornbeams that have straight trunks to form the side supports, their branches trained to form an attractive leafy canopy overhead.
Two or three multi-stemmed silver birches will give the impression of a woodland glade, concealing a sanctuary in dappled shade.
You can use plants, too, to make a gauzy screen that hits its ultimate height in high summer. Tall, ornamental grasses such as Stipa gigantea and the thin, flower-topped stems of Verbena bonariensis will provide subtle plant veiling to mask a couple of sun loungers, while a surround of tall, richly scented Provençal lavender Grosso will make your retreat an aromatic one.
A hammock slung beneath two trees or posts, in a quiet corner of the garden, is the ultimate makeshift retreat. Double its appeal by planting swishy stipa grasses and ferns beneath, for your fingers to lazily trail through.
After that, the only accessories you will need for a blissful afternoon are a couple of cushions and a large, ice-cool G&T.