The well-dressed garden

 Getting away from it all in the backyard won’t strain your budget. “All you need is a sheltering tree, a beckoning bench — just some shade and a place to flop,” says Margie Grace of Grace Design Associates in Santa Barbara, Calif. Grace’s own garden has a couple of getaways: a patio just big enough for two people and a larger spot that can accommodate eight. But one of her favorite garden escapes is the vegetable garden along the edge of her driveway.
    “I find that I’m lingering a few minutes on my way from the car to the house, and I am decompressing the whole time,” Grace says. She checks her tomatoes, helps the bean tendrils get a grip on their trellis and nibbles on snow peas. “I come through the front door relaxed,” she says.
    Joseph Marek, a landscape architect in Santa Monica, Calif., turned his garage into a design studio and then tucked a few chairs from a flea market, plumped up with colorful pillows, under the canopy of a spreading tree, surrounded by lush plants. He uses this outdoor room, half-way between home and work in his own backyard, both to entertain clients and to relax with friends.
    “The basics are there: leaves, trees, furniture and comfort,” Marek says. “These things are right for every garden. It doesn’t matter where you are  they all apply.”
    Marek loves playful colors and employs them with confidence. There are touches of lime green, sparkling Mediterranean blue, and dramatic, sizzling red in his clients’ gardens and his own. He chooses flower pots with bright glazes and favors plants with flashy foliage variegation or striking hues.
    If possible, add water, Marek and Grace both say. A splashing fountain cools the air in the space, and it helps you forget about traffic noise. Bubbling fountains are marvelously soothing. Water also draws light from the sky down into the garden and reflects it in sparkling and constantly changing patterns. You don’t have to dig a big hole or hire an engineer to install your water feature — a simple birdbath in a plant saucer or a tabletop fountain from a garden shop will do the trick.
    Interesting textures contribute to the feeling of pleasant intimacy you’re trying to create in a private garden space. The foliage of plants in beds or hedges is endlessly various and restful to the eye; feathery bamboo or wispy willows create romantic curtains that flutter in a breeze; evergreens make a cool, reassuring wall of greenery. The craftsmanship of stonework on a patio or in a garden wall will contrast handsomely with your plantings.
    Taking things you love outdoors with you will make your garden escape even more comfortable and homelike. Mirrors have a magical effect outdoors, and lamps keep a cozy party going. Second-hand furniture will look as good as new refreshed with a coat of paint,
    When you look around your garden to plan your own private place outdoors, indulge yourself, Grace suggests. “It starts with a great big fantasy,” she says, but you decide what you really want. “What does it take for you to get away — is it reading, or doing something manual? Make a list, or look at magazines and tear out things you like.”
    For clients who wanted a place to nap in their garden, Grace designed a graceful, generously proportioned curving stone bench and had cushions made to fit. In another garden, she arranged boulders excavated from the site as informal garden seating: On a hot day, the rocks in the shade feel cool and inviting, and when the temperature is nippy, stones in the sun absorb the heat and make a warm seat. For a party, just add a few throw pillows.
    You will be tempted to take your cell phone out to your secret spot, or to test your wi-fi connection under the trees, but it might be a better idea to leave the technology behind. “I recommend unplugged,” Grace says. Marek echoes the sentiment: “Don’t take your Blackberry outside if you’re trying to relax,” he says. Instead, grab a pillow in one hand and a cold drink in the other. You’re on vacation.
    Here are some tips and ideas for your backyard vacation spot from Margie Grace of Grace Design Associates  
    — The path to your hideout should ideally be a little journey, so you feel like you’re getting away. Stepping-stones will almost force you to slow down; stairs up or down to a new level signal a transition — the last step makes you feel that you have arrived.
    — Create shelter. Even a low wall or hedge is enough to provide a sense of enclosure.
    — Give some thought to the mood you’re after. Choose colors you know you love. Fragrant flowers around an enclosed place will do wonders for the ambience.
    — Lighting is important, but don’t overdo it. On moonlit or starry nights, remember to turn off the lights and let the universe shine in on you.
    — Comfortable furniture is essential. You won’t linger if a chair is flimsy or a bench catches your back in the wrong place.