IN THE GARDEN | Finding shelter in the garden

IN THE GARDEN | Finding shelter in the garden

IN THE GARDEN | Finding shelter in the garden

As I write this, the garden is a frozen wasteland, with more snow in the forecast and thoughts of garden pleasures far away. The only thing that gets me outside is our dog, who lets me know when she needs a walk. I turn to thoughts of shelter.

Structures in the garden provide protection from the elements and privacy from neighbors. They create a destination in your garden and a visual focal point. They allow you to experience your garden in a different way, creating an intimate enclosure that contrasts with the openness of the rest of the garden.


Types of shelters

Good garden design creates places for a range of activities. One of the most important of these is getting together with family and friends on paved areas suitable for furniture. Adding a structure for sitting and dining accentuates the gathering spot.

The design of your shelter depends on the purpose and the number of people you want to accommodate. Garden structures come by many names. A gazebo is a small, freestanding, roofed structure with open sides. 

A garden structure crosses the line into a garden house or cottage when it can be completely closed off from the environment with doors and windows, snug on a cold winter day. 

Outdoor kitchens make for a covered place to cook and serve a meal. They can be as simple as a covered area to barbecue out of the rain or include a pizza oven, sink and refrigerator. 

Playhouses are usually enclosed and smaller in scale, with smaller windows and doors. Planning ahead, you can build a playhouse that can be converted to another use when the children grow up, by making it big enough for adult use.

The least elaborate shelter is a few posts and an overhead arbor — very easy to build. The structure provides support for plants; the foliage creates a green canopy to increase the sense of cover. Grapes and kiwis add fruit, as well as leaves.


Fitting it in your space

Shelter design can repeat the theme or style of your garden. In an Asian garden, add references in the construction to Japanese or Chinese architecture. 

If you like Northwest style, a natural, wood shelter with stone bases on the columns adds a rustic look. 

Match a contemporary garden with industrial materials such as steel and glass. 

Pay attention to the floor. It can be at the same level as the rest of the garden, made of stone, concrete or gravel. Decking — whether wood or recycled plastic lumber — will require a step or two up, giving a feeling of overlook.

Size your structure to fit the function and the budget. I have an octagon-shaped shelter in my garden that is large enough to seat eight around a 42-inch-diameter, circular table. The structure is 11 feet across at the widest points. 

The largest structure that I have designed is 15 feet wide and 30 feet long, for seating at one end and dining at the other; it took inspiration from a picnic shelter in a state park.

Consider adding a fireplace to your structure for coziness on cool nights. Use a masonry or stainless-steel chimney to keep the smoke out of your shelter, or use a natural gas or propane burner so you can use it even when burning bans are in effect.

Check zoning and building codes in your municipality. In Seattle, permits are not required for sheds and playhouses if the roof does not exceed 120 square feet and the building is not placed on a concrete foundation other than a slab on grade, and for arbors that do not exceed 120 square feet. If you want to build something larger in Seattle, apply for a building permit.


Upcoming garden show

Speaking of shelter, visit the bird-friendly garden called Birdsong at this year’s Northwest Flower & Garden Show. See habitats that you can create in your own back yard that nurture and shelter birds. 

This garden is a collaboration between the Washington Park Arboretum and the Seattle Audubon and I am one of the co-designers.

The show ( takes place Feb. 8 through 12 at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center in Downtown Seattle. 

PHIL WOOD is the owner of Phil Wood Garden Design in Seattle.

[[In-content Ad]]