Memorable Garden Hideaways

As a child growing up in Southern CA, I spent golden summer afternoons climbing avocado trees; furnishing a fortress walled with living bamboo; and lazing in a lawn glider as sprinklers splashed its plastic cover and library books ushered me to OZ.

Decades later, as a scout for newspapers and magazines, I occasionally encountered some homeowner’s garden retreat. Often I’d want to linger and share the fantasy. Other times, I was merely bemused. Here, for your entertainment—and perhaps inspiration—are some of the most memorable.

This garden grotto shelters a 2,500-gallon aquarium for golden trout from high-Sierra streams.  The water temperature is kept just above freezing in winter. Fish come to the window to stare back at their owner, who, at the time this photo was taken, happily told me two had spawned.

This is not a playhouse unless you’re a chicken. Rather, it’s a source of Spanish omelettes: a hen hacienda behind a house in Rancho Santa Fe.

I spotted this hobbitlike structure on a La Jolla garden tour. Want to see inside?

I like the ceiling, the glossy hardwood floors, the kitchen nook, and, well, everything about it. I suspect it’s as much guest house for grownups as playhouse for kids.

The cushioned swing on the right, beneath hefty beams, is what attracts me; I don’t think the table and chairs in full sun are inviting. But I do love those stone pillars and entry.

I was certain the publications I scouted for wouldn’t want a gas station-themed shed, so I took only one photo and didn’t get the owner’s name—which I’ve since regretted.

This is how my friend Laurie Connable’s potager looked the day it was photographed for a Better Homes & Gardens publication. Foxgloves and dianthus bloom in the foreground.

Wire mesh keeps bunnies at bay.

The great thing about avocado trees is that many have steplike limbs and plenty of open space beneath a tentlike canopy. Not only is this avocado overpruned, the “tree house” is really atop poles. Though doubtless pricey and earthquake-proof, it’s a grown-up’s idea of what a kid would want.

Discarded adobe bricks piled in an Escondido backyard were used to construct the “ruins” of an adobe chapel. At dusk, candles impart a magical ambience.

And how’s this for a home office? The structure on the left is pretty cool, too, ha.

Author Debra Prinzing, in her award-winningStylish Sheds and Elegant Hideaways: Big Ideas for Small Backyard Destinationsexplores the subject via appealing photos and a variety of well-chosen examples. She includes this nostalgia-enducing quote:

“I’d give all the wealth that years have piled
The slow result of life’s decay
To be once more a little child
For one bright summer day.”
from Solitude by Lewis Carroll

About Debra Lee Baldwin

Debra Lee Baldwin gardens on "an inhospitable half acre" in Escondido, CA, near San Diego. She is an award-winning photojournalist and artist with hundreds of articles and columns to her credit. Debra's books are Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens and Succulents Simplified.

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11 Responses to Memorable Garden Hideaways

  1. Lisa at Greenbow September 22, 2010 at 7:29 am #

    These is a wonderful collection of dreams that came true.

    Hi, Lisa — They’re each charming in their own way, aren’t they? — Debra

  2. Bonnie September 22, 2010 at 8:45 am #

    I love all of them. These are amazing!

    Thanks, Bonnie! Glad you like them. — Debra

  3. Ginny September 22, 2010 at 9:49 am #

    Oh, I love that hobbit house! And that’s the prettiest potager I’ve ever seen. I would love a little screened in room hidden away at the back of my garden – maybe someday!

    Hi, Ginny. Me, too. I’d love a guest house/office/art studio in the garden. Especially if I didn’t have to maintain it! — Debra

  4. Darla September 22, 2010 at 10:11 am #

    Very nice the most of them..

    Thanks, Darla. The only one I placed with a publication was the trout grotto, btw. — Debra

  5. Naomi Slade September 22, 2010 at 12:19 pm #

    These are brilliant! Nice shots too.

    Thanks, Naomi. I like the way each has as much personality as its owner. — Debra

  6. Gail September 22, 2010 at 1:02 pm #

    Love the hen house~I wouldn’t mind an office like that one in my garden! It would be a different kind of ‘hen house’ though…gail

    LOL! Good point, Gail. — Debra

  7. Debra September 22, 2010 at 11:11 pm #

    hi Debra Lee – thanks for the mention! You have found some delightfully enticing “stylish sheds” and I wish I could write a 2nd book in order to share them with the world!

    Hi, Deb — Thanks, but most of these are a bit wacky compared to the lovely ones in your book. I doubt many people are going to think, “A trout grotto! Gotta have one!” — Debra

  8. Steve September 23, 2010 at 9:17 am #

    Wonderful. My favorites are the stone pillar garden and the adobe chapel ruins. I just have a thing for courtyards and enclosed gardens with their seclusion and privacy.

    I too find the cushion swing more inviting than the table and chairs which, if it was my garden, would probably only be used when there wasn’t enough room left on the swing.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    Hi, Steve — I’m with you. Those are my faves, too, especially if I could have the home/s that go with them! — Debra

  9. Donna September 24, 2010 at 4:13 pm #

    They are quite impressive and fun too. I like Hobbit house and Bunnie at Bay a lot. And those chickens have it made.

    Hi, Donna — The Bunny-at-bay one also has a chicken coop in the same garden—a “palais de poulets.” — Debra

  10. Dee September 25, 2010 at 5:57 pm #

    I’m pretty sure my husband would love a gas-stationed themed shed, but I’m not sure their would be room for it after I build my own “ruin.”

    Hi, Dee — Gas station memorabilia has a huge following. But that’s another blog (and one I doubt I’ll get around to writing, lol). — Debra

  11. Andrea Caughey September 28, 2010 at 8:06 pm #

    Debra, where did you find that cool outdoor shed overlooking SD Bay? (There is a little child running across the lawn in red!) Thanks!

    Hey, everyone, Andrea is the San Diego regional scout for Meredith Corporation publications (Better Homes & Gardens). She scouted my own garden for BH&G and orchestrated the photo shoot—a most memorable occasion! Andrea, I emailed you directly w/the homeowner’s name and location. Thanks for dropping in! — Debra