A romantic retreat

Valentine's Day is the perfect time to turn your thoughts to designing a garden for romance.

A-romantic-retreat-DSC-9491A garden of romance is all about ambience and there are many ways you can introduce a romantic atmosphere into your garden. Top gardening writer, Joan Wright, says: “A romantic garden can have intimate spaces and water gardens, it can be a kaleidoscope of beautiful colour, or a tiny, secret hideaway in a townhouse garden.” A concealed garden should be exciting - a special, secret world, filled with anticipation. “In Victorian times, secret gardens were the perfect rendezvous for lovers. Winding paths led through shrubbery and mazes to climber-covered arbours and discreetly placed seats,” says Joan.

While plants should be the main characters in a romantic garden, there are decorative accents that can enhance and contribute to the overall effect. One of the easiest to place, and one which has been associated with romance for centuries, is the sundial. These often bore romantic inscriptions, a favourite quotation being "Love alters not with time's brief hours" from Shakespeare. A sundial inscribed with your favourite romantic quote is a charming way of introducing some romance into your garden.

“Arbours, summer houses, gazebos, even a simple latticework trellis, offer a private space, a hideaway, protection from public gaze. Add a hammock or a swing seat for two, and you have a garden for romance,” advises Joan. “Our busy 20th Century lifestyles sometimes make it difficult to find time during the day to indulge in quiet moments,” she says. “Consider a moonlight garden - an intimate space, filled with fragrant white or pale-coloured flowers and silver foliage. A small pool to reflect the moonlight could substitute a sundial, and you have a garden in which to dream.”

Fragrant romance

Fragrant plants are essential in a romantic garden. “Some plants, like honeysuckle, jasmine and roses, spread their scent far and wide, others only at certain times of the day or evening,” says Joan. Rosemary and lavender release their scent when the plants are touched or crushed, so are best planted next to a path or near a bench. Other fragrant plants to try are gardenias, scented pelargoniums, star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and Artemisia‘ Powis Castle’.


Plants that release their fragrance as the sun sets are perfect for your romantic garden. Some flowers even give a clue with names like evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), night-scented stock and moonflower. Others include tuberose, hostas, nicotianas, lilies, jasmine, honeysuckle and some orchids.

Roses for romantic gardens

Roses epitomise romance and should be given pride of place in your romantic garden. There are no shortages of beautiful roses, or roses with romantic names like ‘Bewitched’, ‘Ace of Hearts’, ‘Lover’s Meeting’, ‘Thousand Kisses’ and ‘True Love’. If you only have space for just one rose, then grow the climbing version of the ‘sweetheart’ rose - ‘Cecile Brunner’. Sprays of tiny pink, perfectly formed roses are produced freely for most of the year. This rose can be trained over an arch, as a neat shrub or encouraged to grow around a pillar or post.

Ravishing reds

Red flowers have been associated with romance since time immemorial, so if you prefer your lover’s haven to be planted up solely with plants in all shades of red, then consider these:


New Guinea impatiens


Shrubs and perennials

Callistemon ‘Endeavour’, red hibiscus, Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’, day lilies such as ‘Red Ruffles’ and ‘Red Robe’, red canna.

Red roses

‘Annique’, ‘Modern Crusader’, ‘Belle Rouge’, ‘Avon’, ‘Walter Sisulu’, ‘Ecstasy’, ‘Ingrid Bergman’, ‘Mother’s Value’, ‘Red Pixie’, ‘Little Red Hedge’.


Deep red snapdragon (Antirrhinum spp.), penstemon, sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), salvia, New Guinea impatiens, begonia, zinnias, petunia.

Lovers’ seat

No romantic retreat should be without a garden seat nestled amongst the plants in your secret hideaway. A garden bench can become an instant focal point, creating a new vista. Frame the effect with an arbour or archway covered in glorious roses and grow scented plants nearby in pots. In a dark, shady corner, place a white or light coloured bench to ‘lift’ the area.

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