a sunken garden patio with wooden furniture

14 Sunken Garden Ideas

If you are looking for ways to make the most of your outdoor space, then a sunken garden may be just what you need. These gardens are becoming increasingly popular, offering a unique private area to relax, entertain, or spend some quiet time. And, with careful planning and design, a sunken garden can become the centrepiece of your outdoor space, providing a tranquil oasis away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Fortunately, we have fifteen sunken garden ideas to help you get started! From small sunken garden ideas to how to style an ample space and sunken garden seating to planting suggestions, here are some of our favourite sunken garden ideas.

What Is A Sunken Garden?

Before we explore our top sunken garden ideas, it’s important to clarify what we mean by that. Sunken gardens can refer to many different things, so it’s worth clarifying what we mean. First, when we say sunken garden, we are talking about an area of the garden below ground level – a landscaped feature with sides or walls. These spaces provide a contemporary feel to outdoor spaces, and are sometimes called sunken patios.

A sunken garden is a formal, traditional English garden that gets its name because it sits a foot below the main ground level. They have been used for centuries, particularly in areas with limited water, but have become a favoured gardening trend over the last few years. This type of garden is perfect if you need to catch and contain water in a specific area or direct it away to another, lower place. Often, gardeners use dirt to create mounds and hills between the formal rows of plants, to further help protect and shelter them against harsh weather conditions.

In a sunken garden, the layout and design of the space are just as important as the plants chosen to be featured. For example, the walls or sides of the garden can be made of various materials such as stone, concrete or wood, and you can dig the base into the ground or build up to create an elevated floor level. Sunken gardens can also incorporate steps, fountains or ponds to create a unique and eye-catching landscape design.

Historically, sunken gardens were popular in many grand estates and formal gardens throughout Europe, particularly during the Renaissance period. They showcased the owner’s wealth and status and provided a tranquil and aesthetically pleasing space for social gatherings and entertainment. Sunken gardens have become more accessible in many residential gardens, parks and public spaces worldwide.

How To Build A Sunken Patio

Creating a sunken garden adds interest and uniqueness to your outdoor space, and opens up the options in your garden. Here’s a step-by-step guide to making your own sunken garden:

  • Plan your design – Before you start getting your hands dirty, consider the purpose of your sunken garden and how it will fit in with the rest of your outdoor space. Then, once you know the purpose of your sunken garden, use it to help you decide on the location and size of your sunken garden.
  • Excavate – Next, dig out the area where your sunken garden will be. Be sure to pay attention to the depth and shape of the site, keeping in mind your small sunken garden ideas. Also, you must construct retaining walls to hold back the surrounding ground.
  • Install drainage – To prevent your sunken garden from becoming a swamp, it’s essential to have proper drainage in place. You should consult with a landscape designer to determine the best drainage solution for your specific sunken garden room.
  • Include plants – Fill the recessed area with soil, then add some shady border plants that will thrive in your low garden. However, consider the depth of your recessed garden when selecting plants.
  • Add seating – If you plan to have a sunken garden seating area, consider how you will provide seating. You can use the retaining walls as a backrest for a bench or install sunken garden seating in a separate area. Additionally, think about including an outdoor heating element to keep the space cosy and inviting year-round.

14 Sunken Garden Ideas

sunken garden ideas with a swimming pool and chairs

After you’ve built your sunken patio, your options are open for design! However, finding inspiration through sunken garden ideas will elevate your new outdoor space. Fortunately, we have 15 sunken garden ideas to help inspire your design. No matter the size of the area you’re working with, we hope we can spark your creativity. So, let’s dive in!

1. Incorporate Built-in Seating Into Your Sunken Garden Room

When designing a sunken garden room, incorporating built-in seating is a fantastic way to create a comfortable and functional space. Not only does it maximise the use of the area, but it also adds a sleek and stylish element to your design. There are various ways to achieve this, but one popular option is building seating into the retaining walls. This approach provides a streamlined aesthetic and a cosy, intimate feel when utilised on two opposite walls.

One of the benefits of using the retaining wall for seating is that it can be customised to suit your needs. For instance, you can adjust the seating’s height, depth, and curvature to make it more comfortable and inviting. Additionally, incorporating cushions and pillows can add a pop of colour and texture to the area, enhancing its overall look and feel.

When deciding on the type of seating to include in your sunken garden, consider your design’s overall theme and style. For instance, if you want a rustic feel, you might opt for wooden benches or chairs. Alternatively, if you prefer a more modern aesthetic, sleek and minimalist seating could be the way to go.

2. Create a Formal Style Sunken Garden

A formal style can work wonders in a sunken garden, adding elegance and grandeur. With its defined, geometric lines and symmetry, a formal style is excellent for creating a sense of order and balance in their outdoor space.

When it comes to designing a formal style sunken garden, there are a few design elements that can help you achieve the look. Firstly, consider using symmetry in the garden design, with matching features on both sides of the central pathway. This can include planting identical hedges, trees or flower beds on either side. Also, you should consider using geometric shapes, such as squares or rectangles, in the garden design to create structure and order. 

Next, you can incorporate formal elements like fountains, topiaries, and classical garden ornaments to add to the traditional atmosphere. When it comes to furniture, classic and elegant pieces, such as wrought iron benches or a marble dining table, can help enhance the formal aesthetic. Finally, choose neat plants, such as boxwood or topiary trees, and trim them regularly to maintain their formal appearance.

Don’t let a small size put you off from creating a formal sunken garden either! Plenty of small sunken garden ideas work wonders in a standard-style sunken garden, including thin, wrought iron furniture and planters in the retaining walls. 

3. Extend Your Interior Spaces With Your Sunken Garden Room

Extending your interior spaces into outdoor areas can create a seamless flow between your home and garden. One way to achieve this is by creating a sunken garden accessible from your interior spaces. This is especially beneficial for narrow sloping areas, as excavating for a sunken garden can provide a good exterior view while allowing plenty of natural light to penetrate your living spaces. You can design your sunken garden to complement the interior of your home, providing a harmonious transition between your indoor and outdoor areas. Consider using similar materials and colours to your indoor decor, and incorporate comfortable furniture and lighting to create an inviting and functional space. 

Read More: Long Narrow Garden Ideas

4. Make The Space Private

Privacy is a crucial element in sunken gardens, particularly in spaces that neighbours or passers-by overlook. To create a sense of seclusion, there are various ways to prioritise privacy in your sunken garden while also maintaining a comfortable atmosphere. For example, you can incorporate different materials to surround the area, such as natural screens, tall plants like bamboo and grasses, or privacy fences. By blending these features together, you can create a sense of enclosure that feels both private and inviting. However, it’s essential to strike the right balance between openness and seclusion so the space doesn’t feel closed in.

5. Include a Pond in Your Sunken Garden Ideas

When it comes to designing a sunken garden, retaining walls are often necessary to keep the soil in place. But why not make the most of them and use them to create beautiful raised planters? This is a great way to add depth and interest to the space, and can be a perfect solution for small sunken garden ideas. By filling these planters with a range of perennials and annuals, you can create a garden that has year-round interest, and by varying the heights of the plants you choose, you can create a visually exciting garden that catches the eye. Incorporating planters into your sunken garden ideas is an excellent way to add some extra greenery to the space, and to make the most of the retaining walls you need to include.

Including a pond in your sunken garden ideas can add an extra layer of tranquillity and beauty to the space. When designing your sunken garden with a pond, it is important to take into account the amount of sunlight the area receives, as this can affect the plants and wildlife that thrive in and around the pond. Also, you should consider using native plants to provide shade and shelter for the fish and other pond life. 

When it comes to choosing the type of pond to include in your sunken garden ideas, there are several options, including a natural-looking wildlife pond or a formal garden pond with ornamental fish. Whatever you choose, make sure the pond fits seamlessly into the overall design of your sunken garden, and consider including features such as a small waterfall or fountain to add even more interest to the space. Finally, be sure to include proper filtration and maintenance systems to keep the pond clean and healthy.

6. Choose The Right Planting Scheme

A well-planned planting scheme can soften the hard edges of a sunken garden room and add texture, colour, and interest. So, selecting plants that complement the overall design of the space is important. 

First, consider the style of your home and the existing landscaping around your sunken garden when selecting plants. For example, for a formal sunken garden, choose symmetrical planting schemes with neatly trimmed hedges, clipped topiaries, and structured planting beds. On the other hand, a more informal sunken garden can be filled with wildflowers, grasses, and naturalistic planting schemes.

Also, when selecting plants, pay attention to soil type and orientation. Some plants prefer full sun while others thrive in shaded areas, so make sure to choose plants that suit the conditions of your sunken garden.

Some great plants to consider for a sunken garden include:

  • Hostas for their lush foliage and shade tolerance
  • Ornamental grasses for their movement and texture
  • Alliums for their striking spherical blooms
  • Lavender for its beautiful fragrance and drought tolerance
  • Boxwood for its formal structure and evergreen foliage

7. Make It Lush With Sunken Flower Beds

small sunken garden ideas with shade cover

If your sunken garden has a gentle slope leading into it, then creating sunken flower beds can be a great way to add more greenery and interest to the space. You can make planting beds within the slope, but make sure you choose plants that can thrive in the specific conditions of the sunken garden.

Make sure to select plants that will work well with the overall design of your sunken garden as well as the conditions of the space. Incorporating plants of different heights and textures will create a visually stunning display. Also, adding in pops of colour with flowering plants will also enhance the aesthetic appeal of the space.

8. Create A Curved Sunken Garden Design For Socialising

Creating a curved sunken garden can bring a sense of flow and harmony to your outdoor space. Curved or circular sunken garden designs can be particularly effective for socialising, providing an intimate and cosy setting for entertaining friends and family.

To create a curved sunken garden, consider using a paving circle. This will give you a solid foundation for your seating area and create a clear boundary for the space. Then, add a wall or hedging to enhance the sense of enclosure and privacy.

When choosing plants for your curved sunken garden, consider using varieties that will thrive in the specific conditions of your garden, including the amount of sunlight and moisture your garden receives. Also, using plants with attractive foliage or blooms will add visual interest to the space.

9. Give The Illusion of a Sunken Garden

Creating the illusion of a sunken garden is a great way to incorporate this design element into a smaller space or to achieve the look without the hassle of excavation. One way to do this is by using different levels of hard landscaping materials to create the impression of steps down into the garden. You can use decking, paving, or gravel to create these different levels and then incorporate plants and seating areas to add depth and interest to the space.

Another option is to use raised beds or planters around the perimeter of the space to create the illusion of a sunken garden. By varying the height of the planters, you can develop a sense of depth and enclosure within the area. Use a mix of perennials, shrubs, and annuals to create a diverse and lush planting scheme.

In addition to creating an attractive feature in your garden, a faux sunken garden can also be a practical solution for areas that are prone to flooding or have drainage issues. By creating different levels of planting areas, you can help to absorb excess water and prevent damage to your garden.

10. Include A Hot Tub

Including a hot tub in your sunken garden ideas is a great way to add a touch of luxury to your outdoor space. However, before starting your project, it’s essential to consider the practicalities, such as how you will access the tub, where you will store chemicals and equipment, and how you will ensure adequate drainage. Also, you will need to consider the weight of the hot tub and the surrounding structure, as well as any additional safety features, such as fencing or covers.

Once you have all of the practicalities sorted, you can focus on creating a relaxing and inviting atmosphere. For example, you could add lighting, such as fairy lights or lanterns, to create a cosy ambiance, and surround the area with plants and foliage to add privacy and a touch of natural beauty. With a hot tub in your sunken garden, you’ll have the perfect place to unwind and soak your cares away.

11. Create a Garden Room in Your Sunken Space

A garden room is a separate part of this outdoor space that serves as an extension of your living area. It is the perfect place to relax, work, or entertain guests while enjoying the beauty of the outdoors. A garden room can be the ideal addition to your sunken garden room, creating a private area away from the main house.

To create a garden room in your sunken space, consider the size and style of your garden, as well as your needs and budget. Also, think about the purpose of your garden room. For example, will you use it as a workspace, a reading nook, or a place to entertain guests? Then, you can start looking for the appropriate materials, such as wood or metal, for the structure, and choose the right furniture and decor to match the style of the garden room.

Also, remember to consider the practical aspects, such as lighting and heating. After all, you want to ensure your garden room is comfortable and functional year-round.

12. Centre Your Sunken Garden Ideas Around A Firepit

A firepit can be an excellent addition that creates a cosy and inviting atmosphere in your sunken garden. There are various styles of fire pit that you can consider, from a modern concrete finish to a rustic stone finish. Also, you can centre your sunken garden seating area around the firepit with seating options like built-in benches or comfortable outdoor chairs.

When selecting a fire pit, it’s essential to consider the size and shape of your sunken garden. After all, you want to make sure that it fits well and doesn’t overwhelm the space. Alos, consider the type of fuel source you prefer, such as wood-burning or gas.

To add even more style and personality to your sunken garden, consider adding decorative elements around the firepit. This could include plants, lighting, or even a decorative screen to provide some privacy. Whatever your aesthetic preferences, a firepit can be a great focal point for a sunken garden that will provide warmth and ambiance for years to come.

13. Create An Outdoor Kitchen

Creating an outdoor kitchen in a sunken garden is a fantastic way to maximise your outdoor space. However, it’s important to choose durable and weather-resistant materials so your outdoor kitchen can withstand the elements. There are plenty of options for equipment to include in your outdoor kitchen, such as a pizza oven, BBQ, smoker, griddle, or even a rotisserie to your outdoor kitchen to expand your cooking options. Consider including a countertop or bar area for guests to sit and enjoy their food while socialising. 

When designing your outdoor kitchen, consider including a prep area, sink, fridge, and storage for utensils, plates, and cups. Also, include a shaded area to protect you and your friends from the sun while cooking and eating.

With an outdoor kitchen in your sunken garden, you can create a welcoming space for entertaining and enjoying delicious food with friends and family. Just remember to take safety precautions when using cooking appliances in an outdoor setting and to follow any local regulations regarding outdoor kitchens.

14. Transform Your Sunken Garden Into A Mini Greenhouse

A sunken garden can be an excellent location for a mini greenhouse, as it offers a sheltered and enclosed space, making it easier to control the environment for the plants. With a greenhouse, you can extend the growing season, start seedlings earlier, and grow plants that might not thrive outdoors in your area. Additionally, the conservatory offers protection from pests and harsh weather conditions such as frost, heavy rains, or strong winds.

Another advantage of having a mini greenhouse in your sunken garden is that it can be a fun and educational activity for children, as they can learn about plant growth and care. You can involve them in selecting and planting the seeds, watering and fertilising the plants, and monitoring their growth.

Embrace the Beauty of Nature with a Sunken Garden

A sunken garden is one of many unique garden design ideas that can really elevate and improve your outdoor space. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful retreat to relax in or an entertaining space to host friends and family, a sunken garden can offer you both. And, with careful planning, attention to detail and our sunken garden ideas, you can create a beautiful and functional garden that you will love spending time in. Enjoy! 

FAQs

What is the point of a Sunken Garden?

The point of a sunken garden is to create an outdoor space that is unique, visually appealing, and offers a sense of seclusion and privacy. By excavating the area and creating a depression in the ground, a sunken garden can provide a sense of intimacy and shelter from wind and noise, as well as offer opportunities for creative garden design and landscaping. A sunken garden can also serve as a focal point in the garden, allowing for a variety of features such as water features, seating areas, or outdoor kitchens. Additionally, a sunken garden can provide better drainage, making it an ideal solution for areas with poor soil or drainage issues.

How do you drain a Sunken Garden?

Draining a sunken garden can be a challenging task. One method is to install a drainage system when constructing the garden. This involves digging a trench around the perimeter of the garden and installing a drainage pipe that is sloped away from the garden to allow water to flow out. Another method is to install a sump pump that pumps water out of the garden and away from the property. In some cases, it may be necessary to bring in a professional landscaper or contractor to assess the drainage issues and recommend the best solution.

Resources

Grimsdyke Hotel. (n.d.). The Sunken Garden. Retrieved April 14, 2023, from https://grimsdyke.com/sunken-garden/ 

Kapsenberg Design. (n.d.). Sunken Garden. Retrieved April 14, 2023, from https://www.kapsenbergdesign.com/garden/byborder8.php  

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