Take inspiration from Chelsea designer Kate Gould's ultra-zen creation, says Hannah Stephenson.

Imagine the setting - a cornucopia of tropical planting shadowing a hidden oasis of calm, replete with hot tub, comfortable loungers, subtle lanterns and tea lights dotted around, and the scent of jasmine in the air.

This might seem like an unrealistic aspiration of how to create the perfect garden sanctuary, especially if you have a small space. But if you're able to include just a few of these features in your outdoor space - which all star in Chelsea garden designer Kate Gould's 'Out Of The Shadows' sanctuary garden this year - you could be on the road to zen.

Gould's creation is a lesson in how post-pandemic gardens are being asked to work harder for us than ever. Not only to grow plants but to provide an outdoor extension to our homes, where we can relax, exercise, entertain and eat.

"The RHS has a category called Sanctuary Gardens and it's my interpretation of what coming out of Covid was, in terms of clients making their gardens safe, usable and able to exercise in and gather in small numbers," says Gould.

The garden features a state-of-the-art jacuzzi swim spa, spaces for seating and relaxation, climbing bars, and a yoga/meditation space all elegantly situated among dramatic and exotic, tropical-style planting.

Here, Gould offers a few pointers on how to create your own garden sanctuary...

1. Plants are key

"My idea of sanctuary would be digging a big hole and gardening. If you are talking about creating a spa feeling, it's more than anything about the plants," she says.

"If you want to use a spa all year, a lot of the plants will have to be evergreen, which either leads you down a supermarket car park look, which you don't want, or a more tropical look using palms, ferns, leafy perennials, or other plants which will give you that lush green look."

Gould's Chelsea garden features palm trees, bamboo, false pepper trees and ferns. White or blue flowers will pop out in the sunnier aspect at the front, but the whole effect is a subtle, muted palette.

2. Create a canopy

If you have a tree fern, you could be nestled under a canopy to make the area feel really private.

3. Use subtle lighting

"You can light the canopy beautifully, because all those plants light beautifully at night. Really simple uplighters are very effective at lighting trees and don't necessarily cost the earth. You also don't have to see them," says Gould.

"Then you have decorative lights like standard lamps and lanterns, floor-mounted objects which look amazing and you can just layer it up. The only thing you really want is to make sure, if you are using electrics, is that somebody qualified installs it for you."

4. Consider an outdoor shower

On hot, balmy summer days or nights, an open-air shower might be just the ticket - but get a professional to install it for you. Create privacy by sheltering it with plants, Gould suggests.

5. Give yourself space to stretch

"In the Chelsea garden I've designed, there's space to do some yoga to relax or meditate, even though the space is only 10m by 10m. We have a very light gravel area and you'd have a dense yoga mat on top of it. It's surrounded by bamboo and tree ferns and acers so it feels very quiet."

6. Make cosy seating areas

"This has changed over the years. If you have a large area and can really customise it, you could make it long and low and really comfortable with cushions. But remember you will have to put the cushions away in the winter," says Gould. "Otherwise, there are many other lovely furniture options to choose from. Modular sofas can be assembled in the configuration you want [and many] come with waterproof covers.

"Spas tend to want to be relaxing, so if you choose colours which uplift you, such as reds and yellows, you'd probably avoid those. Go with gentle blues, greys and greens because that will also reflect the planting."

7. What about water?

With Covid, more people are investing in their gardens, which means they might put in a swim spa - a large jacuzzi with a current in it which you can swim against - says Gould, whose Chelsea garden will be incorporating one of these.

"The spa becomes not only something you can sit in for relaxation, but you can exercise in it," she notes. "Water's like Marmite - you either love it or hate it. If you have a spa, you can get in it and sit there in the bubbles, and maybe drink bubbles when you're in it. Alternatively, a still pool of water can reflect.

"But you could equally have a sculpture or a firepit, which is less to maintain and might aesthetically fit the garden and doesn't necessarily need the upkeep that a water feature would."

8. Scent-sational plants

"The best one for this is Chinese jasmine (trachelospermum), which has lovely glossy evergreen foliage which flowers in the winter. You could also have Christmas box. If you have lots of pots and a bit of sunshine, you could plant pittosporum, which smells like holidays," says Gould. "You probably wouldn't want to mix your messages, so if you are going down a leafy, tropical theme, you are not going to want to put lavender in."