In the past year, many of us have turned to our gardens to produce fresh foods and provide bright spots of beauty. But many more are finding their own garden getaways provide a place to relax, unwind, escape the stress of today’s world and enjoy the outdoors.

You don’t need a lavish estate to benefit from this escape. Even a tiny balcony can be transformed into a mini sanctuary with the addition of plants which can include both ornamental and edible varieties. The rewards are many.

The benefits of being outdoors are well documented, from our ability to absorb vitamin D from the sunshine, to good heart-healthy and bone-strengthening exercise, to the bonus of harvesting fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs and beautiful bouquets of flowers and foliage. That’s not to mention the stress-reducing and life reaffirming ability that green-growing things can provide.

But where to begin? The best advice for anyone, and especially someone new to gardening is to start out small, start out with low-maintenance plants that can deliver beauty, but that do not require constant maintenance. There’s nothing like failure to discourage gardening efforts.

That said, it is wise to remember that every garden “disaster,” every plant that bites the dust is a lesson learned in what not to do. Good gardeners often learn as much from their failures as from their triumphs.

Now is a good time to start planning a garden sanctuary and here are a few tips to consider as you plan your garden getaway:

Create a space for quiet contemplation with a Zen garden design. Your contemplation corner can include a natural grass mat or bench or other outdoor seating to allow lingering. The space need not be large, and can be tucked into a quiet part of the landscape or even a corner of a balcony.

Add the sound of water with a small tabletop fountain, built-in fountain or small pond. Water provides life, and the addition of a water feature will often attract wildlife to add even more value to the setting. A “small pond” can be as simple as a large terracotta saucer providing a spot for a floating or potted water plant like papyrus.

Keep it cool on hot days with shade from an umbrella, shade sail, pergola or (even better) a shade tree. A shade feature enhances and helps define the space as one of sanctuary.

Make it cozy and extend your time outside by adding a fire table, fire pit or outdoor fireplace. Here’s where creativity counts, with fire safety in mind always. A fire pit does not have to be a purchased expense, but can be constructed by using stones or other readily-accessible materials. No room for a pit or other wood-burning device? A candle or oil lantern or a fat hurricane-shaded candle can provide the soothing, flickering warmth.

Work from home? A garden sanctuary is even more important. If possible, consider positioning your workstation by a window with a view outdoors. Position a group of colorful pots filled with ornamentals or even vegetables or herbs within that view during warmer months.

You’ll have the benefit of the view and will be able to keep an eye on your little garden. If not possible, consider improving what view you do have with hanging plants or a desktop pot of live ornamental plants that can be enjoyed no matter how much snow piles up outside.

It’s been a rough 12 months, but thankfully many of us have been able take comfort and solace in the outdoors and our gardens as we look forward to brighter days ahead. Creating a garden sanctuary is just one of the top trends in gardening for 2021. Stay safe and stay healthy.

We could add: Stay calm and garden on.

Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold medal winner for writing and a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement, the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award. Her gardens are in Camden.