8 effective tips for narrow town garden success
If you live in a town or village, you probably have a long narrow town garden. It may be shady, over-looked and small.
But whatever your gardening style – classic, wildlife, jungle or romantic – you can still achieve an amazing garden in spite of the problems.
You don’t need a lawn
If your garden is long and thin, the path is an important part of the design. It can be a focal point or it can create the shape of the garden.
Many Victorian terraced houses have a ‘side return’. It’s a narrow strip of outside space that runs alongside the back extension. Many people now extend the back of the house from garden wall to garden wall, roofing over the ‘side return’ to create a big room instead of a narrow garden space.
But the side return is almost the whole of Genevieve Ellis’s garden and she has made the most of it.
The space is only around 7ft wide, and is essentially a gravel and stone garden path which runs down the middle and widens out into a circle at regular intervals. There is charming planting on either side, and two places to sit.
2) The path is the key to a narrow town garden
Genevieve’s garden is made by her choice of path. If you have a sprawling country garden, paths are ways of getting from A to B in the most logical way. In a long, thin urban garden, your choice of path will make a big difference to how the space works and what the garden looks like.
The offset path is one of the most successful strategies. The two paths above and below start on one side of the garden and either bend or turn. An offset path gives you the option for deeper beds and lush planting.
4) You can have large plants in a small garden
Mary Mackay’s garden has a tropical atmosphere. Her garden is probably around 25ft wide and 50ft long, but she has a giant cordyline, huge bamboos in pots, great silver-leafed cardoons, tetrapanax and more.
5) Many plants grow well in the shade
If you read a plant catalogue, you may think that full sun is essential for a beautiful garden. Most plants seem to have ‘full sun’ or ‘full sun or partial shade’ as their growing conditions.
‘I think it’s like labels on clothes saying ‘dry clean only’,’ says Posy. ‘Alot of plants do surprisingly well in shady spots.’
‘Right plant, right place’ is a gardening mantra – and it works. But the ‘right place’ doesn’t always have to mean full sun.
Because it is surrounded by walls and is so narrow, Genevieve’s garden is very shady and yet the list of plants growing well is long.
Plants include choisya, sarcococca confusa, violets, Japanese anemones and a camellia that flowers for three months a year. There is an azalea in a pot, plus hydrangeas, cyclamen, hosta, hellebore, persicaria, clematis and foxgloves. The list continues with crocosmia, several different types of roses, daphnes, fuschias, thyme, geraniums, oxalis, trachelospermum and many more.
You may not realise how sunny your garden actually is. If your main time for sitting outside is in the evening, your garden may be mainly in shadow, but at midday, it may perhaps be almost wholly sunny. Many plants do reasonably well on about 4 hours of direct sunshine a day. A shady garden needs less watering.
Trial and error is the only way to find out if plants will be happy in a shady spot. Sun isn’t the only factor in how well a plant will grow.
6) You can have privacy even if you are overlooked
The tension between shade and privacy in long thin town gardens is a source of great friction between neighbours. One side wants its privacy and the other feels their garden is compromised by trees or vigorous climbers.
The key is not to expect privacy in the whole garden – you do live in a town after all, but to establish where you would like to sit and to make a small area private, using trellis, a pergola or a single tree. And if your neighbour does the same, be tolerant and plant shade-loving plants (or use the shady area for storage).
7) Blur the edges (or the end of the garden) with planting
Town gardens used to have a fairly standard format. They had a lawn or terrace in the middle and planting round the edges.
But that makes them look smaller, because it creates defined boundaries.
Planting in clumps – having beds across the garden rather than in thin beds down the sides – blurs the edges because your eye doesn’t quite know where the garden ends. Here are two examples where clumps make the garden seem bigger or more luxuriant.
8) In a small space you can experiment
Julie Holbrook has done most of the hard landscaping in her garden herself, laying the brick terrace, making a brick barbecue and also creating a water feature out of Kent peg tiles and roofing lead.
Let me know if you’ve got any good tips for narrow, recatangular gardens, and do share this using the buttons below – thank you!