8 steps to the long thin garden of your dreams

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: May 7th, 2017 In: Garden style & living

Two years ago Emma and Mel moved to a house in Whitstable with a long thin garden.

They came from a London flat with a tiny courtyard: ‘I’ve been dreaming about how I would create my own garden for years,’ says Emma.

Planning tips for a long thin garden

Mel and Emma have a colourful border on just one side of their long thin garden.

When they bought the house, the garden was a long thin strip of decking, concrete and lawn, with one tree. It hadn’t been ‘gardened’ for many years.

Now their garden is open for the Whitstable Open Gardens with the NGS on the 21st of May.

  1. Think about the lines first

Mel and Emma contribute very different skills and talents to the garden. Like Harold Nicolson at Sissinghurst, Mel’s strength is structure and geometry: ‘I know nothing about plants,’ she says.

Emma is a passionate and committed gardener. She left her office career to become a gardener when they moved out of London. Now she works as a gardener two days a week at the Salutation Garden in Sandwich.

There’s a post here on the dahlias at the Salutation.

Long thin garden design

Emma and Mel’s long thin garden seen from the other end. Planting is deeper at the top and bottom of the path, because it has a slight curve in it.

Good gardens are a combination of good structure and planting. Emma and Mel decided to have a border on just one side of the garden. They ran the path to one side, too.

If they had planted beds on both sides of the garden, the garden would have looked narrower.

The lawn is also set to one side, rather than straight down the middle. That, too, helps the garden look wider.

The path has a slight curve in it, to take it round the tree. So the beds at the top and bottom of the garden are deeper and fuller.

There is more about paths in narrow town gardens here.

2) Every inch of space counts in a long thin garden

Mel and Emma say that inches count if you’re gardening in a very narrow space. When they completed one of their raised beds, they realised it wasn’t in quite the right place – just by 12 inches. They dismantled the bed and moved it.

Raised beds for vegetables

Raised beds for vegetables at the bottom of the garden, plus a charming seating area.

3) You can have everything you want in a long thin garden

Mel and Emma have a large terrace, a path, full borders, a lawn, a newly dug pond, a meadow area, a vegetable patch, a greenhouse, a shed and wildlife area. Yet the garden is just fifteen foot wide (four and half metres).

Greenhouse in a long thin garden

The greenhouse is towards the bottom of the garden and set to one side, so that you can see past it. The meadow area and wildlife pond is just in front of it. Emma uses a bulb planter to plant the meadow plants in the grass.

Bug hotel in a long thin town garden

Their bug hotel straddles two raised beds.

4) But harmonise the hard landscaping materials

There’s a sense of unity in the hard landscaping Mel and Emma chose. They have a fence, path, terrace, greenhouse, gravel, raised beds and a shed, all in much the same bleached-out tones.

In a narrow garden, it would look bitty to have too many colours in the path, fence and sheds. Mel and Emma have lots of different materials. But almost all are similar in tone and colour.

Although they got rid of the large expanse of decking, they chose a deck path for the garden. It looks harmonious with the fencing. The bleached wood is also echoed in the greenhouse and the shed.

Decking path in a narrow garden

The decking path is harmonious with the fencing. Because the garden is long and narrow, the path is close to the fence, which is why thinking about the two together is important.

5) Have different places to sit throughout the garden

Create places to sit throughout the garden. There’s the terrace outside the back door, a bench halfway down the garden to one side and the little seating area at the end.

Seaside theme

There’s a terrace directly outside the back door, with a seaside theme on the table.

Bench under the tree.

There’s a bench on one side of the garden, to take advantage of the shade under the tree. It’s surrounded by a small patch of ‘meadow’ grass.

6) Divide the garden up with design

Divide a long thin garden up into ‘rooms’. That is the standard garden design advice. Mel and Emma have chosen to do this, but to do it very lightly.

Summer planting in a narrow town garden

The garden is divided up by different planting, benches or hard landscaping rather than by fences or hedges.

‘We decided not to divide the garden up with hedges or fences,’ said Mel.

Mel and Emma have divided their garden up almost ‘invisibly’. The greenhouse divides the raised vegetable beds from the rest of the garden, but you can still see through.

Changing from lawn to meadow divides up the long thin grass area.

7) Don’t skimp on terrace size

Mel and Emma have been generous with the size of the terrace outside the back door of their house.

When space is short, it’s tempting to try to save space, by making the terrace just large enough for a table and chairs. But a generous terrace starts the garden off with a flourish. And it also means you have room for furniture and pots.

Statue and pots

There’s a table, chairs and lots of room for pots on Mel and Emma’s terrace.

8) Use container planting to create colour and interest

Container planting and pots work well in smaller gardens to create more structure and interest. Mel and Emma have wonderful pots all around the garden. You can also use move pots around to change the area of interest.

Terracotta pots

The seating area at the bottom of the garden has a little table with pots on it.

Pots are also useful because you can move them around for different effects.

Butlers sink container planting

An old sink is set into a border. It looks great surrounded by flowers.

Narrow planters at the foot of the fence

These are some ultra-narrow ‘borders’ that Emma and Mel had built to cover up the ugly fence footings on the terrace. They’re a mix of brick and sleeper wood and are just a few inches wide/deep. They’re planted with gravel and succulents – one of the pretty details that make this garden worth a visit.

Visit Mel and Emma’s garden with the Whitstable NGS on May 21st

There are a total of 10 town gardens to visit on May 21 in Whitstable, including the garden of Sunday Telegraph writer, Francine Raymond.

Francine Raymond's garden

See Francine Raymond’s garden in the Whitstable Open Gardens on May 21.

Don’t miss three new ‘seaside’ themed gardens!

Seaside garden

5 Clare Road, one of three ‘seaside’ themed gardens in the Whitstable Open Gardens scheme.

And another date for your diary!

Do come to the Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day on Sunday June 25th.

Pin this post for later

Long thin garden design, narrow garden planting tips, thin garden borders.

10 Comments

  • Tina Martino says:

    Impressive how the small space was turned into such a nice garden. I would love to apply some on my own place too. I also love gardening, me and my husband do it to bond and if there is a chance, we would love to be part of different gardening events too. Please check our garden online too @ https://www.gardenloka.com/.

  • This is the pure art of gardening. After seeing the pictures in above blog and reading Emma story, I think she made right decision to leave the job and pursue her gardening passion.

  • Laura says:

    Well-done! I’m too far away to see it, but I wouldn’t hesitate if I lived closer. They’ve done a wonderful job. It’s truly lovely.

  • Sally Jones says:

    Glorious photos and great advice which made me want to go straight outside to do something more creative with my own patch. I’m also just trying to plan a (virtually ) no maintenance garden area around 4 yards by 4 yards outside a West London terrace split into 4 flats, mainly tenanted, with a front area that until recently was a haven for rubbish, weeds and rats. We’ve now cleared this but have a flat, bare-looking square of tarmac at ground level, steps down to a small basement area and a broad path up to the front door where there are a few pots of ailing, unkempt outdoor yuccas. None of the four flat owners has much time for plant care as they are often away but some light watering/pruning every week or so is certainly possible. Next door has a mini olive grove emerging from beds covered with what looks like shards of slate to deter weeds and this looks pretty smart – she has also had a solid wooden fence built to screen the horror that was our area, so we are now guilt-ridden and looking to prove that we too can install something low maintenance but tasteful. Any bright ideas for what we could do?

  • Janet Purdie says:

    What a lovely post! Lots of inspiration and practical ideas here, and great photos. Sadly, we are miles from Whitstable, but I’m sure people will appreciate all the thought and effort which has resulted in this delightful garden. Now, where can I put another seating area?

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