8 steps to the long thin garden of your dreams
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.
In just two years, they created a garden good enough to be open during Whitstable Open Gardens every year for the NGS.
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.
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.
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. So, 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. Having two narrow beds down either side of the garden would have made it look even more long and thin.
There is more about how to make paths work in narrow town gardens here.
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.
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).
The key is to make a list of what you want to have and do in your garden before you make any changes. That will help you prioritise when you’re deciding what goes where. Find out more about the basics of small urban garden advice here.
It’s particularly important to take accurate measurements, because even small urban gardens are rarely exactly geometric. Your long thin garden may look rectangular, but it is often 6″ or more longer on one side. In this post on the basics of garden design, garden designer Pollyanna Wilkinson also suggests looking at the outlines of your garden by consulting Google Earth. You may be surprised!
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.
Have different places to sit throughout the garden
Create places to sit throughout the garden. So 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.
Divide the garden up with design
Divide a long thin garden up into ‘rooms’. That is the standard garden design advice. And Mel and Emma have chosen to do this, but to do it very lightly.
‘We decided not to divide the garden up with hedges or fences,’ said Mel.
Mel and Emma have divided their garden up almost ‘invisibly’. So 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.
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.
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. And you can also move pots around to change the area of interest. For example, when a pot is in full flower, you can move it to a prominent position, and then when it is over, it can be moved out of sight.
Pots are also useful because you can move them around for different effects.
There’s more container planting in inspiration in Love Your Pots – 25 practical ideas for container planting. And there are five ways of positioning pots and planters in this post.
Privacy in a long thin garden…
Town gardens typically have problems with privacy, which is why I’ve written The Complete Guide to Garden Privacy, available in Kindle and paperback in 13 countries.
Or you can buy The Complete Guide to Garden Privacy as a pdf download to read on a tablet or pc if you don’t have a Kindle.
Narrow town garden tips from the professionals
Many top garden designers now work on typically long thin town gardens, in cities – especially London. We’ve interviewed several on the Middlesized Garden, and they’ve had some great tips for us ‘ordinary garden owners’.
For example, Charlotte Rowe, a RHS Chelsea Gold-medal winning gardener advises the owners of small town gardens to use ‘a limited palette of plants.’ Find out why in her 12 creative tips for a stunning urban garden.
And Andy Sturgeon is one of Britain’s top garden designers, and much of his work is in typical long, thin town gardens. To add some of his multi-award-winning magic to your garden, read his professional insider garden design tips
And more real long, thin town gardens with good ideas
In Faversham (near Whitstable), 20+ ‘ordinary’ gardeners open their gardens on Faversham Open Gardens and Garden Market Day.
There are some very practical and effective narrow town garden ideas here from some of the gardens that participate or have participated.
And if you want to grow vegetables in your narrow, urban garden, you might think you’re restricted to a few window boxes of salad. Not at all! This amazing small town garden in Melbourne shows how you can pack loads of homegrown fruit and veg into the smallest of spaces (and it has nothing to do with the weather!)
You can even have ‘an orchard’ in a small town garden.
And dates for your diary!
Shop my favourite gardening books, tools and products
I’m often asked for recommendations, so I’ve put together convenient lists of the gardening tools, books and products I use for The Middlesized Garden Amazon storefront. These are products I use myself and find good, or which come highly recommended by others (see disclosure.)
For example, if you’ve just moved to a house with a garden and want to buy essential gardening tools, then this is a list of the gardening tools you really need. They’re the brands I’ve been using for some time.
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