8 steps to the long thin garden of your dreams

May 7th, 2017 Posted In: Garden style & living, Garden trends & design, Town gardens

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.

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.

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.

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. 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.

Raised beds for vegetables

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Seaside theme

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

Bench under the tree.

And 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.

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.

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’. 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.

Statue and pots

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

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.

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.

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!

Whitstable Open Gardens is in May every year, and is run by the NGS. And do come to the Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day on the last Sunday in June every year.

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.

Pin to remember tips on creating a long thin garden:

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

19 comments on "8 steps to the long thin garden of your dreams"

  1. Charles says:

    I brought in some soil this spring to level a few low spots in the lawn and planted grass seed. Now I’m plagued with crabgrass.

    Life would be so easy if only we could settle for crabgrass-covered lawns xD

    1. Crab grass is a nuisance, I agree

  2. Emma says:

    Wonderfully inspiring use of the space! Thank you for so much information.

  3. Taylor says:

    Get the shape of the lawn and paving right and it will look good in both winter and summer. Divide the space up to get rid of the corridor effect and to stop your eye from going straight to the end of the garden. So use circles, squares or rectangles for the lawns or paving in each area.

  4. Laura says:

    I understand this is an older article however I would like to recreate the deck path in my own long thin garden. Any further information on how the path was laid?

    1. I’ve had a look and I think that a decking path should probably be laid by a professional landscaper. There is quite a lot of DIY decking advice on YouTube, but unless you are already handy, a decking path might not be the place to start. I don’t know if you’ve seen this post on finding and working with a landscaper: https://www.themiddlesizedgarden.co.uk/12-professional-insider-tips-for-landscaping-your-garden/ so I hope that helps. Sorry not to have more precise instructions, but I hope that helps a bit.

  5. Laura Lagonigro says:

    I don’t understand this article… it states “facts” about this particular garden, but i have no idea on how to apply those to my garden and why. Example: the plantin is deeper at the top and bottom of the garden… is this intentional to create a certain effect or is it just forced by the circumstances?!
    Or use pots to move around…. How?! where? why?!

    1. I’m sorry, the ‘pots’ part contained a typographical error, thank you for pointing it out. It should have read to ‘move pots around…’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.

      The borders and planting are deeper at the top and bottom of the garden because this helps to distract the eye from a long thin shape. If you have a long, thin garden and you put a narrow border all the way down one or both sides, then you accentuate the shape. But by creating a wide border (across the garden) in one or more places, you can disguise the shape and make the garden look more lush. I hope that helps.

  6. 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/.

    1. Thank you – and I like your heritage tomatoes post.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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?

    1. It’s an interesting challenge – I will mull it over, and do a post on low-maintenance gardening.

  10. 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?

    1. Thank you! And good luck with another seating area, maybe move light garden chairs round the garden to experiment before deciding?

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