How to turn a wide shallow backyard into the perfect garden

July 15th, 2023
Posted In: Garden trends & design

I’m always being asked for ideas for breaking up the space in a shallow wide garden, and also how to make it look longer.

Many houses today are being built on small, individual plots. Gardens are getting smaller and they’re often shallow or odd wedge-shapes.

Shallow wide garden designed by Posy Gentles

Garden designer Posy Gentles transformed this shallow wide garden in Whitstable for her clients, Karen and Andrea. She moved the garden shed into this area, painting it and the fence almost-black (anthracite) to make them ‘recede’.

So I asked acclaimed garden designer Posy Gentles. She’s just done a brilliant garden makeover on a shallow wide garden in Whitstable.

How to design a shallow wide garden

  1. Create a brief. List everything you want to do in the garden
  2. Decide on your style
  3. Use trees, planting, sculpture etc in the centre to ‘interrupt’ the view to the back fence
  4. Divide the garden into thirds, going across
  5. Split the garden into zones – for plants, eating out, storage etc
  6. Use paths, borders or planting to mark out the zones
  7. Keep materials simple in a smaller space – use harmonious pavers and bricks.
  8. Decide on a colour scheme – use paint to marry everything together
  9. Create planting close to the house
This corner of Karen and Andrea's garden is now another seating area.

The bottom left hand corner of Karen and Andrea’s garden is now a seating area. They can enjoy a drink in the setting sun, and the planting in front of it makes it seem further away.

Create a garden design ‘brief’

Whether you’re designing a garden for someone else or creating one for yourself, the starting point is the same.

And it’s also the same for big or small gardens, for wide shallow gardens or long thin ones.

The first step is to make a list of everything you want to do in your garden and everything you want from your garden.

Do you want to eat outside with friends and/or relax alone with a book? Do you want to sunbathe or do you prefer shade? What about a children’s play area, storage or privacy?

What would you like to see when you look out at the garden from the house? And also when you’re in the garden looking back?

Read how to design a garden if you’re not a garden designer. Then create a brief for yourself.

Then consider what style of garden you’d like. See 12 garden styles for inspiration.

Karen and Andrea’s garden

Once you have your ‘brief’, you can start thinking about specific designs for wide and shallow spaces.

Posy’s clients, Karen and Andrea, had a wide shallow garden behind a newly built home.

They had large glass doors across half the width of the kitchen, so they can see the garden all year round.

When Posy first saw the garden, it had a large terrace outside the back, taking up about half of the garden. Karen and Andrea wanted plenty of space to eat outside with friends or enjoy a relaxing drink together. But having such a big wide terrace was cutting the space in half.

It also had a garden shed at one end of the terrace.

'Before' pictures of Karen and Andrea's garden.

‘Before’ pictures of Karen and Andrea’s garden. The terrace is cuts the length of the garden in half and you can see straight to the back fence.

Shallow wide garden in Whitstable designed by Posy Gentles

This is now the view from Karen and Andrea’s kitchen out to the garden.

Plant in the centre of a shallow wide garden

Planting in the centre of a shallow wide garden breaks up the space and tricks the eye into thinking the garden is longer than it is.

The key to designing a wide shallow garden

The key to designing to designing a shallow wide garden is to stop your eyes from seeing the back fence immediately. You need planting, trees or something else in the middle of the garden.

Your eye will first see the trees, then it will look through them or past them to the back fence.

Because that process takes longer than just seeing a back fence in a fraction of a second, your brain is tricked into thinking that a short wide garden looks longer.

Luckily, Karen and Andrea’s garden had two beautiful mature fruit trees in the centre of the garden. ‘If they hadn’t been there, I’d have had to plant them,’ says Posy.

Some people put a border with planting or a sculpture at the centre.

Shallow wide garden design

Having two mature trees in the centre of Karen and Andrea’s garden was ‘a gift’ said Posy. By painting the fence black and bringing the planting closer to the house, she has married the elements in the garden together beautifully.

How do you break up a shallow wide garden?

When Posy first saw Karen and Andrea’s garden, the garden was effectively split into half. One half was the terrace where they could eat or relax. The other half was the planting.

Posy decided to zone the garden into thirds – across the width. She reduced the size of the terrace by one paver,

Instead of having all the eating and relaxing areas on one terrace, she created three separate groupings of seating and tables in three of the four corners of the garden. She moved the shed into the fourth corner.

This creates a ‘journey’, which once again blurs the true size and shape of the garden. ‘You go down one path and round some shrubs, then you find the sunny corner of the garden for evening drinks,’ says Posy. ‘If you go down the other path, you get to the shed and storage area.’

You can split or zone a garden using paths, borders or hedges. Posy decided to use a brick path in a similar shade to the pavers on the terrace.

Very cleverly, she took this path down either side of the garden and right into the terrace. This links the path and terrace visually.

Use paths to divide up a shallow wide garden

Posy divided the garden into thirds width-ways with 2 paths. The paths carry on into the terrace, linking it visually. Keep colours and materials harmonious – this stops a small space feeling cluttered. The dining table is on the left hand side of the terrace as you look at the house.

Shallow wide garden design tips

The relaxing area is on the right hand side of the terrace as you look at the house. Creating different areas and screening them off with planting creates a ‘journey’.

Keep materials simple, especially in smaller gardens

For the paths, Posy chose a brick that nearly matched the terrace’s slate pavers. She also had the path cut into the terrace, to link it visually.

Paint the fence dark to make it ‘recede’

Posy had both the fence and the shed painted in a dark colour to make them ‘recede’. The shed almost disappears into the fence visually now, rather than sticking out as it had done previously.

She picked the same colour as the window frames on the house – anthracite, which is almost black. Once again, if it’s a small space, think carefully about how the colours work together and how they work with the house. Keeping it simple makes it feel more spacious.

Have planting close to the house

When Posy first saw this garden, there was a raised border at the other end of the garden. However, Posy started the planting at the edge of the terrace. It’s close to the house and also close to the various seating areas. ‘You want to feel that you’re in the garden,’ she says.

See more of this wide shallow garden in video

You get more views of Andrea and Karen’s garden in this video.

Video on shallow wide garden makeover

More wide shallow garden design ideas

If you have a very small wide garden, then Posy suggests that you divide it into a place to sit and planting. ‘Once again, it’s effectively dividing the garden up into thirds, with a border on either side of the seating area, plus planting at the back. And include some larger plants.’

And see another wide shallow garden, created by gardener Jo Rutherford in Transform your Garden. Jo planted diagonal borders to break up the space.

Posy designed a smaller shallow wide garden (top picture). The bottom photo shows Jo Rutherford's diagonal borders in her own garden.

Posy designed a smaller shallow wide garden (top picture). The bottom photo shows Jo Rutherford’s diagonal borders in her own garden.

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Wide shallow garden design tips

8 comments on "How to turn a wide shallow backyard into the perfect garden"

  1. Paul O'Neill says:

    Thank you so much for this. I have a wide shallow garden and i’ve found it incredibly difficult to find inspiration in designing a good garden. Theres so much inspiration and advice on long gardens but absolutely nothing on wide and shallow gardens! Please could I ask that you do more videos on this subject. I would love to see more inspiration for this type of garden setting

    1. I will keep an eye out for good gardens to feature. Just in case you hadn’t seen the earlier wide shallow garden we featured, it’s here:

      1. Paul O'Neill says:

        Thank you thats great. I was also wondering if you know which pavers they are please and where they are from? they compliment the black fence so well

        1. Thank you and I’m sorry I don’t know which pavers they are.

  2. Stijn says:

    Well done writing this. Finally someone who can clearly explain how to design a wide and shallow garden. Pictures as an example are awesome too. Many thanks

    1. Thank you! It was such a lovely garden to photograph.

  3. Debra L Anderson says:

    This information is excellent. Very well presented and easy to follow too. Thank you for posting.

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