thin layout drawingMy Crouch End, typical London garden like a cricket net. It’s 60 foot long but only 14 ft wide. Yours might be thinner, or a bit shorter but this shape is so common in towns and cities where outside spaces are squeezed to the width of the house. How can we work with these narrow dimensions and create a fabulous retreat?

Three key jobs here;

1. Hide or trick our boundaries

2. Create a simple but intruiging journey to pull the visitor in

3. Provide lots of interesting moments at different points, including an end ‘payoff’



Garden Mirror 1. Boundaries   “This is a boundary! This is another one! This is a small space!” squeak our minds. So we need to fool our eyes to trick the fences and walls away. The easiest solution is to grow climbers over them, softening and calming the whole space. Try Passiflora (passion flower), Parthenocissus henryana (Virginia creeeper) or Akebia Quinata (chocolate vine) as well as the more common Clematis and ivies.

Another option is to break up solid boundaries with sections of well-made trellis to provide glimpses of space, light and (hopefully) lovely plants in neighbouring gardens.

Finally, use mirror to suggest an increase in width and also pull down the light to narrow gardens. Use them sparingly, hide their edges with foliage and angle them carefully; we don’t want to watch ourselves walking towards ourselves holding secateurs. It’s weird.


2. Design in a journmy garden view in autumney   With not much width to play with, this will need to be a single pathway in a paving material that’s welcoming to wander on and one which snakes or angles around the space to imply breadth.

Design in ‘glade’ spaces which widen out and provide seating or lawn as rest-points in the journey.

We could have a dye-straight line, but the journey would then need ‘slowing down’ by placing two or three small terraces down its length. Depending on how soft and massed our planting, this classic design could end up with either a formal or informal atmosphere.

Some people like to see a nice long, uninterrupted vista. But give this already ‘tunnel’ space more focus to the end and the reason to get up and walk into the garden will fade.

Also (for me..?) seeing the endpoint in a long thin garden is akin to one of those nightmare scenes where the door at the far end of the corridor zooms up to you. Combine this with StarWars garbage-crushing walls and its a disaster movie. No, a journey-based design is best.



3. Interesting moments   A great plus for this pathway approach is in gradually introducing you to the stars of the garden; gorgeous specimen plants, sculpture nestled in planting, a shapely pot.charleston toadstool sculpture

I usually steer clear of thinking ‘plants’ before finishing the bare bones of a garden, but in this garden foliage will be our best friend. Placing bigger, taller and more evergreen than we might normally do throughout the this smallish space will actually help to;

  • divide the garden into those interesting zones
  • soften the geometary and
  • give us something lush to look at from our houses during the bleaker months. This is my garden in Autumn, with lots of height, evergreens and structural plants dong their autumnal stuff :

My garden autumn planting

You could even add climber-strewn uprights; simple arches or pergolas to increase the zoning effect. Ducking your head slightly as you meander under honeysuckle sounds nice… it’d smell pretty good too.

Tip: Narrow gardens are almost bound to be partially shady… check out lovely shade-loving plants. And don’t forget lighting; those specimen evergreens and path edges will look great uplit and glowing.

OK, we’ve reached the end of our garden. What do we get as a prize? It could be a small iron cafe table and chairs. A formal pool with raised walls to sit on while you feel the fish. A tiny grove of silver birches underplanted with ferns and bulbs. A hot tub. The beauty of long gardens, especially if the back on the similar plots, is the lovely privacy they afford at the far end. And look, the view back to our house from here is a whole new perspective!

my garden view to house
jungle daybed