Narrow garden ideas – 10 ways to transform your skinny plot

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  • A long, slender garden can be a design challenge, but there’s still a lot you can do to create your perfect outdoor space. Start thinking about your narrow garden ideas by thinking if the shape is something you want to keep or change.

    You might like to be able to see the full length of your garden all the way to the back, maybe where you’ve planted a nice tree, or maybe you’d like to divide the space into zones, which would help to reduce its narrowness. If your narrow garden is also cramped, then don’t panic, there are still plenty of small garden ideas you can incorporate.

    Narrow Garden Ideas

    Tom Massey, director of Tom Massey Workshop and a designer on BBC2 Your garden made perfect, is a big fan of zoning a narrow garden. “It just means dividing the garden into separate spaces,” he shares. “Try to place your dining room at the end of your garden rather than outside the dining room, which means you have to take a trip to get there, which makes it much more of an event and a experience.”

    A cramped garden shouldn’t be a thing to worry about; think of it as an exciting design opportunity, a way to literally push those boundaries. Whether you’re zoning or running wild, planting, terracing or paving your way to a new garden, you’ll find plenty of narrow garden ideas to inspire you.

    1. Cut a narrow garden with straight lines

    Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd

    The temptation of a narrow garden is to push everything against the side boundaries, leaving as much space as possible in the middle. However, just as moving furniture away from the walls in your indoor space makes it appear taller, this stylist’s trick can also work outdoors.

    Create a seating area that spans the full width of your narrow garden, varying the length of your sofas or built-in seats, while planting behind helps divide the length. Use different landscaping to avoid a “track” of one down the length of your garden. Sod, decking and bark create different textures, dividing up a long, narrow garden.

    2. Divide it with landscaping

    Striped lawn in a narrow garden with stepping stone path

    Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd

    Dividing the width of a narrow garden can make it appear wider, especially if there is a big change in landscaping materials, such as turf to slate. Avoid choosing just one material – and if you want to draw attention to your garden, try mowing your lawn with strips that run the length of it, while stepping stone planks running across it can do it appear wider.

    There are many tips and tricks for planning a small garden; if you split the length of your narrow garden with materials, a deck or patio that runs across the back of your narrow plot will bring those two parts together again.

    3. Play with angles

    paved area with table and chairs and deck chairs

    Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd

    Create a fun geometric design with paving – it’s the perfect solution for a narrow garden as the eye is drawn to the clean lines of the ground rather than its narrowness. Position furniture on such paving lines…it’s all about having fun with those angles.

    Use planting to cut into the paving forms, softening them if necessary, while trees planted two-thirds the length of the garden direct the eye upward, providing an airy canopy and breaking up the space.

    4. Zone a dining area

    table and chairs in an outdoor terrace near the house with an outdoor mirror on the wall

    Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd

    Just as we zone areas in a large garden, so does a narrow plot – it’s a great way to divide its length. These zones can transition from one to another through similar soil or can look much more separate using different planting patterns.

    Also steal interior design tips for your small patio ideas, like painting a feature wall and hanging a mirror. Think about the shape of your garden furniture; a square ensemble creates an intimate ambiance perfect for alfresco summer lunches.

    5. Make your path a feature

    path in the garden surrounded by plantations

    Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd

    Paths don’t always have to run along a boundary. In a narrow garden, try bringing the path down the middle, where you can plant around it, encouraging a scrambling of its edges.

    Play with form – a curved path leading behind a round lawn area guides the eye rather than just along a narrow garden. Choose materials that echo your planting when in bloom – alliums and agapanthus in white cling to pebbles and pale slate stones.

    6. Plant a hero tree in the center of the stage

    garden with terrace and paved sitting area, with tree in the center

    Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd

    Go big with a palm tree planted in the middle of a narrow garden – it will become the talking point of your plot rather than its shape. Such an amazing tree must be seen, so make it the hero rather than planting it against the boundary, and yes, you can have a big tree in a small garden.

    Use a central tree to divide different areas, with a casual seating area behind the tree planting bed and a bistro area in front. It will also provide year-round color and shade. For more inspiration on small gardens, check out our guide on how to make a small garden bigger.

    7. Install garden furniture at the back

    black garden furniture at the end of a long garden

    Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd

    A long garden provides a great opportunity for a backyard lounge or home office, a space where you can WFH or enjoy some peace and quiet away from everyday family life. It’s a great way to divide space into more usable areas.

    Use different landscaping to divide the route to the patio room or home office, adding interest to your route.

    8. Paint the fences black

    Black painted fence in the garden with wooden path and containers

    Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd

    Visually push back the sides of your garden by painting your fences black. Although it may seem odd, it works by making any planting stand out, adding layers of interest and depth – your eye thinks the space is bigger than it is.

    Your plot appears wider because you have taken the focus away from the fence. It’s also a great idea for a garden on a budget.

    9. Design a feature in stages

    steps in the garden next to the steps with plants

    Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd

    If your narrow garden is vertical, like a row of steps leading up to a patio, avoid the temptation to run steps across the width thinking this will make it appear wider. Instead, try a tiered planter design, each with double the height of a step.

    Planters can be planted with ferns and grasses, which balance out the architectural lines of the steps.

    10. Use the walls

    exterior wall with black trellis with plants and tools hanging on it

    Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd

    In a narrow garden, think tall and use the walls for a vertical herb garden, which can be hung above pots and planters from a trellis or wooden frame. Again, directing the eye upward hurts a long garden.

    You can also use this idea to protect sections of your garden – simply secure it in a raised bed placed at right angles to your boundary fence.

    How can I make my garden wider?

    The challenge is to come up with ideas that make your garden look wider than it is, while using every corner, especially if your narrow garden is that small. Bring in some interior design tricks – literally – like laying deck boards across the width (rather than length) and zoning the space to create sections of interest.

    It could be a bistro set for the cafe closest to home, an herb garden offering a sensory moment a little further afield, followed by a lawn section, then maybe your dining set for catch most of the evening sun. Dividing into sections will divide the visual length of your garden, also making it much less cramped.

    Tom Massey says to paint a fence black in a narrow garden. “It pulls it back and can instantly make the space feel wider.”

    How do I zone a narrow garden?

    Approach this as you would inside your home. Start by thinking about how you want to use your garden, then think about your preferences or practicalities (eg would you like an outdoor kitchen/BBQ area next to the house or not?).

    Use hard landscaping to create these areas, with plantings to encourage you to move from one to the other. Also play with levels – a narrow garden does not mean a flat garden.

    Walls, raised beds, and built-in seating can all create mini outdoor “rooms” along their entire length. Don’t rule out structures either, with a pergola a great way to add height to the back of your garden, enticing you to look up, lessening the feeling of crampedness.

    Think about how you would transition from area to area – something as simple as zigzag running boards works brilliantly.