Narrow garden ideas – 10 ways to transform your skinny plot

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

    You might like being able to see down the length of your garden to the back, perhaps where you have a lovely tree planted, or maybe you’d like to divide the space up into zones, helping to detract from its narrowness. If your narrow garden is also tight on space, then panic not, there are still plenty of small garden ideas you can incorporate.

    Narrow garden ideas

    Tom Massey, director of Tom Massey Studio and a designer on BBC2’s Your Garden Made Perfect, is a big fan of zoning a narrow garden. ‘This simply means dividing the garden into distinct spaces,’ he shares. ‘Try placing your dining area at the end of your garden rather than outside the dining room, meaning you need to go on a journey to get there, making it much more of an event and experience.’

    A narrow garden shouldn’t be a thing to dread; think of it as an exciting design opportunity, a way to literally push those boundaries out. Whether you want to zone or run wild, plant, deck or pave your way to a new-look garden, you’ll find lots of narrow garden ideas to inspire you.

    1. Break up a narrow garden with straight lines

    Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd

    The temptation with a narrow garden is to push everything back against the side boundaries, leaving as large a space as possible in the middle. However, just as bringing the furniture in away from the walls of your interior space makes it feel bigger, so can this stylist’s trick work outside too.

    Create a seating area that runs across the width of your narrow garden, varying the length of your sofas or built-in seating, while planting behind helps to break up the length. Use different landscaping to avoid a ‘runway’ of one down the length of your garden. Turf, decking and bark create different textures, dividing up a long, narrow-shaped garden.

    2. Divide it with landscaping

    striped lawn in narrow garden with stepping stone path

    Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd

    Dividing the width of a narrow garden can make it feel wider, especially if there’s a big change of landscaping materials – such as from turf to slate. Avoid choosing just one material – and if you want to lead the eye down your garden, try mowing your lawn with stripes that run its length, while stepping-stone planks running across can make it feel wider.

    There are plenty of hints and tricks when it comes to planning a small garden; if you are dividing the length of your narrow garden with materials, then a decked or patio area that runs across the back of your narrow plot will bring these two parts back together again.

    3. Play with angles

    paved area with table and chairs and sun loungers

    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 sharp lines of the flooring, rather than its narrowness. Position furniture across such paving lines… it’s all about having fun with those angles.

    Use planting to cut into the paving shapes, softening where needed, while trees planted two-thirds down the garden’s length lead the eye upwards, providing an overhead canopy and breaking up the space.

    4. Zone a dining space

    table and chairs in an outdoor decking area near the house with an outdoor mirror on the wal

    Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd

    Just as we zone areas in a large garden, the same applies to a narrow plot too – it’s a great way to break up one’s length. These zones can flow from one into the next through similar flooring or can feel much more separate by using different planting schemes.

    Steal tricks from interior design too for your small patio ideas, such as painting a feature wall and hanging up a mirror. Think about the shape of your garden furniture; a square set creates an intimate vibe that’s perfect for summery lunches al fresco.

    5. Make your path a feature

    pathway in garden surrounded by planting

    Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd

    Paths don’t always need to run alongside a boundary. In a narrow garden, try bringing the path into the middle, where you can plant around it, encouraging a blurring of its edges.

    Play with shape – a curved path leading behind a round lawn area leads the eye around rather than just down a narrow garden’s length. Choose materials that echo your planting when in bloom – alliums and agapanthus in white pick up on the shingle and pale slate stones.

    6. Plant a hero tree centre-stage

    garden with decking and paved seating area, with tree in the centre

    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. A tree this amazing needs to be seen, so make it the hero rather than plant it against the boundary, and yes, you can have a big tree in a small garden.

    Use a central tree to break up different zones, with a relaxed seating area behind the tree’s planting bed and a bistro spot in front. It will also provide year-round colour and shade. For more small garden inspo, head to our guide on how to make a small garden look bigger.

    7. Install a garden room at the bottom

    black garden room at end of long garden

    Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd

    A long garden offers a great opportunity for a garden room or home office at the bottom, a space where you can WFH or enjoy a little peace and quiet, removed from day-to-day family life. It’s a great way to divide up the space into more useable spaces.

    Use different landscaping to break up the route to the garden room or home office, adding interest to your route.

    8. Paint fences black

    fence painted black in garden with wooden pathway and containers

    Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd

    Visually push the sides of your garden out by painting your boundary fences black. While this might seem strange, it works by making any planting pop, 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 a great small budget garden idea too.

    9. Design a feature out of steps

    steps in garden next to steps with plants

    Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd

    If your narrow garden is vertical, like a bank of steps leading to a deck, then avoid the temptation to run steps across the entire width thinking it will make it feel wider. Try a stepped planter design instead, with each one double the height of a step.

    The planters can be planted with ferns and grasses, which balances the architectural lines of the steps.

    10. Make use of the walls

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

    Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd

    In a narrow garden, think high and utilise the walls for a vertical herb garden, which can hang above pots and planters from trellis or a timber frame. Again, leading the eye up, detracts from a long garden.

    You can also use this idea to screen off sections of your garden – just secure into a raised planter placed at a right angle to your boundary fence.

    How can I make my garden look wider?

    The challenge is to find ideas that make your garden look wider than it is, while using every corner, especially if your narrow garden happens to be on the small side too. Bring out some tricks from interior design – literally – such as laying decking boards across the width (rather than lengthways) and zoning the space to create sections of interest.

    This can be a bistro set for coffee nearest the house, a herb garden providing a sensory moment a little further on, followed by a lawn section, then perhaps your dining set for catching most of the evening sun. Dividing into sections will break up the visual length of your garden, making it appear much less narrow too.

    Tom Massey says to paint fencing black in a narrow garden. ‘This makes it recede and can instantly make the space feel wider.’

    How can I zone a narrow garden?

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

    Use hard landscaping to create these zones, with planting to encourage you to go from one to the next. Play with levels too – a narrow garden doesn’t mean a flat garden.

    Walls, raised beds and build-in seating can all create mini outdoor ‘rooms’ down its length. Don’t rule out structures either, with a pergola a great way of adding height at the bottom of your garden, encouraging you to look up, detracting from the sense of narrowness.

    Think how you would get from one zone to the next – something as simple as steppingstones zigzagging work brilliantly.

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