Horticulture Magazine

10 Ideas To Make The Most Of Long & Narrow Gardens

a long typical English garden with borders and trees in the background

Do you have a long, thin garden? If so, you may be stuck for ideas on how to make the most of the space: long and narrow spaces can easily feel busy and over-crowded, after all, and not knowing how to move forward can make it really hard to get started!

We’re here to help, though. In this article we’ve rounded up ten ideas to get your long and narrow garden looking stunning. From little tips and tricks to change the way you see the space, to overhauls that fundamentally shift the feng shui of your outdoor space.

Let’s get started.

1. Break up the space

banyan trees with a metal bar partition screen
You’ve got a lot of options

If you think about it, your garden is essentially one big ‘room’ on the outside of your house. It’s an open bit of space that you fill with decorative plants, functional furniture, and so on. Usually there’s a wall or fence enclosing the whole thing and you can see right across to the other side.

In a long, thin garden though, you can gain a lot from breaking up this space into separate ‘rooms’. Instead of having a wall around the whole area and a clear line of sight across, use tall plants and partitions to break up the space.

You’ll be amazed how effective this can be: move into one of the rear ‘rooms’, for example, and your house may be out of sight. This sense of space is a really powerful way to make a garden with limited space feel a lot more spacious.

2. Avoid straight paths

a winding path through a forested area
Another way to grow the space

This follows on conceptually from the previous point, and is another way to give the illusion of space in a garden that may not have much. If you set off walking on a straight path from one end of the garden to the other, it’ll get you there quicker than a windier one.

While subtle, this extra time spent walking can make the space feel bigger. Especially if the stroll takes you through sections with different characters.

Obviously you won’t be able to create as much space as in the picture above, but you may be pleasantly surprised by how much of a difference this technique can make. Splitting out the path into different surfaces can contribute, too: why not have wood running through one section, then stone through the next?

3. Different spaces for different things

an outdoor living space at the end of a garden
Sofa away from the house

Continuing with the theme of establishing distinct spaces in your garden, think about tailoring each space to a particular activity. If one garden ‘room’ is for plants and flowers, another for sitting and relaxing, a third for growing veggies, and maybe even a fourth for something else, you’ll really get a different energy in each area.

Be adventurous and creative: perhaps a pond would liven up one section? Or a chair swing? Maybe even a fire pit. What you’re looking for is something to captivate and hold your attention when you’re in that area of the garden, to help cement it as its own standalone space.

As well as being visually different, creating areas for different activities gives a reason to stop and spend time in each part of the garden, too. No longer will people just walk from one end to the other in one go: instead they’ll stop and smell the flowers (maybe literally, maybe metaphorically) before continuing on. Again, subtle but surprisingly effective.

4. What about a garden building?

a garden building at the end of a long garden
Home from home

If your long, thin garden overlooks a river, a field, or some other pocket of nature, why not add a garden building where you can sit and enjoy the view? Done right, such a building can feel like a completely different world to your home. A sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle just a few steps away.

It’s no wonder authors often write in garden buildings, or entrepreneurs carve out this space away from the noise. The serenity available from being surrounded by a different four walls to those indoors is inviting, and spending time in this space makes the garden as a whole feel more expansive and personal.

5. No space for structures? What about an archway

an archway leading through dense shrubbery
Could be wood, could be plants

Not all of us have space for a full-fledged building in our garden. This recommendation is for people who want to have some man-made structure in spite of not having much room to work with.

You’ve probably noticed a theme of subtlety running through this piece: ideas to create an illusion of space, and to make your garden feel bigger by distracting your attention from its true size.

For this, the sensation of passing from one space into another is really important. Psychologically there’s a real, noticeable change between two spaces that you have to physically move between, whether through a door, up a staircase or, in this case, through an archway.

And what’s more, you have a lot of choices. A standard wooden arch, for example. Or a brick arch if you’re feeling like a bit of DIY. Or, if you’ve got green fingers, why not weave an archway from the branches of a particularly pliable tree? Each of these adds a distinctive energy to your space, and all will take your mind away from the limited space around you.

6. Avoid horizontal lines on fences and walls

brown vertical fencing outside of a home
Anything but horizontal!

Just how we said about avoiding straight paths to make the space feel longer, consider avoiding fences with horizontal lines. This is because your eye will naturally follow the horizontal line, immediately glancing at the other end of the garden.

Choose a fence with vertical slats, or a wall with no strong lines. Either of these will prevent the gaze being guided toward things that disrupt the illusion of space you’re trying to create.

7. Hide the fences and boundaries as much as possible

ivy decorating a garden fence
Something wild to distract the eye from the boundary

Speaking of fences, having them visible at all is a reminder of the edge of your space. Standing and looking at a fence is a clear signal that the garden ends just there, but if you were to obscure it with foliage, bricks, or some other visual distraction, you’ll be surprised at how much bigger the space will feel.

Popular contenders for such visual distractions include ivy, vines, big bushes like buddleia, grow bags, tall thin trees, and similar. Choosing a different option in each ‘room’ of your garden is another way to contribute to their individual ambience, too.

Just watch out that you don’t choose something that will stick too far out from the fence. Doing so can be counterproductive as it eats into the space you have available.

8. Think about the whole year

evergreen trees including thuja western, Korean spruce and Japanese pine Glaka
Green all year round

A fence hidden behind a stunning array of plants and flowers may give the illusion of space in the summer, but when winter rolls around and everything dies back, will your garden still feel as big as it did when the sun was shining?

The answer, sadly, is no. Which is why you might want to consider using evergreens for your boundaries and borders when working with a thin garden. This way, you’ll be guaranteed vibrant green visuals to distract the gaze from the outer limits of your space. Not only that, but this category of plants comes in all shapes and sizes making them very versatile.

9. Start with a plan

a landscaper drawing out plans for a garden
There’s an app for that

To really get the most out of a long and narrow garden, you’re going to want to make a plan before starting out with any landscaping. A plan will help you to visualise the space, and will let you be as economical as possible with the area you have available to work with.

Planning a garden can be as simple as grabbing a pencil, a pad of paper, and a tape measure, then sketching out a top down view of what the space will look like. If you’re handy with the tape measure and draw to scale, such a sketch can be a surprisingly reliable way to map out the space and get things ready.

But in today’s modern world there are also tons of apps and websites to help you meticulously plan what your outdoor space will look like. Gardena is one of our favourites, but there are a bunch to choose from.

10. Make a mood board

a garden mood board with a lilac theme
Lilac: a beautiful theme for any garden space

Before and during planning it makes sense to have a stream of inspiration coming in: pictures of what other people have done to their gardens that you can use to fuel your own imagination and creativity.

In this day and age everyone and their dog has heard of Pinterest – a source of almost infinite pictures of any project or hobby you can imagine. But don’t forget the old classics: magazines, newspaper clippings, gardening books, and so on. While trends come and go, the underlying wisdom of how to make the most of a narrow garden will have remained the same for many years.

Using a mood board is a great way to sort your ideas and see which ones inspire you most. Combined with a more formal plan, you should have a pretty good idea of what you want your space to look like before you lay hands on any tools.

It’s not the size that counts, it’s what you do with it

This phrase is true in many situations, and garden design is definitely one of them. While you may feel discouraged by the dimensions of your outdoor space, please rest assured that by making the right design choices, you can make it feel a whole lot bigger than you might expect. The list above includes ideas on the spectrum from large to small, all requiring different levels of effort to implement. So, depending how much you want to invest in your outdoor space, you’ve got a lot of options open to you.

And don’t stop here either. Our ideas are designed as a starting point to get you in a garden design headspace; by no means are they definitive. We’d love to see what you get up to outdoors, and how you make your slender garden feel like a place to get lost in.

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