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Narrow Gardens

Designing Narrow Gardens

Turn a narrow area into a lush paradise or at least a presentable walkway.  All you really need to do is THINK BEFORE YOU PLANT!

Many plants aren’t suited to growing in narrow side passages:

- Space is limited, so there’s not much soil for roots to grow and not much room for branches to spread.

- Side passages often don’t get much light and the soil stays damp, so plants that need sun and good drainage won’t grow.

Every narrow area is different. Before planting, you need to know a few things about your passage way:

How wet does it become, and for how long?

How dark is it at different times of the year? If you plant in summer the plants may not take the extra low light in winter. Some plants grow up to the light, leaving the lower stems bare.

Is wind a problem? Often wind turbulence can be a problem in long, narrow passages. A gate at one or both ends can minimise the effect of through-draughts.

However, if you install climbers up against a wall or plant your plants too densely, you are going to need some air circulation to prevent the onset of fungal diseases such as mildew.

Does it heat up in summer? Walls and paving may reflect heat and light during the hottest part of the day, scorching tender plants.

Do plants get enough water? Eaves may prevent rain falling on garden beds; narrow beds often don’t have much soil and may not be able to hold water for long; and it’s all too easy to forget to water plants that aren’t in the main garden areas.

What do you want to achieve?

-Plants to hide or soften walls or fencing.

-Vegetation above head height to provide shade or a sense of enclosure.

Take care though; too much overhead greenery can make the area dark, affecting the growth of smaller plants below. Moss and algae may grow if it stays too wet, making the ground dank and slippery.

-A ground surface that is functional but also attractive.

Do you need to wheel a barrow, lawn mower or rubbish bin, or do you only need to walk over it?

How to achieve it

Plantings – the options

Choose plants that can be trained to a two-dimensional shape so they don’t encroach on the walkway. Climbers can be trained over an arch; shrubs can be pruned as standards or as espaliers.

Choose plants that are naturally tall and skinny (the choice is limited).

Choose smaller plants that have a limited spread. Popular choices are tufting plants such as agapanthus, cliveas and Mondo Grass, or groundcovers that can easily be controlled such as native violets, pratias and ajuga.

Hang baskets from an overhead pergola or from brackets secured to the wall, providing they don’t get in the way.

Surfacing the Passageway

Don’t overlook the ground surfacing. The plants will only look good if the adjacent path is neat and well-tended.

Lawn is fine for passages that are sunny, well lit and used infrequently. But if the area is dimly lit or is frequently walked over, choose a hardwearing surface such as paving or gravel.

Also use a mulch around the plants to give the area a neat, clean finish and to keep the weeds at bay. Gravel or bark chips are excellent. A low raised edge will stop the mulch spilling onto the path.

Good Plants for Side Passages

Tall skinny plants

Some varieties of conifer such as pencil pines.


Acacia sp.



Clinging climbers such as Ficus pumila or ivy can be grown on the wall or fence.

Twining climbers like Clematis, Parthenocissus, Potato Vine, Star Jasmine can be trained over an arch or a trellis attached to the fence.

Be cautious with planting climbers that can bulk up and encroach on the walkway, eg. Jasmine, Honeysuckle, Hardenbergia and Pandorea

Plants that can be espaliered on to a wall or fence





Lime (Tilia sp.)

Plants that can be trained as standards

Roses (provided they get at least 5 hours of sunlight)


Lilly pillies

Lonicera nitida

Laurus nobilis

Ligustrum ovalifolium

Low-growing plants that don’t take up much space



Mondo Grass






Eonymous sp.






Plants for hedging



Buxus sempervirens

Choisya ternata

Aucuba japonica

Murraya paniculata

Plumbago auriculata

Duranta repens

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