Friday Idea File: Ten tricks for a narrow space

Trick #1: Break the line. The design above doesn’t follow a long, linear path, not even with the paving. One line of stone runs into the fence, not along it, and the rock around the fountain claims an oblique corner.

Few of us city gardeners have room to be expansive. Yet skinny spaces can be a real challenge. How do you avoid being bitty and boring in a long, narrow area? Well, we’ve gathered some narrow space garden ideas from around town and elsewhere into this Friday’s Idea File. Hope it gives you new tricks to try. Some examples use more than one trick, as you’ll see. We welcome your own ideas, too!

Trick #2: Add a focal point. A Lutyens bench gives your eye and feet a destination in this avenue of English oaks.
Bonus trick: The simple planting scheme, with columnar oaks and groundcovers, doesn’t distract from the journey.
Trick #3: Add some art. Charming birds flit easily in this narrow garden bed. Wall-mounted art would work, too.
Trick #4: Throw some curves. The staggered paving on the walk breaks into the walk near the front, then takes your eye around the corner. It creates a longer, more interesting line for this narrow stretch.
Trick #5: Borrow a view. No need to feel fenced in if you have nice neighbours willing to share their cheerful garden.
Trick #6: Go up. You’ve seen this already in almost every example, especially the trees in Trick #2. Here, the simple addition of a row of metal flowers turns a strip of nothing into something nifty.
Trick #7: Go skinny. Skinny trees – called columnar or fastigiate – are available as both evergreens and deciduous trees and are ideal for narrow spaces. Also look for low-growing shrubs grafted or trained on a straight or standard trunk.
Trick #8: Add a mirror. If you don’t have a view to borrow, reflect your own. Mirrors add instant depth.
Trick #9: Add a planter. No ground to plant in? Raise it with a planter. Note the borrowed view here, too.
Trick #10: Add rhythm. Repetition is always a good trick to move your eye through a garden. Here, a regular pattern punctuates the distance from front to back. The columnar yews give height, and the hydrangeas add multi-season interest.

And what do you do to combat an ultra-narrow space? We’d love to hear from you.


  1. Hi Helen,

    all great ideas for skinny paths! 2 other possibilities:

    a) an espalier to break up/minimize an adjacent wall's visual dominance

    b) akin to trick #4, using random flagstone to keep they eye from shooting forward/slowing things down visually

    1. Espaliers and cordons are a great idea, Paul. And your random paving idea is sort of what's going on with the first trick, breaking up the linearity. Thanks for adding to the discussion!

  2. Oh, so many great ideas for planting a narrow space, love them all. My narrow space is the north side of my house, so I have to combine these with a need for dry deep shade. I like that so many of your ideas here don't involve plants, but rather, decoration.

    1. That Northern exposure can be a tough one, too, Alison. I'll be giving a talk on dry shade gardening at Canada Blooms this year. Afterwards, perhaps I'll do a Friday File on it. Thanks for dropping by.

  3. Hello Helen,
    thank you for your great examples how to design a narrow space along our house.
    I do have a concern about adding a mirror in the garden.
    The reflection of plants can cause birds to fly into the mirror.

    1. Hi, Gisela, Yes, that's a danger with any reflective surface, including windows.

      At a trade show about a year ago, I saw a decal product in the shape of predator birds that can be applied to windows outdoors. It's virtually invisible to the human eye, but birds can see it. I wonder if it would work on mirrors, too.

      However, I have had mirrors in my garden for as long as I've had a garden, and have never seen that phenomenon.

    2. the practical experience is reassuring. But we do have birds flying into our windows. And thru the open doors into the livingroom. Quite a battle to convince them that THIS is the way back out into the garden!

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