Narrow garden ideas – 10 design rules for transforming a long plot

Inspiring narrow garden ideas and tips to help make the most of your small outdoor space

Narrow garden ideas with lawn and evergreen hedge
(Image credit: Mark Bolton / Future)

These narrow garden ideas will help you turn a slim outdoor space into a 'garden room' you will love for years to come. 

If you have, or have ever had, a long, slender garden, then you’ll be more than aware of the tricky task of finding garden ideas that make it look wider than it actually is, while desperately trying to ensure every corner looks pretty yet functional. 

Narrow garden ideas

Never fear – with these clever, small garden ideas and tricks of the trade, there are tons of ways to help turn that awkward, narrow garden into something the whole family can use and enjoy.

1. Identify light and shady spots for crops

Flower bed ideas for a shade garden

(Image credit: Future / David Giles)

Even slim, narrow gardens have both sunny and shady spots. Identify them, and then choose crops accordingly; for instance, redcurrents thrive in shade whereas chilli peppers love the sun.

2. Create a sensory experience in a narrow plot

Make a mixed plant display with veg, herbs and flowers

(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

The positive effects of a sensory garden on the human mind and body are too strong to be ignored, and just because you have a narrow garden, that doesn't mean you should miss out on these benefits.

There is no need for acres of land to create a sensory garden that will appeal to all the senses and promote health and happiness. Garden decorating ideas such as a scented hanging basket, a collection of versatile plants in containers, or a simple herb-edged pathway are just as capable of providing you with invigorating experiences in a small garden as well as large. 

3. Plant along a garden wall

Narrow garden with shaded seating

(Image credit: Mark Bolton / Future)

There is one huge benefit to having a slim, shaded garden – privacy. Living wall ideas that act as screens, pergola-covered terraces and tall trees are just some of the design features that will transform a narrow garden into a private sanctuary.

4. Opt for a non-linear path

Sloping garden ideas

(Image credit: Future / Mel Yates)

A slope can add real interest to a narrow garden and create a character all of its own. A pathway should be ‘in tune’ with size and shape of your garden

Here, a softly winding garden path idea will lead the eye through the garden, encouraging it to linger on areas of lovely planting, or drawing it forward on straight stretches. 

5. Add interest overhead with a pergola

Narrow garden with pergola

(Image credit: Mark Bolton / Future)

You can create a sense of romance with where you choose to place your pergola in a narrow garden. Garden designer and consultant Rebecca Smith recommends a pergola that arches over a narrow garden pat.h

‘In a long garden, a pergola placed at the end – or beginning – of the space can create a destination, and can also help screen an unsightly garden shed or ,’ she says.

6. Plant vertically in a narrow garden

Narrow garden with living wall in small garden

(Image credit: Future / James Merrell)

Vertical interest is a key factor in designing a narrow garden because, without some height and variation in levels, the layout exists largely on a horizontal plain, and can appear flat and rather uninspiring. 

Upright features, such as arbors, arches, pergolas, obelisks, bowers, decorative buildings or poles and swags inject vertical interest in a slim space – all you need are walls, fences and trellis. Green walls can even be installed on a narrow, north-facing passageway, provided they're planted with shade-lovers like ferns and saxifrages. 

7. Light up a narrow garden path

Garden lighting ideas

(Image credit: Future / Alun Callender)

A clever outdoor lighting scheme adds drama and lights the way, allowing you to enjoy your narrow garden after dusk. 'Pick out with light the key sculptural elements that define the garden structure, such as hedges, water features, and specimen trees, adding infill lights to the flower beds where necessary,' says Sally Storey, Design Director, John Cullen.

8. Create interest at the end of a narrow garden

Narrow garden with hedges and stone sculpture

(Image credit: Mark Bolton / Future)

Add intrigue to the end of a long, narrow garden with a statement garden sculpture or yard art ideas. Humour can have its place in the garden although, like art itself, the choice of piece is highly subjective. Overly comical sculptures can grow tiresome in time, but a classic installation can be a permanent asset to a narrow garden.

9. Play to your strengths

Narrow garden with borders and bench

(Image credit: Annaick Guitteny / Future)

You’ve probably spent hours rearranging garden furniture and trimming back borders in a frenzied attempt to make your narrow garden look more square, but in fact, we should be embracing it's long, slender shape. 

An informal planting style, such as in cottage borders, is random and undisciplined but, when edged with low, evergreen box hedge, these beds fit seamlessly into a formal, narrow design.

10. Introduce zones with hard landscaping

Narrow garden with decking, fence and lawn

(Image credit: Annaick Guitteny / Future)

While in homes we carefully consider each room or area as a separate zone, gardens rarely get the same treatment. Garden zoning helps you to make the most of your narrow garden, by creating distinct area for your various al fresco activities.

There are many creative ways to zone your garden to divide it into different areas. Garden zoning can be achieved through color and clever planting – flower beds, hedges and swathes of wildflowers all help to break up spaces. 

For a more solid approach, you can build in walls and paths to physically block off different zones, and pick different materials for flooring.

How do you make a narrow garden look wide? 

When it comes to breaking up a narrow plot into smaller sections, John Wyer, CEO of Bowles & Wyer, says how outdoor lighting ideas can play a key part. 

For example, different lighting solutions can help to determine the ambience and purpose of different zones.

'The other thing about slender spaces is that the boundaries play a much greater part,' John adds. He sees them as great opportunities, from using trellis ideas and garden walls as vehicles for supporting vertical garden ideas and scented climbers. 'Have fun with the space,' he says.

Jennifer Ebert

Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space. Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.