Long and narrow side yards present a design challenge. Are you struggling with this challenge? Do you need some landscaping ideas to help you out? If so, begin by asking yourself a couple of questions:
- How often do you use the area as an important route for getting from point A to point B on your property?
- Is the area wide enough to contain a planting bed as well as a walkway or pathway?
Deciding on a Walkway or Pathway for Your Side Yard
Do you often find yourself cutting through the side yard in question on a practical mission? For example, if you had to push a garden cart filled with mulch from the backyard to the front yard, would you tend to cut through this particular area? If so, it behooves you to build a no-nonsense walkway through the area with a surface you won’t be tripping on.
A flagstone walkway, for instance, will provide a nice, even surface. Other materials that yield a smooth and stable surface include:
- Paving Bricks
- Concrete Pavers
- Decomposed Granite
- Patterned Stamped Concrete
- Travertine stone
A wide, attractive walkway running up and down a narrow side yard can also serve a function similar to that of a patio or sitting area.
But if, by contrast, you do not cut through the area very often, you have some less formal options at your disposal. For example, you could lay down garden stepping stones to create an informal path that winds its way through the side yard. Curved pathways are more attractive than straight ones and are a good choice where aesthetic concerns are paramount. A straight path will reinforce aesthetically how tunnel-like the side yard is, which is precisely what you wish to avoid. Plant a ground cover such as creeping thyme between the stepping stones to add visual interest. Alternatively, you may choose not to have a well-defined path at all. You can suppress weeds in the area by laying down weed fabric, covered by mulch.
Important note: Ring the Call Before YouDigphone number (for Texas call 811 on your cell phone or 1-800-344-8377 from any landline phone) before plunging that shovel into the ground! They’ll make sure you’re not going to be severing any cables, etc.
Planting in Your Side Yard
If you have sufficient room in your side yard, you will most likely wish to install plants there, to add visual interest to the space. Using container gardens or raised beds eliminates having to dig into the soil, but let’s assume that you will be installing your plants in the ground.
The first thing to do is to determine whether the side yard is mainly sunny or mainly shady. Then, when you’re researching your possible plant choices, be careful to note whether they are sun-loving plants or shade-tolerant plants. The preferences of the plant, rather than your own preferences, must take precedence over what you think looks good there!
If you’re planning on covering the ground with a weed fabric and mulch, a low-maintenance planting option is to “pocket plant” with shrubs. For each shrub, make an incision in the weed fabric just big enough to insert your root ball.
Features to Consider for Side Yards
Consider building a small water fountain for your side yard. The look and sound of water has a unique ability to enliven a space. A long, narrow side yard can have an oppressive feel to it. You can break up the expanse with an object upon which the eye can rest, for relief. One possible object to use for this purpose is a garden arbor. While such a structure can serve an aesthetic purpose even in a large side yard, an arbor will be especially helpful in improving the design in a small side while adding comfort as well. Enhance the arbor’s beauty by training vines upon it. Again, consider your light conditions before choosing your vines.
Side-Yard Choices: A Summary
Essentially, you have 3 design choices for relatively narrow side yards:
- You can opt for a walkway or pathway, without planting beds (except perhaps for annual plants or small perennial flowers), if the space is really tight.
- If there’s sufficient room, you can have both, with the path or walkway bordered by plants on each side of it.
- Or you needn’t have a well-defined path or walkway at all.
In case #3, just make sure that if you grow plants in the space, you leave yourself enough room to walk freely amongst them not just for functional purposes but for maintenance reasons also.
Question: Jimmie, first let me thank you for your generous time you gave me and my husband at Kroger last week! We took your advice and it worked! Now my next problem, I have a spot that is right outside our living area window near the front entry that is not too large, but everyone sees it coming into our home or leaving our home. Not so long ago you wrote an article about focal points in small gardens. So that got me really interested in this spot. Can you please look at the picture I sent you and give me a couple of WOW options in your professional opinion? Thank you so much! – Bailey and Tom K.
Answer: Hello again Bailey! Thank you for the kind words and yes, I did receive your photo. You are right, that spot needs a WOW plant!! However, I could not quite tell the sun exposure as it appeared to be a cloudy day SOOO….
For full sun consider a Pom Pom Juniper, a Tanyosho Pine or a Dwarf Loquat. For shade or filtered light consider a Weeping Crimson Queen Japanese Maple, a Variegated Ginger, Aralia, a Gold Dust Acuba or a Purple Diamond Loropetalum.
Jimmie is a Prosper resident and the owner of Absolutely Bushed Landscaping Company, an award winning, family and veteran owned and operated business created in 1980 to provide the highest quality custom Outdoor Renovation available to homeowners in the Dallas Ft. Worth area.