Narrow Side Yard Makeover!

narrow side yard small garden


I nominate "side yards" as some of the most under-exploited areas in the landscape! What a shame, especially when every square foot of real estate is valuable, even in a down economy.  

Small, narrow yards can be perplexing to some homeowners who don't know which plants and trees work in a constricted space.

The good news is that not only can you find appropriate plants for small garden areas, you can also design a narrow yard to include walkways, sitting areas, sculpture (or garden art ), water features and  fruit trees!

Here's the proof.

Check out this "narrow side yard"  makeover  I designed for my client in Los Angeles.


With sustainable concepts in mind, we used lots of recycled materials.



The widest area in this "abandoned side yard" is 10 feet from the wall to the sliding doors, the average is 8 feet wide.

 I inherited an evergreen Pear tree, a noisy air conditioner and a used dishwasher.

Where was "Freecycle" when I needed them 5 years ago?



The view from the opposite direction. I had BIG plans for this underused space. All I needed was a good design plan.



I try to design "on site" whenever possible.

I used my up-side-down marking paint and drew a new 4-foot wide walkway and flanking garden beds that average about 2 feet deep.

 I earmarked a sitting area and lots of fruit trees!



We fashioned "steppingstones" from broken pieces of used and recycled concrete and mortared each individual stone to the ground.

We spaced each stone about a strides-length away (the homeowners' stride), installed tube drip irrigation between each stone, filled with some crushed pea gravel for drainage, and lots of decomposed granite to top it off.



After photo: The long narrow walkway is complete! The gardens include lavender, ornamental grasses, tree roses, vines and a romantic metal arch that opens to the backyard. I even included a hanging pendent light.



After photo: The opposite view. Scent-filled gardens, perfect for a leisurely stroll.

Who knew this "underachieving" piece of real estate could become such a valuable feature in this yard?



Creeping "Elfin Thyme" forms a carpet between steppingstones. Festuca o. "Elijah Blue" punctuates the cobble edging and the rest of the garden is filled with herbs and perennials.



The key to incorporating fruiting trees in the narrow landscape is to plant dwarf varieties (like this dwarf lemon) in containers and find a sunny corner for them. I have three more fruit trees in this narrow garden!



This lemon tree doesn't take up much space horizontally and is a prolific fruiter . It also functions as a focal point in this small garden bed.


We even found room for "garden art" in this cubby area beneath the evergreen Pear tree.

Small can be beautiful!



Did I mention the homeowner is a surfer?

This metal surfer sculpture and metal chair is fun and reflects the homeowner's personality.

Even if this chair isn't comfortable to sit on for long periods, you can see that there is plenty of room to substitute it for a more comfy one.

Don't tell me you don't have enough room to be creative!



We constructed a simple, recycled wood frame awning  to place above the sliding doors and add dimension to the tall, flat wall.

 The awning is home to a happy potato vine.



Antique, ornamental and rustic bolts lend a detail that can be appreciated from close up.

Since this yard is so narrow, everything is closeup!



The sound of water is a healing balm.

 As a final touch, we placed a petite fountain on the short  6 foot wall, a larger one would have been out of scale.



"EdenMaker" Shirley Bovshow's rule of thumb for narrow yards:

" When selecting trees for narrow areas, make sure the trunk has a narrow profile and that the lowest limbs are higher than 7 feet" so that the average size person can walk underneath it.

Sorry Kobe!

You can still create a dynamic garden in small spaces.

If you are a rose lover, opt for rose trees as they don't take up bulky horizontal space like the bush form does.

Layer your garden with perennials, bulbs, flowering ground covers and vines, or play up contrasting foliage.

You don't need a huge variety of plants to make an interesting garden!"


Want some more inspiration?

Visit these Garden Designer's RoundTable member blogs:

Jenny Peterson, J Peterson Garden Design Laura Livengood Schuab, Interleafings The Hegarty/Webber Partnership Susan Morrison, Blue Planet Garden Blog Susan Schlenger, Garden Design Viewpoint Carolyn Gail Choi, Sweet Home and Garden Chicago Tara Dillard, Landscape Design, Decorating Styling

And, if that's not enough, check out these great articles by David Beaulieu.

To learn more about narrow side yard design, fellow blogger David Beaulieu, the Landscaping Guide at at has some great articles:

Photo Guide to Walkways

How to Build a Stone Walkway Walkways and Pathways

How to Make and Use Garden Steppingstones

Supplies for Stone Fountain Project

Varieties of Apple Trees

Interested in seeing before and after photos of some of my garden designs for HGTV and for my "Garden Police" show?
Select projects from the menu on the right side column of my blog.
You can also view excerpts of some of my television appearances on the "widget" in the left side column labeled "EdenMaker TV!"

69 Responses to “Narrow Side Yard Makeover!”

  1. DS says:

    Thanks for posting this. I see you used "urbanite". That's what we call old concrete driveway pieces in Arizona. I like the idea but have been told the labor costs are prohibitive. Any thoughts or advice on this?  We were thinking about fitting it together. maybe it's better this way, w lots of decomposed granite around it.
    We do need a surrace sturdy enough for wheelbarrows and steady enough for people who aren't.  Decomposed granite (dg) used w lots of fines settles well for pathways but then how permeable is it?

    Wondering about ways to use the urbanite affordably.
    And to have stable dg pathways that are also permeable…

    Our rains, when we do get them, are often deluges. Runoff is an issue and capturing the water a challenge.

    Another idea is mulch pathways. I am wondering how it is for older or less stable pedestrians. Sometimes too many big pieces in it.  And wondering about putting pavers within it…

    So glad you included dimensions. I'm working w a 9' wide sideyard w a french door opening out to it and am figuring on part of it for grape arbor.  Neighbors have a vine on the other side that doesn't look good that will probably fight w mine. Oh well.  Will try to avoid watering where I think the base of their vine is…

    Thanks so much DS


  2. Linda Peterson says:

    I love this side yard as a special Sectret Garden. It adds value to the home. I plan on using it as a model, although we have 3 AC units and the pool equipment in our skinny side yard. I wonder how tall, wide and deep the arch is and where one would source a quality archway like this? The stucco wall and fountain lends itself so well to the European feeling of this pretty path. Imagine the delight a child would have at discovering this jewel! Good job, wish you did work in Houston!

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