Narrow Side Yard Makeover!

by / 69 Comments / 28044 View / May 5, 2009


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.


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 Comment

  1. 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. 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!

  3. […] partly because I love side yards but mostly because it’s just so gorgeous. Landscape Designer Shirley Bovshow came up with amazing side yard makeover a few years ago for a client living in Los Angeles. What […]

  4. The description and photographs provided in the blogs are really awesome. I really liked the theme and design of the garden very much. The description and photographs provided in the blogs are really awesome. I really liked the theme and design of the garden very much. Its an amazing creativity. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I was wondering how long did this entire process take and did you hire out?

  6. Nice makeover even with the limited and narrow space! Great inspirations!
    Here are some photos to from a home and garden show from toronto for more inspirations! Hope you like it.

  7. Even if you have a narrow or limited space for a side yard, it doesn’t mean that you can no longer create a wonderful landscape. With proper planning, it is a guarantee that you can be successful in your project.

  8. The dwarf lemon tree tops at 5 feet and is maturing nicely. Confinement to a pot helps to limit the growth.

  9. Wow! This has definitely inspired me to get off my butt and get my hands dirty! How large will that Lemon Tree get? Are you going to move it to another larger pot or ??

  10. To give a garden that instant old feeling just use some authentically old elements like the stone and iron. Thanks for your feedback.

  11. Wow, what an amazing display of creativity. The best part about this transformation is that one would think it has been this way for years. With the broken rocks, weathered iron detail, and existing trees, it seems that the house was built around it, rather than the other way around.

  12. Excellent ideas for this tiny space! Thanks!

  13. Shirley … its a superb work.

  14. I am a huge fan of Australian plants since many of them do well here in the dry, warm Los Angeles climate. I have not planted Pittosporum p before. I will have to look it up! Thanks for commenting. Please subscribe for blog updates!

  15. We've tackled similar situations in Austrtalia. Have you ever tried using Pittosporum phyllaraeoides  -a small tree, upright, open, weeping, I've found it useful in such situations and I think it would suit your climate

  16. […] “Eden Makers Blog”“Eden Makers Blog” is a garden design blog that covers garden makeovers, no-lawn garden design, small gardens, container gardens, low water plants, drought tolerant lawns, […]

  17. Wow, this is such an impressive make-over. I love the pathway with stones and fescue edging. The whole side yard is very inspiring! Beautiful.

  18. Shirley,

    Great job. I love the recycled elements, and how you matched their rust-colors with the surfer and the chair.

    Fougères at

  19. You have created a wonderful mediterranean journey, with lots of rewards along the way as well as at the end. And what a great photo of you!
    Best Wishes

  20. […] Shirley Bovshow : Eden Makers : Los Angeles, CA   […]

  21. Thanks for all the ideas – love the fact that you left the one existing sizeable tree in place – quite a transformation of the space! Can see myself using your idea of a simple awning for some of our clients. Cheers, Lesley and Robert

  22. Why thank you Miss Rumphius! Appreciate your visit and comment.

  23. Gee, thanks Laura. I appreciate that. Glad you like the project. I’m very happy with it and clients thrilled!

  24. Shirley–That’s what I call making lemons out of lemonade. From wallflower to bell of the ball. BRAVO!

  25. Shirley I was so impressed with your post that I ran off and started tweeting about it before I’d left a comment! I love the layers of detail you add every step of the way; everything looks well constructed with great use of recycled products; well done!

  26. Thank you Susan. I agree with you regarding small yards. They are my favorite to work on because they become little jewel boxes!

  27. That’s cute Jenny. Send a dollar to EdenMaker! Post your photos when you are done with your project.

  28. Wow, Shirley, that is one gorgeous makeover! What a great use of a long, narrow space! You gave me a great idea (actually several) for a new client I have–where do I send your consult fee??

  29. HI Jocelyn,
    Thanks for visiting and commenting. I love sharing stories from my design profiles.

  30. Hi Pam,
    You are right in saying that the wall was a design advantage. Before the makeover it was just a glaring concrete wall, afterwards it was a backdrop for water fountain and mediterannean plants. The side yard faces south west so there was plenty of light for these plants. Thanks for visiting.

  31. SO you liked the yard, huh? Thanks Rebecca for taking the time to comment and read the post. I always enjoy your entries.

  32. What a nice small space side garden. I love so many things about it…the casual stepping stones and thyme, the wood awning (very creative!) and the little fountain. Small spaces can be fun!

  33. Shirley – I think my favorite part of your fabulous side yard is the potted lemon tree! It adds such a Mediterranean feel to it, making it cozy and intimate. Wait – no, my favorite part is definitely the archway…such a beautiful focal point…no, wait…oh heck. I can’t decide. Your side yard is truly one of the most beautiful I think I’ve ever seen!

  34. The wall is a huge asset to your beautiful design. We usually have less-than-lovely stockade fences between our properties here in Austin. I also love that you found so much sunny space for fruit trees, rosemary, and the like in your side-yard design. I posted today about a very shady space that had similar long, narrow dimensions.

  35. […] Bovshow : Eden Makers : Los […]

  36. The photos really tell the story! Thanks for taking us through your process. I enjoyed hearing about the many ways you customized the garden for a specific client. Thanks!

  37. […] Shirley Bovshow : Eden Makers : Los Angeles, CA […]

  38. […] exciting to be able to present some space efficient options for those of you who are short on yard space but big on dreams of growing your own […]

  39. Hi Pete,
    Thanks for commenting on the design. We used drip irrigation for the garden beds and sub drip tubes between the steppingstones to water the thyme. Once established, the groundcover needs very little water once every 8 to 10 days. When it was being established we watered more often, every other day.

    I do landscape design still…it’s my “day job!” Please email me at shirley at shirleybovshow dot com!


  40. I just found your website and I really love what you did on this project. In fact, it inspired me to develop a similar plan for my own side yard. I was wondering what type of irrigation plan you used for the plants and the groundcover thyme, as I know once they are established they shouldn’t need much. Did you happen to use drip irrigation or microsprinklers? Thanks for your time and again really love pretty much every design I’ve seen you do. PS How easy is it to get an appointment with you sometime?

  41. Hi Alison, nothing wrong with changing the garden around every few years. I’m happy to hear you liked the yard conversion. Keep me posted on your renovation!

  42. What a beautiful side yard conversion! I’ve converted my side yard too, but I don’ think it’s quite as nice as this one. Eight years ago I turned mine into a prairie and woodland garden. Now it needs some renovation so I’ll be out digging soon, expanding it and adding some more natives to bring joy and wildlife.

  43. This is beautiful! I think this is something really appropriate for my side yard as well. The ideal wheels are turning… Can’t wait to check out your other projects as well!

  44. Thanks Susan. Next time in LA, I’ll give you a tour of my projects.

  45. WHOA, how gorgeous. You’re an artiste, and quite the beauty yourself, kiddo.

  46. Hi Ruth,
    Thanks for visiting me! Does have a link to EdenMakers? I hope my post gives you some ideas for your yard. Send me photos when you are finished delegating garden projects to your husband!

  47. Hi, I just found you thru…. I just am enthralled with your creativity……we also have a very narrow side yard……I will so work on my husband to beautify it (lol…i am a born delegator!) Thank you, you’ve inspired me!

  48. Hi LaurelStreet. Thanks for the awesome “thumbs-up!” I even see you wrote about my design work on your blog- what a treat!
    I know how it feels to come across something that functions as a muse and I’m glad this project was one for you.
    Don’t worry about the shade, this will give you a great opportunity to showcase some exotic shade plants. Just cover all your bases. If you have a wall, grow a vine to cover it. Plant flowering shrubs, perennials, add bulbs and a flowering groundcover. This way, you will have colorful interest throughout the year.

    Keep me posted on your progress and upload a photo in your comment when you get there!

  49. […] think I found some inspiration today with this post from the EdenMakers blog. Take a look at these two pics, but do follow through to her site and enjoy the entire post. […]

  50. Wow. Thank you for showing us all the steps! The result is just perfect in every way. I’ve an underutilized side yard and have been waiting for inspiration to strike. I think it just did. I worry that mine is more deeply shaded, but hopefully with a little homework I can make it happen. Thanks again!

  51. Thanks for visiting from across the world! The before and afters are about 1.5 to 2 years! This is one of my favorite gardens- my client is so good at maintenance. No weeds in sight!

  52. I love the rusting bolts – its a great detail! What is the difference in time between the before and after photos? The arch frames the pathway very nicely too.

  53. Great job! I loved everything you did with that narrow slice of ground.

  54. I love everything about this design. The hanging support for the potato vine is too clever. The area is so interesting and I would never have walked the path before but now it’s like you need to open up the side of the house so you can view the area from the inside! It’s so pretty!

  55. Hey Shirley, it looks awesome! I’m inspired by your side yard transformation. We have an arborvitae hedge badly damaged by ice storms last winter in one side yard that already needed beautifying anyway. I’m glad for the opportunity to rethink that area, and you’ve given me some needed ideas and inspiration!

  56. Your designs are so textural. They make me want to touch everything or maybe even roll around in it. I agree with Kathy, the fescue and thyme combination is perfect.

  57. Thanks for the headsup with my email problem…no wonder it has been so light! That’s great news Susan. I hope to see you in Los Angeles when you come. Have you considered Lotus Land in Santa Barbara or do you want to stick to the city? I will email you today.

  58. Ooh, I love this project! But on another topic, I’ve been emailing you and getting bounced. I’m coming to LA in June and am trying to pick your brain about gardens I should see. So far, I’ve only seen the Getty and the gardens at UCLA. What else? Email me, please!

  59. Hi Compost Instructions, welcome to EdenMakers! I amend the garden beds with compost and not much more. The Mediterranean plants and ornamental grasses don’t need a lot of fussing over. Want to answer a compost question for one of my commenters on another post? I figure since this is your specialty, I will unleash you on him. Check this out at

  60. Whoa! What a change. SOOOOO nice! What do you use on soil to grow these kind of plants in order for it to be healthy?

  61. […] Narrow Side Yard Makeover! — Eden Makers Blog – 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. […]

  62. Thank you Mother Natures Garden. It’s nice to see you at EdenMakers! I just posted photos of my television garden makeovers on the right column. Hope you check them out. I get to “slow down the camera” and I even include plant lists!

  63. I love to see the transformation. It is so beautiful now it will be used because it is so attractive. I like your ideas.

  64. Hi Mr. McGregors Daughter- I like your name, how did that come about, (besides the obvious)? You hit the nail on the head regarding “enclosure.” The garden is guarded by the house and the block wall and feels very intimate. That is a by-product of the small space that some people may feel inhibited by, but you “get it”- it’s a great opportunity to create a “close up” garden!
    Thanks for commenting.

    Hi Laura,
    Thanks for the compliment. Yes, the homeowners are very happy with their side yard and you just opened up the conversation about the rest of the yard! That will be another blog post. The lesson? “How to carve intimate rooms from a small rectangular tract lot!” I continued with the recycled materials back there too!

    Thanks and welcome to EdenMakers! I don’t remember seeing your name here before. Please come back and join another conversation. I love the photos in your blog. Do you do pro photography?

    Hi Kathy,
    Thanks! The fescue ground cover is thriving in this area so it took about 1 year for dense coverage. We started with plugs from a “dirt flat,” spaced 6 to 8″ inches apart. The festuca and other ornamental plants started to touch shoulders after a year. I didn’t want to over plant so I spaced the plants taking into account their mature size. The homeowner is very diligent in weeding, staking and keeping the garden looking its best.

    Hi Billy Boy!
    I’m happy to see you at EdenMakers! Thanks for the kind words, I try my best. I notice you have a major fan club growing over at your blog, “Cool Green Gardens” at! Way to go. You have a way with words, and a great knowledge base-lethal combo!
    Come back and see me, I’ll be checking you out regularly.

  65. Shirley: you continue to rock my socks off! That’s a fabulous treatment for what is always a challenging location. The arch is the perfect detail for saying “this is special” not an afterthought. Great plant combos and very responsible in terms of ultimate size and low maintenance. Great stuff (as usual). Your fan, from 100 miles north…bg

  66. Shirley, this is really beautiful. I love how you used all the recycled materials, and the concrete looks great that way. Your fescue and thyme are perfect path companions, and won’t need much water either. This was a fantastic design and job! How long did it take for all of the plants to fill in this area?

  67. Wow! Incredible!

  68. OMG, what an amazing transformation! I bet they’ll spend more time in the side yard than the back yard now. Thanks for the inspiration.

  69. That’s really lovely and usable. The wall gives such a great feeling of enclosure, and the arch makes it very welcoming. I love the before shot with the dishwasher.

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