Narrow garden ideas: 12 clever ways to make the most of thin plots

These narrow garden ideas will maximize the potential of your backyard – from layout and styling suggestions plus more

narrow garden ideas: Jungle fever garden designed by Pip Probert for RHS Tatton Park 2018
(Image credit: RHS)

Is your backyard long, thin, and crying out for a makeover? Then these narrow garden ideas are sure to come in handy. 

In urban environments especially, they're one of the most common types of plot. But, it's easy to feel stuck when it comes to making one feel stylish. As you may already know, a narrow garden can feel 'boxed in', awkward, and shady. And, once you've factored in the plants as well as your outdoor seating solutions, it can feel even narrower than it did before – if you don't have a few tricks up your sleeve that is.

Good garden layout ideas and styling can make any space feel welcoming and chic, no matter its size or shape. And in this feature, we've rounded up plenty of ways to tackle a plot that's undeniably longer than it is wide. With these looks, you'll soon see that it's perfectly possible to turn a narrow space into the backyard of your dreams.

Narrow garden ideas: 12 stylish looks for your plot

From statement steps, stunning seating and show-stopping living walls (plus more), we've brought together some of our favorite narrow garden ideas below to help you get inspired.

1. Mix up the view by introducing levels

the habit of living by karen tatlow and katherine hathaway for RHS malvern spring festival 2019

'The Habit of Living' garden, designed by Karen Tatlow and Katherine Hathaway for RHS Malvern Spring Festival 2019

(Image credit: Neil Hepworth/RHS)

One way to make a dull, narrow plot more interesting is to add tiered garden ideas. This will draw the eye upwards, helping to disguise that long, corridor-like look.

But, don't feel like you need to go for straight lines and angular shapes when playing with levels. Curved landscaping can have a more pleasing look and make the space seem wider. Take these steps, for instance, which wrap around a soft border full of beautiful blooms. 

Position a seating spot on the higher level for the best views – and add some stylish garden screening ideas to boost the sense of privacy, should you need it. We also love how, in this plot, the statement bench is angled slightly to one side rather than lining up regimentally with the boundaries. This adds to the natural, flowing feel of the space.

2. Tuck in a pergola for stylish outdoor entertaining

The landform garden bar designed by rhiannon williams for rhs hampton court 2018

'The Landform Garden Bar', designed by Rhiannon Williams for RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2018

(Image credit: Neil Hepworth/RHS)

Love our pergola ideas? Don't let a narrow plot hold you back. Find a design that slots neatly into the farther end of your yard to shelter an outdoor bar or comfy corner sofa. Not only will it help to break up the length of your garden, but it will also provide an ideal spot for hosting guests.

If you're going for paving underfoot, go for a sleek, pale style to help expand on the feeling of space. It doesn't have to be one symmetrical stretch of stone either. Instead, you could offset two square sections of paving to create different 'zones' – this will help move the eye across the plot rather than down. Then, add plenty of plants around your plot's perimeter to cocoon it in vibrant color and foliage.

3. Pick functional pieces that work with the space

concrete pavers in narrow outdoor space with gravel

This narrow plot is full of good design choices

(Image credit: Matthew Williams/Future)

This narrow garden zone could be positively dreary if left to its own devices. But, clever styling and nifty furniture have transformed it into a welcoming and useable space.

First, note the stepping stone pavers, which offer a playful tone. Laid horizontally, they also distract from just how narrow the space really is. The table which sits above them features fold-out stools – an ingenious solution for dining alfresco in small garden ideas

Potted plants and characterful sculptures bring an additional dose of personality to the plot, and we like the choice of door and window fittings too. Their glass panels mean that the line of sight isn't blocked even if they're left wide open, which offers a more airy and spacious feel.

4. Use a circular patio for a destination spot

Jungle fever garden designed by Pip Probert for RHS Tatton Park 2018

The 'Jungle Fever' garden, designed by Pip Probert for RHS Flower Show Tatton Park 2018

(Image credit: RHS)

Remember how curves can help to widen a space? Bear this in mind when planning your patio ideas for your narrow plot. Take a look at this gorgeous design, for example. 

A sense of journey and intrigue is offered by the paved pathway, lined with sumptuous planting and defined further by a small pergola-style structure in modern black.

Beyond, the space opens out into a circular area of paving: a tucked-away retreat away from the hustle and bustle of the house. The contrast of this zone against the narrower path, as well as its curved shape, tricks the eye into believing the patio is more spacious than it really is. 

To enhance a sense of cohesion, try mirroring the circular shape with a central fire pit for a toasty glow when night falls. This one doubles up as a useful table when covered with its lid – so it's a win-win.

5. Line a narrow deck with pots

ideas for awkward shaped gardens: side return area transformed into a shaded seating area with container plants

A shade sail and lots of plants transform this narrow space

(Image credit: Future)

Working with narrow decking ideas? Here's a practical yet stylish solution. And, it won't cost the earth.

All you need is a good assortment of pots, planted up with your favorite blooms, to line the perimeter of the space. You could even pop some veggies in a few too, if you fancy a bit of grow-your-own action – lots will thrive in containers so growing vegetables in pots is definitely an option to consider.

When it comes to furniture, opt for solutions that will help to maximize the space. Foldaway bistro sets are always useful as they're so versatile (and often, budget-friendly). Benches that double up as storage are also a good choice.

Don't forget the details up high, too – this will visually balance the scene. Think bunting and bird houses for a charming look. And, if you add a simple shade sail too, you'll be tempted to sit out in your narrow garden ideas even in the hot midday sun (or when it starts to rain).

6. Add gently curving pathways

narrow Japanese-style garden designed by Rhoda Maw

(Image credit: Rhoda Maw Garden Design)

Garden path ideas are crucial for getting from A to B, but when it comes to narrow gardens, subtly meandering lines can be more visually pleasing than straight. Take this design, for instance, where the central path gently curves side to side in an organic fashion.

'This garden in Northolt had a very long, dark narrow section,' says garden designer Rhoda Maw. She explains how she visually widened it by removing the narrow strip of lawn to replace it with light pebbles across the whole width of the space. 

'I also added rectangular pavers extending across the garden,' she adds, 'and the circular Moongate which also provides the illusion of more width.' We love the addition of acers too – a perfect choice for Japanese garden ideas.

Sometimes narrow garden ideas can be shady, especially if they're in a built-up area. But you can still make a walkway look fabulous with a little help from shade-loving plants. Wendy Smith, Garden Designer of The Plantsmith, recommends creating a cool walkway surrounded with lush green plants, including ferns and hostas, as well as the popular hydrangea 'Annabelle'. For even more of a verdant look, spread Soleirolia soleirolia opportunistically through the paving cracks, she adds. 

7. Or, offset paths to and from garden zones

long garden with modern decor

A central outdoor living space divides up this long and narrow garden

(Image credit: Rei Moon/Future)

Garden designer Wendy Smith also suggests how you can break up narrow garden ideas into zones. Use different hard landscaping elements and planting to mask the view so the end of the plot can't be fully seen, she says. 'A glimpse of a bench, for example, will give the user a reason to explore further.'

Offsetting a pathway adds width and interest, she continues. This scene above is a brilliant example, with stepping stones leading to and from a chic outdoor living 'room'. If you're also after long garden ideas, a design like this is definitely one to consider.

8. Shelter a central seating area

urban narrow garden with metal screen and flowers

Break up your plot with statement structures

(Image credit: Charlie Hopkinson/Future)

'Narrow sites are challenging, of course. However, as always, challenges bring opportunities,' says John Wyer, CEO of Bowles & Wyer

'One of the things I like about long, thin plots is the opportunity for stretching the perception of the space. Dividing the plot up into smaller blocks means that you can rarely see everything from the outset. This means that there is a necessity to explore – what is just beyond that hedge or trellis or bush?'

One way to do this is by breaking up your plot into three, using patio cover ideas or gardening screening ideas to define the middle section. This could be as simple as a large garden parasol or a length of trellis, but there are plenty of bolder options if you really want to make a statement (and have a bit more budget to spend). Take this chic metal shelter, for instance – ideal for a contemporary plot and the perfect backdrop for jewel-hued blooms.

9. Create drama with a living wall

living wall at end of courtyard

A foliage-filled wall draws the eye

(Image credit: Alun Callender/Future)

When it comes to your narrow garden ideas, 'Think vertically,' as says garden designer Wendy Smith. There are so many great green wall systems available, she adds.

Not only will a living wall allow you to bring tons more greenery into smaller plots, it will also add a real sense of drama. And, if you use it on the farthest wall, it will encourage you to look upwards, taking the focus away from the narrowness of the space.

10. Reflect the scene with mirrors

mirrors along blank fence with trees in garden by tom howard garden design

We love the addition of mirrors to the fence in this garden by Tom Howard Garden Design

(Image credit: Tom Howard Garden Design)

Garden mirrors make wonderful features for all manner of plots. Not only are they useful in pepping up blank walls or fences, but they also double up the view and bounce the light around, helping a space feel bigger and brighter.

For a stunning look, take a cue from this set-up above by Tom Howard Garden Design and position mirrors along the length of your fences to the side of your plot. It will provide a ton of visual interest, especially if you plant a luscious border in front.

11. Opt for a pared-down palette

narrow modern courtyard with steps and outdoor kitchen

A pale color scheme sets a fuss-free yet modern tone

(Image credit: Mark Bolton Photography/Future)

If you're looking for courtyard garden ideas as well as narrow garden ideas, then a set-up like this might be the way forward. It's easy for this kind of space to feel 'boxed in' due to the tall, imposing walls, but there are still some simple tips you can try.

Opting for a neutral palette of pale stone and timber can help to brighten the space and set a fuss-free yet contemporary tone. Alongside this, a few large planters can be all that's needed to create an impact (and will be low-maintenance, too). Try sculptural topiary with evergreen shrubs or a large olive tree for reliable texture and greenery all year round.

12. Choose streamlined seating

floating bench in small paved space by tom howard garden design

A sleek seating spot designed by Tom Howard Garden Design

(Image credit: Tom Howard Garden Design)

Taking a streamlined approach to outdoor seating ideas can be a good option when it comes to thin gardens. This cuts down on clutter – resulting in a clean and more spacious look: ideal when dealing with smaller plots.

One way to do so is to use the walls of bordering raised beds to support floating benches – just like in this design by garden designer Tom Howard. It will provide ample room to entertain guests against a pleasing backdrop of flowers and foliage, and looks super-stylish too. 

You can add in extra accessories to boost the cozy factor should you wish – think comfy cushions and a garden rug underfoot for a real sense of outdoor living. Fold-up tray tables can also be a useful addition for placing a cuppa and a book when needed.

What can you do with a narrow garden? More top tips

shade garden ideas: courtyard

Corten steel and beautiful agapanthus line the borders of this garden by Bowles & Wyer

(Image credit: Bowles & Wyer)

So we've covered mirrors, levels, curved landscaping, colors and more, and hopefully by now you're feeling inspired for your own narrow garden ideas. However, there are even more things you can try to make the most of your space.

When it comes to breaking up a 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 – think gentle festoons for outdoor seating, brighter lights for outdoor kitchens, or a hanging pendant over a sheltered outdoor dining space, for instance.

'The other thing about slender spaces is that the boundaries play a much greater part,' John adds. He sees them as great opportunities, from trellises and old brick garden wall ideas to colored render or as vehicles for supporting scented climbing plants. 'Have fun with the space!' he says.

What can you plant in a long narrow garden bed?

best plants for beginners: alliums

Try alliums in a thin border for vibrant color and structure

(Image credit: Clive Nichols/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images)

If you've lined your narrow garden ideas with flowerbeds, then you might be wondering what you can plant in them. Taller varieties are a good bet as they'll help disguise the boundaries, whilst picking a cohesive color scheme will prevent the look from feeling fussy and chaotic.

We've rounded up some of our top choices:

  • Clematis is a beautiful climbing plant that clambers up walls and offers prolific blooms. It's a lovely choice along the back of narrow borders – our guide on how to grow clematis is full of useful tips.
  • Alliums offer playful structure with their vivid purple (or white) globe-shaped flower heads. They're also one of our picks for the best plants for beginners.
  • Espalier trees are an elegant choice and as they're trained flat along a wall or fence, don't take up much room. Try apple or pear for beautiful blossom in spring and a delicious harvest in fall.
  • Verbena bonariensis with its tall, structural stems topped with clusters of violet blooms is a lovely pick for narrow borders, and pollinators adore it.
  • Japanese anemones are prolific and easy to grow, thriving in both sun and shade. They flower from midsummer right up until the end of fall.
  • Ferns make a lovely choice for modern plots and create a jungle-like vibe. Most prefer to be planted in dappled shade – our guide on how to grow ferns has more advice.
Holly Crossley
Acting Deputy Editor

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then. She's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator – plants are her passion.