Getting the best from a long, thin garden
If you live in an urban environment, there is a good chance that your garden is a long, skinny, rectangular shape. If this is the case, it is important that the space is structured well to avoid it seeming that you are standing in a tunnel, especially if the garden has high boundaries or is overshadowed by a canopy of trees. An effective way to achieve this is to divide the garden into smaller areas, giving each section a different theme. This technique can also be used to hide ugly areas, accentuate existing features or combat different levels in the space.
There are a variety of ways that you can use contrasting themes to partition the space - through a mixture of planting, colour schemes, formal and informal layouts, modern or traditional styles, or the use of eclectic materials - the only limit to the possible permutations are those of your own imagination.
Use simple but distinctive shapes in your hard and soft landscaping to break up the corridor effect in a long garden. You should try and mask the end of the garden so the eye is unsure where the garden finishes - usually this is best achieved through planting.
Below are a few examples of styles appropriate to long gardens, with suggestions and ideas for you to try in your own space:
Squares and angles:
This garden was divided into areas using angles and squares. In this type of garden, the end of each stretch of pathway can be punctuated with a feature, such as a specimen plant, sculpture, pot or bench. Use height to cast the eye upwards and make the most of the vertical space you have - the sky's the limit, but do consider where the shade from any structure, boundary or plant will fall, both in your garden and that of your neighbour, making sure that you are comply with any local by-laws. You could include solid screens to break up the space. These can be constructed from a variety of materials - brick, metal, glass, Perspex, fabric, timber, or railway sleepers. Don't forget to check whether you need to seek planning permission - particularly if you are in a conservation area.
Ideas for a family garden along this theme:
Turn a wooden pergola into a climbing frame or swing by the simple addition of large hooks and weather resistant rope to the cross-beams. Take care to ensure that the structure is strong enough to support a person's weight!
Give the children a dedicated play area by screening off the bottom of the space. In an enclosed space like this you could let your (and their) imagination run wild. You could even lay a patch of artificial turf to give them a mini football pitch!
Ideas for a party garden:
Use one of the corners to incorporate fixed bench seating with under seat storage.
The addition of fairy lights or down lighters to an existing pergola or arch can transform the space dramatically at night. Remember that it is now a legal requirement that all domestic electrical works (interior or exterior) are certificated to guarantee their safety - and it is strongly recommended that any exterior electrical installation is carried out by a qualified electrician. If you want to avoid the expense of having permanent lighting installed, use low voltage, plug-in lights instead. These are available from most garden centres and DIY stores can be easily and safely installed without the services of an electrician.
Ideas for a wildlife garden using this template:
Use turf rather than hard materials for the pathway and edge it with reclaimed timber
Construct a raised vegetable patch using untreated railway sleepers. Plant it with whatever vegetables take your fancy, but herbs and flowering or fruiting plants such as beans or fruit bushes are particularly good for attracting local wildlife, providing you don't mind sharing your crop!
http://www.gardenadventure.co.uk/ - for children's play
http://www.sunnyaspects.com/ - for translucent screens
Circles and curves:
Circles work well in long thin gardens as they help to create the illusion of width. You can form circles from planting or hard landscaping in a variety of patterns, be it overlapping, at diagonals or in sequence - don't be afraid to experiment with your design. Circles have the advantage of allowing you to create several distinct areas, each of which can enjoy its own focal point in the middle. This could be something as large as a tree or as simple as ornate detailing in centre of a paved circle. Consider a pebble mosaic detail or a water feature as possibilities.
Ideas for a family garden using this theme:
If your budget allows, you could dedicate an area to a sunken trampoline. Both adults and kids will enjoy using the trampoline and it can also make a great alternative to a sun lounger on a summer's day. You will need to ensure that you install adequate drainage in the pit that houses the trampoline or you are likely to end up with a swimming pool instead!
Plant tulip or daffodil bulbs in a spiral pattern beneath your lawn to create a fun Spring-time maze.
Ideas for a party garden using this template:
Create an unusual alternative to wooden garden furniture by filling short lengths of concrete sewerage pipe with soil and planting them with turf.
Install a 'floating bed' to create an intimate and decadent area for relaxing with friends
Ideas for a wildlife garden:
Use a ground cover plant in the cracks in your paving rather than mortar mix. Try mixing Chamomile seeds with some soil and brushing it in.
Devote a whole area of the space to an organic garden and include a cylindrical compost bin, log pile, pond and wildlife houses.
http://www.floatingbed.com/ - for floating beds
http://www.greengardener.co.uk/ - for all organic gardening materials and insect houses
http://www.gee-tee.co.uk/ - for bulbs
An informal layout:
Divide your garden up using an 'S' shape, ovals, arcs or kidney shapes. This can often create the most dynamic of spaces, as you can be very bold with your design and make the shapes as large or as small as you need them to be. Remember to blur the boundaries as much as you can. By using sweeping curves you can bring the planting right into the centre of the garden, using it both to mask and divide the space in an intriguing manner.
Ideas for a family garden:
Follow the line of one of the curves with a rope net - it can be used as a climbing toy and when the children grow tired of it you can convert it into unusual trellis to support climbing plants.
Create a tunnel from living willow for the children to run through - if you construct it with generous enough proportions, it could also be used as an extended archway to link one section of the garden to another.
Ideas for a party garden:
Construct a brick or rendered block bar in a sweeping curve and use chunky pieces of timber for bar stools.
Throw Slob Slabs (funky outdoor beanbags) into the space for informal alfresco seating.
Ideas for a wildlife garden:
Give one area over for the children to grow sunflowers and organic vegetables. Once the sunflowers finish flowering, hang the seed heads up for the birds.
Plant a wild flower meadow instead of turf - this requires much less maintenance than traditional lawn and has an unbeatable soft blousy feel.
http://www.rucomfy.co.uk/ - for Slob Slabs
http://www.ernest-charles.com/ - for Wildflower Seed Shakers