Redesign for long, narrow side yard with path

fionasol(z5 Indianapolis)March 31, 2011

I'm struggling with redesigning my long, narrow side yard. This part of the yard is approximately 7' wide and 50' long running between the neighbor's 6' wooden fence and my house. It also has the main path between the front and back yards. Back in 2006, I addressed the drainage issue (house was lower than soil in this area)by removing soil and adding a french drain that runs the length from the back of the house to a rain garden in the front yard. Mostly due to lack of funds, I recreated the path (which had previously been grass) using mulch.

This year is definitely the time to redesign this area. Its current issues are:

-Constant fighting with the weeds in the mulch path

-Path is to narrow and a little too curvy

Path in early summer

Additionally, I'd love to combine this redesign to extend all the way back to the garage. The back of this long narrow yard is at the back door of the house. Between the back door and the garage (~16') I have a grassy area with a flagstone path. This area is about 12'wide between the neighbors fence and our pond on the edges of it. Currently there's an herb garden along the fence and a bbq also by the fence at the end of the path (by the back of the house).

The issues with this area are:

-The current herb garden has a bind weed infestation that I'm tired of fighting

-The bbq grill (located next to the path near the back of the house) makes the narrow yard even narrower

-This is the part of the back yard we see the most, and it's the least pretty and inviting part.

So, things to consider at this point are

-what material to make the long path from

-where to place it in the narrow yard, and if there should be landscaping on both sides.

-where to move the bbq grill

-do we want a 2nd little patio area between the garage and house (incorporating the bbq?)

-remove the grass from this area too?


I have an alternate location for the herb garden (on either side of the back door), So I'm just as happy to open that area for something better.

Here is a link that might be useful: Current Landscaping

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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

When you re-do the path, how about paving/flagstoning the area under the BBQ grill, all the way from the fence to the house? That will change that part of the path from narrow-seeming to roomy. Leave the shrubs/objects denoted by the green and gray circles, then pave everything beyond that. Connect the paved area to the existing flagstone path.

If widening the path so much around the BBQ is too bare for you, add some plants in lightweight containers -- small enough to be moveable -- alongside the house and back stoop across from the BBQ. Move them when necessary: for instance, during a party when the BBQ will be a center of activity. You'll lose some planting space but recoup part of it with the planters.

Since there's so little grass in that area of the yard, I'd remove the rest, widening the adjacent beds and replacing the grass between the flagstones with "stepable" groundcovers like creeping thyme, Irish moss, etc. Add another flagstone path from the back stoop to the patio area.

Lovely yard: I can see you put a lot of thought into it. I noticed at least one columnar fruit tree in the side yard. Good job with the pond-side rocks: much more persuasive than most ornamental ponds, and I imagine it looks even better when the plants have leafed out. Your plan is also a great example of how to make a plan from Google's satellite view.

What do you trellis on the garage wall?

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 12:35AM
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Your pictures show you as someone who's not afraid of working hard, and re-doing things until you get them right (and perhaps also needs to proceed through trial and error) - otherwise I wouldn't make this suggestion:
You could turn the entire space between house and garage into a big patio, and move the pond toward the wider side yard (by about 1/2 length of the pond). Make wide planting beds on all sides of patio, start afresh where weeds have taken over, isolate under the fence to prevent weeds sneaking in from neighbor's yard, remove all turf grass from the space around patio. If you choose to use flagstones for the side yard path, use the same material everywhere (or get concrete stepping stones to match existing patio pavers). A long and narrow yard can be divided by a gateway above the path, if you feel you can pull it off aesthetically (I'd do it rectangular rather than arching).
So why am I talking about moving an entire pond? Because: a) with this pond, you're going after the natural look, and b) it appears to be unnaturally close to buildings. I may yet eat my words when the plants get bigger, but now this is what I'm seeing, I hope you don't mind me blurting it out.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 6:20AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I wonder if you want to be able to see all the way through the path, or do you want to create some visual barriers? This would be about both your own sightlines and those of people on the street. If you want to block sightlines a bit, I would consider a pattern of offset square pads, maybe each made from 4 concrete slabs (18x18 or 24x24), so that plantings are sometimes on one side of the path, sometimes on the other. The path could be mostly continuous, but just jump to the other side of the area once or twice.


    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 9:58PM
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fionasol(z5 Indianapolis)

Thanks for all the responses!

@missingtheobvious: Clematis vine are trellised up the garage. The garage is fairly new, especially in those photos...they should be awesome this year. And there are several columnar apples in that part of the yard (the other gray circle is a rain barrel). We love them!

@timbu: While it's true that we are often people who aren't afraid of redoing and hard work, there's 6 tons of rock in that pond. :) We actually love walking out the back door and getting that immediate view of the pond and taunting the fishies. I do get that it's crazy close to the buildings and is a bit of design disaster, but the enjoyment factor for us is very high. If added a few more photos to the online album with later photos of the pond. The ones you already saw were right after installation.

@shirley: Shirley! Your website was one of the best examples online of what we might try. Thanks!

@karinl: Blocking sightlines (at least during the growing season) isn't a big deal for us. The front yard has a tall rain garden that fairly effectively creates a screen from street traffic. And your suggestion of the rectangular path pavers was one I was considering. I actually saw a great example of this with 3x3' pavers, which I'd really like to try. But I can't find that large of pavers anywhere locally. grr.

So, I'm trying to sell my hubby on creating a flagstone patio between the house and garage, and completing the paths (to the front next to the house around the other side of the pond) with flagstone as well. That will be a LOT of flagstone. :) As for the old paver patio on the other corner of the back of the house...those square pavers actually came with the house when I bought it. They were originally the very poorly laid path along the skinny side of the house. They aren't my favorite, but I reused them because, mostly, they were already there. My hope is to actually use them instead for keeping down weeds on the narrow strip next to the garage, and to maybe replace them guessed it, more flagstone. Maybe. We've also decided to shift the BBQ location to be adjacent to the garage. And for parties that don't require the bbq, we can easily roll it into the narrow area next to the garage (which is now officially storage area for weatherproof stuff).

I've also decided to shift the herb garden into the 2 smaller beds next to the back door. That way I can fix the grade. The current herb garden soil is too high, and is the area I want to use to pull water away from the back of the house. This is also the soil that has the worst bindweed infestation. Any suggestions (other than trashing this soil entirely) for killing the bindweed roots in the soil? Do I have to send it to the dump?

Here is a link that might be useful: A few more photos, and the album link that actually works.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2011 at 11:08AM
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Some thoughts for you:

For the narrow section of the yard, use some shade tolerant ground cover and stepping stones to create an enjoyable path, and see if you can do an overhead trellis for a vertical appeal.

If you are not attached to the herb garden, I would remove it due to maintenance, and relocate the grill.

Key thing here is to use a few simple elements when designing for a small space, b/c too many things going on visually can feel uncomfortable. Use a few landscape features as a backdrop or canvas, if you will, and use things like pots, hanging baskets, planters and window boxes to add well-placed splashes of color, texture, etc. These pots may be a good place to grow the herbs.

What do you think?

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 10:40AM
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fionasol(z5 Indianapolis)

Thanks to all for the good suggestions!

Current state of the project area:
The former herb garden along the east edge of the yard behind the house has been dismantled! All of the often used herbs (oregano, parsley, cilantro, basil, thyme, rosemary) have been moved to the small bed just west of the back door. This will end up being a pretty densely vegetated bed, but that usually helps keep down the weeds. :) Slipped a few flat stepping stones between the plants for ease of harvesting. I love it! No need to even put on shoes to get fresh herbs! Chives are in front of the (not often used) air conditioner unit. Some of the bigger herbs (lavender and sage) are a little further away--just past the a/c, but making a nice little border connecting all of the herbs together. Some of the other herby plants (hyssop, rue) have gotten moved into other spots around the yard.

Now that the herbs are relocated, I've spent a lot of time staring at that area between the back of the house and garage. We do want to make this into a patio area, flagstone (with creeping groundcover and smaller stone in the gaps), with the BBQ grill closer to the garage along the fenceline.

One of the remaining issues with this area is the need to adjust the grade. Currently, the level of soil next to pond and under the flagstones from the back door to the garage is slightly elevated--which impedes water from draining quickly away from the foundation. Luckily, the elevation drops again near the fenceline, and definitely sloping down to the narrow section next to the garage and into the alley. This will definitely be a big project, removing the right amount of dirt and leveling it. It also has the additional issue of being infested with bindweed, so I'll actually need to get rid of this dirt entirely (for which I don't yet have a good strategy). Plus the expense of a large amount of flagstone. The other issue, which I haven't mentioned before--is the wretched state of the neighbors privacy fence all along this east edge of the yard. It's definitely falling to bits at this point, but I'm fairly certain that it's repair or replacement isn't high on their list. Sigh.

All that being said, it looks like the narrow section path of the yard may again be shelved for another year. But small strides are being made. I've moved the shrubs from the back corner of the house to better spots. I'll probably continue with rearranging the current plants in this area this year, in preparation for finishing up the stepping stones and groundcover here next year--hopefully!
I love the idea of some sort of arch/gateway towards the front of the path area, which will help break up the very tall and narrow aspect. Maybe also a bench near the porch, to make this part of the yard more visiting friendly.

thanks again, and if there's any more comments suggestions...especially about any good tricks for aiding with the grade/drainage and getting rid of "bad" dirt...

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 2:08PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

One thing that I think never got answered in this thread was whether you have to discard weed-infested soil. The answer is no... but the alternative is some hard work.

You can sift the soil through a commercial or home-made sieve. You can bag it and put the bags in some out-of-the-way place and let the stuff rot down for a couple of years. And after either of these, I would still put it in a big container or on a tarp for a while to see if the weed regrows. Some weeds are inevitable and bearable, but as long as THAT weed is not there, the soil would be re-usable.


    Bookmark   April 24, 2011 at 12:40PM
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fionasol(z5 Indianapolis)

KarinL, thanks for the response about the soil. We found a safe place to dump it where it wouldn't impact anything.

Just thought I'd give ya'll an update. A nearby stone store offers the cheaper pallet price on flagstone and allowed me to pick it up myself over a few weeks in my poor abused hatchback...all of which was perfect for our purposes. 4.5 tons of stone later, the back yard patio and paths around the pond are nearly finished. And ironically, the subject of this post--the long skinny yard and path--is still waiting for my attention. :) It's next on the list.
From Garden Redesign

Not the greatest photo ever, but it give you an idea of where things are. I'll post again, when it's all finished, with better photos.

The BBQ grill is now on a level surface (YAY!) near the garage, where it can be easily hidden in the space next to the garage when it isn't needed. The herb garden just outside the door is awesome...funny how just a little closer to the kitchen encourages me to nip outside and grab the fresh herbs while I'm cooking. Our foundation work just got finished up on Saturday, so I'm all clear to start work on the side yard now that I know it's not going to be destroyed by contractors. :)

If we're super motivated this year, the paver patio will also get replaced with larger flagstones...and we're also discussing building some sort of pergola type structure that can support fabric sunshades over the new patio between the back door and garage. Also a long bench with a trellis of some sort behind it to hide the neighbors ugly, falling down fence. The built in seating would allow us enough room to have a table for bigger meals out here when we need it.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2011 at 10:46AM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

4.5 tons carried in the car -- WOW!

    Bookmark   June 7, 2011 at 11:27AM
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fionasol(z5 Indianapolis)

A few more photos of the nearly finished project.
From Garden Redesign

Here is a link that might be useful: More photos of the whole project

    Bookmark   September 22, 2011 at 3:15PM
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