long, narrow, shady fenced sideyard

RobinwynNovember 19, 2011

I will now be looking down the length of my long (30 plus feet) narrow (10 feet half way and 8 the rest) shady side yard from a back yard studio. I would really like it to be a varied and attractive view. I live near D.C. (whatever zone that is). Any thoughts?

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karinl(BC Z8)

Absolutely - wavy or staggered path so that you see layers of plants, not a tunnel.

Which plants and how planted depends a lot on what is on either side, what planting constraints there are, what plants you like, and what kind of gardening you want to do.

Possibly several nice containers or statuary to punctuate the greenery.

Karin L

    Bookmark   November 20, 2011 at 1:16AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

This thread over on Cottage Gardens might be of interest. Look at what woodyoak did.

Here is a link that might be useful: side garden

    Bookmark   November 20, 2011 at 6:11AM
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Thanks for comments. Woodyoak has created a beautiful side yard but looks like she has a lot of sun. Sigh!

    Bookmark   November 20, 2011 at 3:27PM
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woodyoak zone 5 Canada(5b)

The north alley garden gets some afternoon sun but everything planted there needs to be able to cope with varying degrees of shade.

Karin - I'm afraid I disagree that the path should be staggered or wavy. The paths in the sideyard gardens here are dead straight (except for the crook at the top on the north alley where the path goes through a 90 degree curve to get to the gate...) The north alley path is 50+ feet long; the one on the south side is only 25'; both alleys are 8' wide. I find that the straight path makes the space/garden look longer, perhaps because the straight sides of the path starts looking like lines converging on the vanishing point in the distance :-)

    Bookmark   November 20, 2011 at 6:07PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

My personal feeling about pathway designs for narrow side yards is that a straight shot feels static compared to one that offsets side to side, but straight may be preferable if better for access and function, or if a strong axial focal point is present or going to be featured. Within a ten foot sideyard, I've even used decorative fences/screens/specimen plants in large pots/etc to break up the space by stopping a complete view all the way through. I like to design planting beds as a series of interlocking "L's", and use detailed paving designs for the year round interest. Another design trick that creates interest is creating a change via an overhead trellis/arbor/arch to walk below or hang vines from. Here in northern California we have multiple plant possibilities for narrow evergreen taller growing shade tolerant evergreen shrubs/palms/bamboos with a diverse variety of foliage colors and textures. In your climate, there are still some potential bamboos you could use, certainly ferns, hellebores, sasanqua camellias, nandinas, fatsia, mahonias, etc that would work for you. For seasonal flowers in shade you could consider things lime Brunneras,Heucheras, Japanese anemonies, Dicentras, Hostas, etc.

If the situation calls for it, you might also consider a widening of the path to create an eight foot square small patio with adjacent built in stone/concrete or wood bench if you've got side doors oof the house with glass to the side yard.

Here in coastal California where land is expensive and lots are small, I've had rear gardens that were only ten feet deep by twenty five feet wide that needed to maximize feeling large within a tight space. You might also consider trellising with vines, water elements or a wall fountain, decorative boulders and rock ground cover, or outdoor sculptures or mirrors in the garden to add interest._

    Bookmark   November 20, 2011 at 11:30PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Robinwyn, you can enter your zip code here to learn what your USDA hardiness zone is:

    Bookmark   November 21, 2011 at 12:01AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I think there is a time for both approaches, and the OP didn't really give us enough information to know which would be best. Specifically s/he did not say if privacy is preferred. So much also depends on what kind of a gardener one is; the effect I garden for is the overlay of different foliage, and that will work better with the type of approach that David describes. But it's so personal, and you can make it gorgeous either way.

My side yard beside the shed is 6 feet wide and for various reasons, straight is the only option. With 10 feet, I'd definitely try to create some side-to-side movement. My whole yard is only 25 feet wide - and my house only 20 feet wide with a central hallway - so long and skinny is my modus operandi. I've discovered that both inside and out, the way to make it not feel like a long hallway is to create opportunities for movement and views across it.

Perhaps Robinwyn can tell us more or post a picture, and we can move beyond theory and personal preference...

Karin L

    Bookmark   November 21, 2011 at 2:37PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

With an overlaying of textures , shapes and foliage color you can easily pull off a straight pathway and have it provide great emotional feel and visual interest.

Having a great surface pattern can also aid in providing layered texture.

here's an example from a garden in Vancouver BC
From Vancouver

another example : this garden is designed by David Feix
and used a staggered pattern of squares and rectangles.
Adding to the visual air of interest are the large pots set into a narrow bed and decorative path lighting.
From david's garden photos

About 10 feet wide , my shady side yard has a meandering path of urbanite ( broken and reset concrete) and a variety of layered textures , forms and foliage color.
From Paths

Using plants that are appropriate to your area such as Camellias, Styrax, Enkianthus, Kalmia
Pieris, Rhodos, Hydrangea, ferns, hostas,astilbe, ligularia and petasites could render a wonderful layered effect.
From Paths

    Bookmark   November 21, 2011 at 4:33PM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

Like bahia and michelle I'm in coastal NorthernCA, but as an amateur can't suggest any plants (when I left the Midwest, I wasn't gardening, LOL). But I have a long skinny lot, although ours is a double-slope hill. On the long sides of the house, we landscaped around the arrow-straight concrete paths already there. One side is 5' and sunny, the other 10' wide and shady.

The issue is, what's your walkway? Is this just an occasional walkway, or is it your main in/out? An occasional walkway can be narrow and charming, but if it's your main in/out you need a good chunk of it to be clear width in case you need to move big items in/out of your studio.

We found that with a judicious use of plantings, those hard straight lines get softened up. It's surprising how pretty you can make a straight path with some thought and energy. Because of where you are, you need to think about what it's going to look like in fall and winter. We have found foliage (color/shape/texture) and vertical layers (low/medium/high) to be key in visual interest. Maintenance is going to be needed - plants always grow into the open space, and need to be tied up/whacked back/staked straight.

North shady side:
From 2002, looking upwards. This is just to give you an idea of this long (25') straight bed. The sidewalk is actually the neighbor's, she lets us use it. We each have 5' of width.

Several years later, with vase-shaped Japanese maples, hellebores, aucuba, iris, and rhododendron:

Top half of the bed:

Close up detail, top half: callas, variegated plectranthus ciliatis, hydrangea, variegated alstroemeria (for the leaves; it seldom flowers in the shade), brunnera 'Jack Frost':

The north beds when you're looking down at them, from the top (street) end. The LH side plants are my neighbor's, a 1' wide-bed with iris, gaura, and a leaning cotoneaster I'd love to take an axe to, LOL:

If you have or can borrow building skills, some planter beds, at least 1' tall (minimum for safety - 18" would be better), could nicely break up that long "runway". If you do something like this, be aware that the 'jog' in the path should be wider than the path itself, because turning corners visually constricts a space as you go through it:

    Bookmark   November 29, 2011 at 1:24PM
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maureeninmd(z6 MD)

I also am working on a shady, narrow side yard. This thread has been very helpful.

Deviant deziner - What type of pavers are those in the first photo you posted (the garden in Vancouver)? Some sort of DIY cement?

    Bookmark   November 29, 2011 at 2:29PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

jkom - Stunning ! great textural play and coloration. That rhodo fragrantissima / elsie fry (?) must fill the air with a heavenly scent

maureen - the path is a combination of concrete and split face granite.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2011 at 3:49PM
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jkom51(Z9 CA/Sunset 17)

Michelle, I will treasure your compliment forever. I LOVE your work! And yes, the dwarf rhodie from Singing Tree Gardens in McKinleyville is super-fragrant. They smell like Easter lilies and are gorgeous. I mail-ordered it, but have seen it at BerkHort earlier this year.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2011 at 2:33AM
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bernd ny zone5(5)

These are really nice designs. Like every house mine also has side yards. I do not like straight lines and continuous use of the same pavers. So I used curved paths with varying pavers, with special plants or narrow bushes in the wider pockets created by the curvature. I have hollies, rhododendrons and a lot of hostas in my North side yard. A fence and gate interrupts. Hostas are of different sizes and leaf design. Bernd

    Bookmark   December 3, 2011 at 9:54AM
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