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help! newbie with narrow garden beds

Posted by katboyd 6 (My Page) on
Thu, Mar 17, 11 at 18:08

I live in Brooklyn, NY, and have a patio behind my brownstone apartment with planting beds bordering three sides -- 13'x16'x13'. I would love to brighten up this rather dismal looking space, perhaps with a mix of perennials and annuals.

Here is my problem: The planting beds are very narrow -- 19" deep on two sides that butt up against fencing and 17" deep on the third side that is against an ivy-covered brick the wall. I do not know how to design a space that narrow -- how to group things for visual interest so it doesn't just look like a long line of random plants on each side. When I read suggestions on how to design a border, the assumption is that the border is at least two or three feet deep, and that you can plant shorter plants in front and taller in back, etc. I'm not sure I have the space for that kind of design.

The two 19" sides get indirect sun most of the day, with some direct sun in spots. The 17" side gets 6 hours of direct sun in the summer months (late morning and afternoon).

Any suggestions for how to group plants in an interesting way in this space? Or, any ideas for something simple that would have lots of impact?

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: help! newbie with narrow garden beds

Given the space and constraints available, it may be effective to do the exact opposite of what you are thinking. Instead of planting to add interest in the narrow space, consider a very simple planting of robust, vigorous groundcovers to create a lush yet low-maintenance background. Interest can then be added with planters or other sculptural elements; things that give you a little more flexibility and also control over growing environments.

- Audric

RE: help! newbie with narrow garden beds

I think too that your solution is to go more formal, more structured, and Audric's solution of containers (or statuary perhaps) is one way to do that.

Conifers are another. Conifers grow up, against gravity, where deciduous and herbaceous plants grow toward the light, and as such when you try to grow them against a wall, they lean out constantly and will just close in on your patio. There are many varieties of upright narrow and dwarf conifers that will lend themselves to growing politely in a narrow space, at least for a good few years, and they can always be replaced. Broad-leaved evergreens such as boxwood and Ilex crenata can also be used in repeats or patterns and will stay in their spots, sometimes with pruning to shape. Topiary, in short, if you enjoy that kind of thing.

The thread linked below has some discussion of and examples of narrow beds.

That said, the layout you describe may not be the best one for the space. If it's possible to redo the layout, perhaps it would be better to put the patio against one wall and create a deeper bed on the side opposite, or patio all around and plants in a corner or something. It's a classic designer challenge to make a small space like that work, and in many books and magazines, and probably all over the net, there are very inspiring examples.


Here is a link that might be useful: Narrow beds discussed

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