The main problem with long narrow gardens is that they can feel like you’re standing in a corridor. In a long, narrow garden your eye is drawn straight to the boundaries making the space seem small and claustrophobic. This type of garden does not invite exploration and the furthest parts of the garden often remain dark, dank and unused. Counteracting the claustrophobic feeling and giving the impression of greater space and depth are the main challenges when designing a long, narrow garden.
There are three main ways to deal with the problems of a long-narrow space. One strategy involves changing the perceived shape of the garden and tricking the eye into focusing away from the garden boundaries. Another method is to introduce drama by creating a more complex journey around the garden. The third way is to draw the eye upwards by introducing vertical elements that open up the garden by giving the appearance of more height.
Although it seems counter-intuitive to close off a garden that is already feeling cramped, dividing the garden into separate areas is a very effective way to design a long-narrow garden. Creating separate garden rooms each with its own distinct character makes people want to use the whole garden and explore the next room. The garden will become more useable because each room has its own purpose. Breaking up the space is a great way of stopping the eye from immediately alighting on the rear boundary. This strategy creates a more stimulating journey and encourages exploration of the garden.
Walls work well for creating garden rooms, especially if they have a window offering a tantalizing glimpse through to the next room. However, brick and block walls are expensive to build and other methods of dividing the space can be just as effective. Clipped hedges, pergolas, or a simple screen of posts and trellis with an archway through all make good partitions and may be more appropriate for the style and setting of the garden. Railway sleepers set on end like a huge vertical blind create a dramatic garden screen.
The transitions between the garden rooms provide another opportunity to add visual and vertical interest. Circular moon gates add striking architectural detail, they also give height and their shape is excellent for focusing attention inside the garden. An arched doorway cut through a clipped hedge creates a dark outline that cries out to be explored.
Circles and curves are a great for directing attention where it is desired. Using circular shapes for lawns and seating areas focuses the eye into the centre of the garden. An ‘S’ shaped path will draw attention away from the boundaries and give a more interesting journey through the garden. Placing some taller plants or trees in the deep curves of the ‘S’ creates informal divisions and stops the eye.
Another design strategy that tricks the eye and creates a more exciting, indirect route around the garden is to set the plan on the diagonal. The lines of paths, lawns and borders set at 45 degrees to the boundaries draws the eye across the garden and gives the impression of greater width. Using zig-zag paths will provide a meandering walk around the garden.
There are many different ways to create height in a garden, it can be done simply by including trees and taller plants. Pergolas are useful for creating instant vertical focus, they can be used as room dividers and give extra space for planting which is especially useful in a small garden. Clipped, formal hedges are also excellent for creating height, as a backdrop for planting and as walls for outdoor rooms.
Long narrow sites can make fabulous gardens, but like any tricky space they need a good design that addresses all the practical issues, and includes a bit of wizardry to make them comfortable and inviting spaces to spend time in.