A long view of side gardens

One of the biggest challenges for any gardener is trying to make something of the long, thin and usually dark strip between two houses. This stretch of gardening purgatory is often euphemistically referred to as a side garden. But getting the space to look anything like a garden can be really hard. So how do you get past Necessary Route From A To B to Lovely Inviting Path Connecting Front And Back Gardens?

Here are some exciting ideas I’ve found during trips snooping through other people’s personal paradises.

Make a grand entrance

Dark side garden

The photo above shows a very narrow space that has neatly solved the problem of lack of room and light. Rather than try to add a very slim garden bed, a path of crazy pavers spans the width and length of the area. Ivy covering the exterior of one house and tall slender evergreens lining the opposite home’s wall add lushness. But the outstanding feature here is, of course, the archway and gate. Built with finely finished wood, the uncomplicated design is grand in proportion. Even the handle on the gate, as high end as any you’d see on a door inside a home, adds to a sense of luxuriousness. With this extraordinary entrance-maker, any additional plants simply aren’t needed.

Entrance to side garden

Here’s another entry to a side garden, shown above. This home owner had more space to play with which can come with its own challenges. The stylized screen and gazebo-esque archway work double-duty as an inviting entrance into the back garden and adds privacy. Complete with a rock garden, sporting sculptural stones and an over-sized plant container in an eye-catching metallic blue, the whole area not only elevates the side garden but nicely finishes off the top of the driveway. How nice would it be to drive up after a long day and park your car facing this inviting entrance?

All sun or no sun

Succulents in side garden

If you’re lucky enough to be working with two houses that, kind of like the sarsen stones at Stonehenge, line-up to form a strip that invites the sun, then why not take advantage of what is likely a bright but dry area? You’d think the above photo was taken somewhere in California or Arizona but it was actually taken in southwestern Ontario. Surrounded by concrete, this tiny desert-themed garden looks quite at home.

Car park or patio?

In a part of Toronto, where parking as well as access to back gardens is at a very high premium, this property owner (one has to assume with the buy-in of their neighbour) turned the space between their homes into a stylish multitasker. Sure, you can park your car here, but seamlessly merging the drive with the stone patio in the back garden makes for a really nice visual transition from drive to garden. Delivery vehicles and landscaping maintenance crews can also drive right into the back and get down to business–a rare practicality in this densely built-up urban setting.

Forget a side garden. How about a complete escape?

Pool in side garden

I took the shot, above, from the back garden, facing along the side garden to the front. Here’s another example of taking a lack of sunlight and real estate and making it work for you. The jacuzzi-style pool is built into the side of the house. Crazy paving surrounds the pool. The neighbour’s tall wall, on the right, coincidentally provides privacy and, thanks to a painted surface and hanging artwork, a certain Mediterranean feel. In the background, you can see lounge chairs and a low table set for cocktails and conversation. Thanks to a clipped hedge, it’s hard to realize that this front garden seating area is just feet away from a public sidewalk.

When more is more

A mulched side path

This side garden, above, is pretty classic: a winding path to slow down and soften the transition between front and back gardens and lots of shade-tolerant plants. The unusual archway is a nice touch, too. But what stood out for me was the gardener’s addition of decor accents. A stone lantern sets the tone. Bamboo panels act like mini-garden screens. And lengths of birch are both organic sculpture and sculptural border.

And when less is more

White irises in side garden

On the other hand, sometimes keeping it simple works best, as shown above. White irises look fantastic in a bed mulched with river stones. The neighbour’s evergreen hedge is the perfect backdrop.

When the side is at the front

Paving stones in side garden

This home, above, is on a corner and both the front and one side of the building are flanked by streets. The side garden has to serve as a buffer between home/garden and the traffic. I think the owners of the property here made the best of a challenging situation. Having a row of mature trees lining the edge of the property certainly helped. But the gardener didn’t try to ignore the situation. Instead, they riffed off it. The square step stones reflect that hard, parallel lines of the street. And the path itself is bordered in with long lengths of wood, also echoing the linear theme. But the fact that the path is sunken lends a sense of protectiveness to the visitor that I think is simply genius.

The garden shown above is actually a strip of land left (almost) wild as a buffer between a very large formal garden on one side and a country road on the other. Rather than leaving this area untouched (which would have been lovely as well), the gardeners made the most of the area with a meandering footpath running the length of it. A simple metal arch with a clematis trained up it and hostas and lilies all add touches of refinement to the path. What might have started out as a means for privacy and cutting down on traffic noises became a lovely garden in its own right and a wonderful contrast to the highly designed garden that it borders.

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