As our population grows and house blocks shrink in size, gardens are getting smaller and smaller. If we want greenery, we need to make the most of every outdoor space, even those that seem garden unfriendly. One forlorn space that many of us have is the narrow side space between the house and the neighbour’s fence. It's often completely paved and tends to be shaded for most of the day by the houses on either side. Despite all these hurdles, this narrow space can become a beautiful side garden.

A range of beautiful, colourful plants for a small space. From left: Chinese star jasmine, Hibbertia scandens and Camellia sasanqua each make great plants for side gardens.

 

Grow upward

The most obvious space to turn into a side garden is one or both of the vertical spaces on either side of the path – your neighbour’s fence and the wall of your house. If there’s room at the base of the fence, plant climbers that can be trained on trellis or climbing wires. These make it easy to get the plant to grow where you want it and to keep it in check. A good candidate for narrow spaces is star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), which is evergreen and has flowers in spring. It tolerates sun or shade, but grows more vigorously and flowers better with sun. Other options are the goldfish plant (Manettia lutea-rubra), hoya (Hoya carnea) and guinea flower (Hibbertia scandens). If there’s no easy access to soil, all can be grown in a trough.

If there’s a generous width of soil available in your side garden – at least 40cm across and preferably more – grow an espalier shrub such as a sasanqua camellia (Camellia sasanqua) or a narrow, vertical plant such as Japanese bamboo (Nandina domestica), Angel’s wing begonia (Begonia coccinea) or blue ginger (Dichorisandra thyrsiflora). Add a groundcover like baby’s tears (Soleirolia soleirolii) to create a green edge, or annual primulas for flowers in winter and early spring.

From left: Nandina domestica, Blue ginger and Baby tears make great additions to a side garden.

 

Get creative

If there’s not enough room for a garden bed or container at the path's edge, don’t give up. There may be room for hanging baskets (half-baskets take up very little room), a vertical garden or shelves to display potted outdoor plants. If you have plenty of headroom, it may be possible to hang baskets above the path, creating a green jungle. Add more interest with wall art, or brighten everything with a coat of light-coloured paint before creating your garden.

If the area is predominantly shady, fill your vertical garden or hanging baskets with shade-loving or indoor plants such as ferns, aspidistra, philodendron or spider plant. If the light is bright, succulents or orchids may fit the bill and can be rotated into a shaded spot from a brighter position to make a temporary display.

There are also options for a wall that receives hot sun. Channel the white-washed walls of a Spanish village and fill the space with ivy geraniums, or grow edibles such as herbs and leafy greens in your vertical garden.

Surprisingly, there’s another potential garden space in a side passage – the path itself. If it isn’t a main thoroughfare requiring a paved, all-weather path, you can plant into the path with patches of groundcover including herbs (mints are a good choice), dwarf mondo grass or Australian native violet (as seen above in the header image). Or turn the path on its head and make the entire space a narrow ribbon of garden with stepping stones!