How to - Projects

Improve your side yard

Bonnie Summerfeldt
Photography by
Roger Yip

Tips for turning your narrow side yard into a little garden of Eden.

There isn't much room between our house and the one next door, as is the case in many subdivisions. Narrow strips of land between neighbours tend to be the most neglected part of gardens, and ours was no different. Additionally, it doesn't get a lot of sun or rain, being partly sheltered by overhangs on both sides. Grass doesn't grow well there, but the bits that do are a nuisance to trim.

We decided to make the best of our bad situation and looked for an alternative to grass, opting for gravel. It's low maintenance and economical. Gravel also provides excellent drainage and is extremely durable under any weather condition.

Because of the slight incline, we couldn't use a round stone, such as pea gravel, as it would be slippery and wash down the slope too easily. We decided on crushed brick; the colour harmonizes well with the brick of both homes and comes in various sizes. It contrasts nicely with the plant material without competing for attention.

The project required little preparation. We removed the sod and evened out the soil, making sure to grade the slope properly so that water would continue to run away from the foundation of the house. We put down a layer of stone about eight centimetres deep. (To suppress weeds, install landscape fabric before you put down the stone.) A wheelbarrow made it quite easy to transport small loads of crushed brick, which were then spread out with a rake.

Adding height
When working with a narrow space, the next best place to go is up. Using pressure-treated wood lattice and 2x2s, we built a simple trellis on the brick walls of the house for vines to climb, drawing the eye upward. The structure is attached to the brick with tapcon screws. We transplanted a female bittersweet vine from another part of the garden to one side of the trellis; on the other side, a male bittersweet so the female would produce beautiful berries.

On the south end near the rain spout, we planted Boston ivy, which is slowly covering the house with its rich green leaves-an excellent way to shade your home and save on utility bills. Other shade-tolerant options include Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia syn. Vitis quinquefolia), chocolate vine (Akebia quinata), porcelain vine (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata) and Dutchman's pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla).

A tall cedar planted in front of the air-conditioning unit does double duty, hiding the unit while adding height. (Be sure not to plant any shrubs too close to the air conditioner's hot air vent, as this will kill your plants over the winter.)

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