Saturday, September 30, 2023


By Rick Racela

In past columns, we’ve looked at designing gardens in large spaces, and on small lots, but what about narrow plots?
Many of us have older homes that are very close to the curb and have very little back yard.  My own house in West Cape May has a long strip on the side that extends from the sidewalk to the back lot line.
There are a number of design tricks that you can use that will reduce the bowling alley effect of this shape garden.
First, because the space is so narrow and thus surrounded by other properties, create some privacy with as tall a wooden fence as your town will allow.  Just call your town’s municipal building to speak with the appropriate building official;  they’ll tell you right away what the limits are.
Next, screen the view from the street.  I used a tall iron gothic arch (since my house is Gothic Revival) but if you prefer doing it with plants, a holly, a leland cypress, or a photinia would work as well.  Another choice would be a few columns holding up a pergola structure if you have a colonial-style house, or an arts-and-crafts style screen if you have a bungalow.
Then, hide the fence with a mix of evergreen plantings and flowering shrubs.  I’ve used both american and english hollies (ilex opaca and ilex augustifolia), spotted laurel (acuba japonica), english ivy  (helix hedera) and “heavenly bamboo” (nandina domestica).
The next step is to use more than one texture of paving throughout the garden, to visually break up the length.  I used old bricks for the front, and pine needles (there’s a big white pine) at the rear.
I like creating focal points at the end of any view, so I built my little tool-shed at the back of the garden with a gothic arched facade, faced in mirror.  In front of the gothic tool-shed, I dug a little rectangular reflecting pool bordered by big bluestone slabs.
With a lot of big-leafed hostas (hosta seiboldiana) to cover the ground, and a couple of lounge chairs, the garden is done.
Other than a little weeding and a few impatiens for color in the summer, my own garden has taken no maintenance, and has improved over the years.
Elan Zingman-Leith is a realtor with Coastline Realty in Cape May, and sits on the boards of the New Jersey Historic Trust and the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts.

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