Don't Sideline Your Sideyard

tropical side yard

Most residential landscapes include a front yard, backyard and the side yards that connect the front and back. Each of these spaces have their purpose, with most of our attention typically going towards the first two, while the most neglected is the latter; the side yard. Often this is a narrow, awkward space, though sometimes functionally used, it is repeatedly ignored aesthetically. Side yards can come in all shapes and sizes (especially if you live on a corner lot), but this post will focus on the narrow spaces found in neighborhoods where the houses tend to be tucked in tighter.

Photo: A lush side yard in Seattle, Washington

Typically the main purpose of the side yard is to provide circulation between the front and backyards. Oftentimes it is used as a service or storage area, but for many it becomes a cavern of wasted space. To add more challenges, if the neighbor’s homes are close it can become a damp, dark microclimate.

Photo: A tight and tidy side yard in Seattle, Washington. Designed by Lisa Bauer.

As I travel I enjoy looking for innovative ways to address these narrow spaces, so they become a special area, rather than one we cringe. Things to think about while designing the details in your side yard:


Typically this is a space we walk through, so what type of path would allow the access needed? Are stepping stones okay or do you need something more consistent, so a wheelbarrow or mower can slide over it? Something else to consider…your window wells! Make these fabulous and fun like the ones below.

Photo: Window wells with a sense of humor in Seattle, Washington. Designed by Lisa Bauer.


Do you need a fence for privacy or spatial definition? If there is enough light grow vegetables or perhaps you’d like to grow ornamental plants to make this space more lush? Walls are a great place to add details like planters, lighting, or artsy pieces. Walls could also become functional storage space with hooks or thoughtful cabinets.

Above photo: This Seattle garden tucked in some architectural artifacts to add charm to this narrow space.

Above photo: A funky, functional side yard by Jimmy McCown and Connie Arduini in Memphis, Tennessee.

Photo: Such a great use of wall space in this contemporary Seattle garden. Design by Gillian Matthews and Richard Hartlage.


Though it may not make sense to cover the entire side yard with a ceiling, it might be fun to add one as an arbor at the edge of the space. It’s always extra special to walk under something as you enter a new garden space...even a narrow one like this.

Photo: A lovely pergola and tropical plant containers add spark to this side yard by Ellen Lathi in Boston, Massachusetts.

A sweet arbor welcomes visitors into this Boston side yard.

Side yards can be a special space connecting your front and backyard. Think about how this narrow room can become a small adventure as you navigate your garden. For additional examples please visit my Side Yard Pinterest Board.


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